Friday, August 14, 2009

(Or just the usual semi-Pyrrhic victory?)

One development in the health-care wars that seems a bit hopeful is that some parts of the mainstream press are acknowledging the extreme nature of right-wing disinformation, and are actually starting to tell us not just what both sides are saying but who's not telling the truth. ABC News has done a couple of impressive fact-checking segments debunking GOP myths, and now The New York Times brings us a front-page above the-fold story tracing the origins of the "death panel" rumor -- which the Times headline flatly calls "false." Times reporters Jim Rutenberg and Jackie Calmes even do us unabashed partisan bloggers one better by dredging up a Hitler-invoking Washington Times editorial published less than three weeks after Obama was elected, an editorial we overlooked at the time:

In an editorial, the newspaper reminded its readers of the Aktion T4 program of Nazi Germany in which "children and adults with disabilities, and anyone anywhere in the Third Reich was subject to execution who was blind, deaf, senile, retarded, or had any significant neurological condition."

Noting the "administrative predilections" of the new team at the White House, it urged "anyone who sees the current climate as a budding T4 program to win the hearts and minds of deniers."

Are we seeing a sea change in the way the media responds to right-wing lies? No more on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand treatment of all claims as equally valid in circumstances when that's clearly not the case? Is the press really going to start calling liars liars?

Well, that would be nice.

But haven't we been here before? Haven't we seen the GOP use shocking hardball tactics in the past, after which -- that is, after those tactics succeeded -- the mainstream political world, including the press, reached a consensus that the tactics were way over the line?

Isn't that what happened after the Willie Horton ad campaign for George H.W. Bush? It's now seen as a disgrace -- after it worked. Same goes for the Swift Boat campaign against John Kerry. Hell, "Willie Horton"" and "Swift Boat" are now synonyms for "unacceptably dishonest political low blow." The terms are marks of shame.

But they got the job done.

So maybe Republicans are going to pay a price in the future for lying like this now. But it won't be much of a price, and it'll probably be only after they defeat reform. Probably some phrase -- maybe "death panels" -- will be shorthand in the future for an attack that's over the line. But the GOP will just keep attacking, and we'll probably just repeat the process, until Democrats find a way to defeat such campaigns in real time.

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