Yes, Ryan’s Speech Really Was That Misleading. Yes, the Media Was Right to Call Him on It.
Paul Ryan’s speech to the Republican convention last week seems to have been some kind of watershed moment, at least for the media. Many of us watching the speech felt it was full of deceptive statements. That wasn’t a new development. But this time reporters from the big, mainstream outlets said they agreed. That was a new development. Perhaps the most vivid and important instance was a story in the New York Times, by Michael Cooper, which told readers that several Ryan statements were “incorrect, incomplete or incompatible with his own record in Congress.”
But has the media overreacted? The usual suspects in the right wing press think so. But so do Ross Douthat, the conservative columnist on the Times op-ed page, and Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed. Neither are knee-jerk defenders of Romney, Ryan, and the Republicans. You should take them seriously. I certainly do.
And they raised some good points. The definition of “lie” is less specific than you might think, at least according to the dictionaries I consulted. It can mean any statement that is deceptive. But in politics we understand “lie” to mean a statement that is flatly, objectively untrue. Very few, if any, of Ryan’s statements would satisfy that narrow definition. Most of Ryan’s statements were deceptive because they left out critical context.
But the statements that deserve the most scrutiny in presidential campaigns aren’t necessarily the ones that misstate facts. They are the statements that, as Kevin Drum wrote at Mother Jones over the weekend, represent “attempts to mislead.” They are the arguments that distort what a politician thinks, what a politician has done in the past, or what a politician would do in the future—in other words, statements that might cause us to vote one way or another based on false impressions of the choice we face.