Did the media just enter age of 'post-truth politics' with Paul Ryan speech?

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Paul Ryan's speech to the RNC Wednesday night "pushed the debate onto a higher plane," David Gergen told CNN. It also, as the Associated Press put it, took "factual shortcuts." Josh Marshall says members of the news media must now decide whether Ryan's higher plane is so high the truth can't possibly be expected to take root there:

The real question to watch over the next 24 hours is whether that lying thing breaks through into its own issue, as something reporters who are afraid of getting smacked around by campaigns are actually willing or feel they need to discuss.

It's not any great feat Thursday morning to find fact-checks and blog posts strafing Ryan's speech. (Here are a few: 1, 2, 3). What's rare is The Washington Post's excellent "Say What" feature about the speech, which breaks it down line by line and has a collection of popular tweets about the speech and in-line links from Post writers, the paper's fact-check blogger and others. There's also one of those charts that shows how many tweets were sent at various times during the speech.

Before Ryan spoke Wednesday, The Atlantic's James Fallows said the old ways of reporting politicians' claims are no longer working and that the mainstream media is "adjusting to the realities of 'post-truth politics.'"

When significant political players are willing to say things that flat-out are not true -- and when they're not slowed down by demonstrations of their claims' falseness -- then reporters who stick to he-said, she-said become accessories to deception.

Is Fallows suggesting reporters become truth vigilantes? He salutes the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and NPR for reporting on lies in real time rather than kicking them down the road to be picked up by sites like PolitiFact, which is owned by Poynter's Tampa Bay Times.

On NPR's Morning Edition Thursday, Mara Liasson rebutted several of Ryan's points. Also on that program, Politico reporter Jonathan Martin talked about how Ryan used the news media to rise to power in a party he characterized as "royalist" -- one where people traditionally wait their turn.

Martin said Ryan "Really leveraged his way into power [in Congress] not by playing the traditional inside game...but by working folks on the outside. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, The Weekly Standard, The National Review." Ryan has "gotten well over 100 mentions in the Wall Street Journal opinion pages alone," Martin said. Ryan's path, he said, reflects a new political reality where "The way to obtain power increasingly is by getting these outside validators developing a profile with them, and then your colleagues who see these people and respect their views ultimately have no choice but to include you at the table of leadership."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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