The 2012 campaign isn’t the first to be marked by rumors and distortions. But it’s already setting new land-speed records for the time it takes a tossed-off comment or flat-out falsehood to develop into a “fact” accepted by half the political world. The “report” that Obama would be traveling to Paris to hold a European fundraiser on the Fourth of July was just the latest example of partisan lying.
Every time it happens, supporters of the rumor’s target bemoan the gullibility of their partisan counterparts. How could anyone think Obama was born in Kenya?! Does anyone really believe Romney doesn’t know what a doughnut is?!
The reason distorted or fabricated tales about political candidates spread so quickly, of course, is because people want to believe the very worst about their opponents. They also want to believe the very best about their own candidates. That appears to be why a lie about Obama became a viral sensation among his own supporters this year.
The lie is a quote, attributed to Obama:
No, you can’t deny women their basic rights and pretend it’s about your “religious freedom.” If you don’t like birth control, don’t use it. Religious freedom doesn’t mean you can force others to live by your own beliefs.
When six GOP primary contenders descended on Fox News’ midtown headquarters for a “candidates forum” with a trio of red state attorneys general on Saturday night, the candidates probably expected tough questions about their positions. But they certainly didn’t expect to find a New York Times reporter roaming backstage.
Fox’s decision to allow Times scribe Jim Rutenberg into the building to confront the candidates in person threw campaign aides off guard, especially in the Romney camp, which went into “defensive mode immediately, insisting that the reporter stay far away,” as Rutenberg later wrote.
But the decision was just the latest example of what Fox head Roger Ailes recently called a “course correction” in an interview with Howard Kurtz of Newsweek. The Romney team’s debate-night tussle was the second embarrassing episode suffered by the candidate at the hands of Fox News in a week, after Bret Baier conducted a hard-hitting interview with Romney on November 29 that made news for several days. (After the contentious interview, Baier told Bill O’Reilly that Romney privately called his questions “overly aggressive” and “uncalled for.”) The network has also taken on the other GOP primary contenders. In July, Chris Wallace pointedly asked Michele Bachmann “are you a flake?” And in November, Fox gave a platform to Herman Cain accuser Sharon Bialek and her attorney Gloria Allred.
This chaotic and raucous primary season is demonstrating that Roger Ailes will put the interests of his network ahead of all else.