If Mitt Romney were running a “post-truth” campaign, would the political press even report it?
Link: Boston Globe, Mitt Romney stayed at Bain 3 years longer than he stated. ”Firm’s 2002 filings identify him as CEO, though he said he left in 1999.” (Fallout.)
Suppose a major party candidate for president believed we were in a “post-truth” era and actually campaigned that way: Would political reporters in the mainstream press figure it out and tell us?
I say no. They would not tell us. Instead, they would do what the Globe did here: try to nail the candidate on specific misstatements that can be documented. Which is good and necessary and difficult and contentious and honorable. So go, Boston Globe! And don’t forget to credit others who have done similar work.
But what of a strategy that incorporates…
1.) The lessons of the climate change debate, which is that you can run a political campaign against verifiable facts, and thereby weaken those facts in the public’s mind?
2.) The Palin method, which is that you can invent stuff and stick to it when it is shown to be false because culture war politics feeds off the noise and friction when fictional claims are fact-checked by the mainstream media?
3.) David Frum’s observation: “Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics.”
4. Plain old-fashioned secrecy, as in: don’t release information, don’t explain.
I think there’s ample evidence that the Romney forces have figured much of this out. And so even though we have a political press that believes itself to be a savvy judge of campaign strategy, here is one strategy that will go unnamed and un-described because (and this may be the cleverest part of the strategy!…) a post-truth campaign for president falls into the category of too big to tell.
Meaning: It feels too partisan. It exposes the press to too much criticism. It messes with the “both sides do it” narrative that political journalists have mastered: and deeply believe in. And so Romney will be fact checked, his campaign will push back from time to time, the fact checkers will argue among themselves, and the post-truth premise will sneak into common practice without penalty or recognition, even though there is nothing covert about it.
(Image by fimoculous. Creative commons license.)