Perhaps it's just a case of wishful nostalgia, but it seems to us that before the rise of Fox News, Rovian manipulation and the abnegation by certain people of fact-based reality, there was some sort of agreed-upon truth that was adjudicated daily by the mainstream media.
A candidate couldn't say one thing one day -- like, for example, that they were opposed to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants -- and another thing another day -- like they basically agree with an opponent who favors a path to citizenship. They'd be afraid of being called a liar in the papers, and that would actually matter.
But in the California governor's race it now appears that we are witnessing the Death of Truth. From a cosmic perspective, this has come about because:
- The attention span of the average citizen, never very long, has been hyper-accelerated by the rise of new media, including the Internets, where something is old before it barely new -- and certainly not fully digested -- and everyone is off on the next new thing. Beyond that, the rise of ideologically-sated outlets like FOX and MSNBC ensures that partisans will never again have to watch something with which they disagree.
- The lugubrious mainstream media is often strangled by self-imposed, on-the-one-hand-on-the-the-hand, false-equivalency "balance," in part intimidated by loud, if unfounded accusations of "bias" most frequently lobbed by the right-wing. Thus the MSM at times seems unable and/or unwilling to cut through the miasma and call a lie a lie or a liar a liar. (Even Jerry Brown won't call a spade a spade, referring instead to Meg Whitman's "intentional, terminological inexactitude.")
- It's now clear that a candidate with unlimited resources can and will blow off complaints, critiques and factual analyses of those who dare to speak up and will instead declare that the truth is whatever he or she says it is -- in their paid advertising and the assertions of their mercenary prevaricators.
All of this feeds the corrosive cynicism that infects our politics, demonstrated most visibly in low voter turnout. Even among those who vote, healthy skepticism is often supplanted with a smart-ass, know-it-all facile sophistication that assumes all politicians are liars (they're not) and that everyone in public life only wants to do well (we still believe there are some who want to do good).
Cynicism, of course, breeds further alienation and disgust, causing a downward spiral of disengagement from the process, leaving voting (and caring) to the true-believing wing-nuts who are certain they know the truth because they read or watch it at one of the ideologically-determined web sites or stations that conclusively confirms their prior held beliefs.
Exhibit A for the Death of Truth is Her Megness, eMeg Whitman herself.
Let's be clear: Krusty the General (Gandolf) Brown and his Merry Pranksters in Oakland are guilty of their own special brand of spin. But it's pretty much your normal, basic campaign (wink-wink) re-framing like you'd get from Gov. Schwarzmuscle, President Oybama or Golden Gate Feinstein.
Brown has failed to level with voters about how he'd deal with the state budget (we think he'd shift all the responsibility for services back to cities, counties school districts, with a local option to raise taxes, and get the locals off the state's books), among most other issues. But his guy Sterling Clifford has a point when he argues that "Meg Whitman is trying to paper over her lies and deceptions with dollar bills."
Indeed, when it comes to killing truth, eMeg is miles ahead in felony flip-floppery. The pro-Brown California Working Families tried to drive that point home last week with the release of an online ad titled "Lies." detailing just a few recent examples of Megspeak:
- She was for double furloughs for state employees before she was against furloughs altogether.
- She was for a path to citizenship before she knew what it meant, and then she was vehemently against it, before she declared herself aligned with Brown, who's for it.
- She was for sending state agents into work places to hunt down and arrest illegal immigrant workers until she decided she was against that (probably illegal) idea.
- She was against extending benefits to children of illegal immigrants (like admission to state universities and colleges) before she was . . . wait, maybe she's still against that, but OK with letting illegal immigrant offspring get treated at a hospital.
- In the primary she said, "We have to prosecute illegal aliens and criminal illegal aliens in all of our cities in every part of California." Now she says, "What has bothered Latinos for too long is the harsh rhetoric around the immigration debate. Too often, the debate has been tinged with hurtful words signaling intolerance or worse to many Latinos.''
If a candidate changes his or her position from A to B, he or she can be accused of flip-flopping (or changing his or her mind). What makes the Whitman campaign's changes so special is that her paid mouthpieces are out there insisting that eMeg has NOT changed her position one iota. She's entirely consistent and not a rank opportunist, they argue.
Calbuzz has been harping on this lack of truthiness by the Whitman camp for some time, and we've catalogued a partial list of prevarications. But where are the other non-partisan voices willing to hold Meg's feet to the fire? Why isn't every editorial page and columnist in the state thundering with indignation, instead of equating Brown's admittedly infuriating avoidance of staking clear positions on policy with Whitman's corporate style, black-is-white daily deceits and deceptions?
The beyond standard quantum limit nature of Whitman's spending so far has enabled her, like no California candidate in history, to take advantage of Calbuzzer Mark Twain's timeless dictum: "A lie can run around the world six times while the truth is still trying to put on its pants."
So far, eMeg has circled the globe several times, while the too-often-timid California media are still struggling in the dark to find their trousers.