In 2004, Arnold Schwarzenegger — then a popular figure in the Republican party — gave an exciting, upbeat, and surprisingly funny speech at the GOP convention. He covered a lot of territory: how he came to America, how he became a Republican after listening to Richard Nixon, and other highlights of his life story.
Afterwards, then–CBS News anchor Dan Rather reported that Schwarzenegger “slapped John Kerry around like a hockey puck.”
The only problem: Schwarzenegger never mentioned John Kerry, not even once.
I bring it up because it’s hardly news that much of the press likes to report the convention as they want it to be rather than as it is.
It’s also somewhat less than a thunderclap revelation that the press and the Democratic party tend to see things the same way. Which is why it’s unremarkable that the “fact-checkers” and Democratic-party press-release writers are on the same page.
Hence the relentless coverage of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s “lies” during his convention speech. His story about a Janesville, Wis., GM plant, in particular, has stirred up a journalistic fuss:
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you . . . this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.
The Associated Press fact-checkers were among the most restrained in their “correction.”
“The plant halted production in December 2008,” the AP explained, “weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants — though not the Janesville facility — to stay in operation.”
The first problem is that Ryan wasn’t referencing the bailout at all, but the sorry state of the overall economy and President Obama’s record of over-promising and under-delivering.
A bigger problem is that the AP didn’t even look up its own reporting about the Janesville plant. “Production at the General Motors plant in Janesville is scheduled to end for good this week,” the news services reported on April 19, 2009. “GM spokesman Christopher Lee says operations at the southern Wisconsin plant will cease Thursday.”
And there’s the small matter that everything about Ryan’s statement was true if you go by the plain meaning of the words.
Or consider the media’s obsession with the alleged racism of the GOP. The folks at MSNBC are particularly obsessed with the race angle. New York Magazine political reporter John Heilemann and Hardball host Chris Matthews concluded the other night that the word “Chicago” is racially loaded code.
“They keep saying ‘Chicago,’” Matthews said. “That’s another thing that sends that message — this guy’s helping the poor people in the bad neighborhoods, screwing us in the ’burbs.”
Heilemann nodded, adding, “There’s a lot of black people in Chicago.”
One standard cliché is to bemoan the fact that there are so many “white faces” among the delegates. This potted observation is usually brought up in connection with some chin-pulling insight about the GOP’s problems reaching out to minorities.
Many an hour can be wasted listening to the gang at MSNBC expressing their deep concerns about this pressing issue and how the GOP must adapt to a more diverse America. Perhaps the GOP would do better if allegedly serious people stopped going on national television and saying that even the use of the word “Chicago” is now racially loaded.
Meanwhile, one thing the GOP could do is put forward some really attractive and compelling minority speakers to deliver its message. Indeed, that’s what the GOP did on the first night of its convention — and the concerned folks at MSNBC opted to stop covering the speeches whenever a minority took the stage.
If the coverage of this convention is an indication of the trajectory the media will follow for the rest of the campaign, you can be sure of three things: Lies will be defined as facts that are inconvenient to President Obama, racists will be understood to be Republicans who are winning an argument, and truth will be slapped around like a hockey puck.
— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the author of The Tyranny of Clichés. You can write to him by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. ©2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.