Paul Ryan: weakling, con man, misleader Ryan in headlines

paul-ryan-60-minutesOver the weekend we got to see Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on CBS News’ “60 Minutes”… Did he disagree with Donald Trump’s [fantastical made-up fantasy] claim of millions of illegal voters in the last election? Mr. Ryan: “I don’t know. I’m not really focused on these things.”

This is actually quite serious. The supposedly “responsible” or “traditional” or “establishment” leaders in the Republican Party [see also Reince Priebus and VP Mike Pence] are actively helping Trump weaken our democracy.

It is time… way past time… for the non-insane press, which is now just one segment of what Americans regard as their news and information system, to call a spade a spade.

Here’s a list — ranked, roughly, from best to worst — of news headlines covering Ryan’s remarks:

GQ: ‘Paul Ryan Apparently Doesn’t Give a Shit if Donald Trump Lies About Illegal Voting’

Politico: ‘Ryan won’t repudiate Trump’s false illegal voter claims’

Raw Story: ‘I have no knowledge of such things’: Paul Ryan plays dumb on Trump’s big lie about illegal voters

Mediaite: Paul Ryan on Trump’s Voter Fraud Claims: ‘It Doesn’t Matter to Me,’ He Won

Yahoo news: Paul Ryan on Trump’s baseless voter fraud claim: ‘Who cares what he tweeted?’

Huffington Post: Paul Ryan On Donald Trump Tweeting Lies: ‘Who Cares?’

Salon: Let’s watch Republicans feign ignorance about Donald Trump’s bogus voter fraud claims

Wisconsin State Journal: Paul Ryan: ‘Who cares’ what Donald Trump tweets if problems are fixed

To their credit, the Wisconsin State Journal did publish something.  But why is the headline so ambiguous? After reading the headline, would anyone know what the story is about? The story is: Trump manufactures a self-serving lie, a YUUUGE lie, a lie corrosive to American democracy. And Paul Ryan fails to marshal courage to say bupkis.


Big Lies… endlessly repeated It takes a toll

Now we shall have a President-elect who just lets the Big Lies fly.

It’s not as if past Presidents have never misled us. But in the past Presidential lies were relatively rare and then carefully constructed. They were reviewed and polished by high-level wordsmiths and cautious handlers before being rolled out to the public. Think Condi Rice’s line, “…there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly Saddam can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” That was a work of art delivered on behalf of her President. It was scary as hell, and uncheckable by the press. True, it was checkable by U.N weapons inspectors, but that’s another long story.

But now Trump. Now we have a President-elect who wakes up at 3 in the morning and delivers a load of obvious rubbish via Twitter.  Being who he is, he has 16.5 million Twitter followers, which includes of course at least half the reporters in America. He has no filters of his own. At 3 AM, in his gold-embroidered pajamas, he has no handlers. This will be our new world:


The idea that busloads, or thousands, or now (in the fevered brain of a President-elect) millions of people are illegally voting in U.S elections really got rolling about 6 years ago. It’s still got momentum. And it’s always been baseless. It was a lie manufactured out of nothing by GOP governors and GOP state legislators working to make voting more difficult and suppress voting among Democratic constituencies. There was never any evidence of voter fraud. When the governors and legislators were pressed for evidence, none was forthcoming.

This was, in a way, quite sadly instructive. Turns out, propaganda campaigns are easy. No jingles are necessary, no clever ad-copy is needed. No actual evidence is required. Propaganda simply needs to be repeated, like any other advertising.

Look at the voter fraud lie. Begin by simply asserting (against all evidence) that some horrible thing (voter fraud) is going on. When challenged for evidence, ignore the challenge. Simply go back to the original assertion. Do it over and over. Remember, you don’t need everyone to buy your beer; you just want a lot of people to do so.

These GOP governors and legislators never paid any price for peddling this lie. The mainstream press remained largely predictably supine.

And now we have a man ascending to the pinnacle of world power — a U.S. President-elect — who merrily repeats the “illegal voter” b-s.

By now millions of Americans believe that busloads, or thousands, or (ludicrously) millions of people are voting in our elections illegally. Millions of us also believe that President Obama is a Muslim, or was born in Kenya.

When repeated over and over, even the most absurd claptrap finds a home in the minds of the gullible, and the lightly-informed, or the predisposed. And remember, you don’t need everyone to buy your beer; you just want a lot of people to do so.

Is there any hope that we shall survive this collapse in the public dialog? Probably not. Really. Probably not. But let’s enjoy a small moment of progress. Here are a couple of headlines from our most valuable national press outlets– the New York Times and the Washington Post (h/t Melissa Block at NPR):


Now the first headline (from the NY Times) is the better. The debunking is located right in the headline. The WaPo’s debunk is in the sub-headline. But it too is a step forward. This is progress, but should the public have waited for this for six years? When some politician is spouting what is well known as rubbish, headlines that repeat or reinforce the rubbish do the public great harm. And those headlines happen all too often.

It’s nice to be polite, but if you’re a journalist being polite to a barrel of rubbish? And maintaining that pose over a span of years? What should we suppose might happen?


Front page voter ID nonsense

This dismally stupid headline makes the routinely credulous reporting a real eye-catcher. Front page, Wisconsin State Journal — Voter ID ruling stirs confusion, raises fraud concerns. What?!?

Look, dear friends at the State Journal, there IS no evidence of felony-committing, fake “voters” masquerading as someone else on Election Day. Never was. It’s a scam, and a rather obvious one, intended to fool the gullible and the lightly informed, and to hide the real self-serving motives of powerful state politicians, to skew the vote, maybe just a percent or two, in their own favor.

Pixies! Babies!

If these same politicians offered a bill to stop pixies from kidnapping babies, how would you play it?pixie

How would you report this “problem”? Would you bring any kind of skepticism to it? Or would you just report what the politicians were saying? If the politicians didn’t have actual evidence of pixie criminals… if they claimed simply that lots of people were “concerned” about the possibility (and indeed, if you’ve ever read a poll, you can be certain that some us will say, yes, very concerned about pixies)… would you produce stories and headlines that seem to take this “concern” seriously? Because, you know, that not only misinforms readers, it makes you look very gullible. And “gullibility” is one of the last things we need in our journalists.


Find the fraud in this picture

It’s a simple, bedrock understanding — democracy only stands a chance when citizens vote. So what’s going on when obstacles are laid out to keep voters from voting?

And is anyone ACTUALLY confused by what’s going on?

voter fraud

Of course, we’re thinking about this now because the U.S. Supreme Court has just screwed up the Voting Rights Act, substituting its own (5-4) view for the view of Congress, making it easier for states to play anti-democracy games at election time.

Now, because of this latest decision, we will witness another wave of schemes boiling up in the various states, designed to restrict legitimate voters from actually voting. In fact, it’s already well underway These schemes will make voting harder in various ways — harder to vote absentee, or harder if you’re young, or harder if you’re poor, or harder if you’re going to school, or harder if you don’t own a car, and on and on.

And often times the cover story for restricting voting will be the supposed fear of “voter fraud” (voter impersonation), even when no voter fraud is to be found.

People understand that this is all malarkey. The game is not exactly “clever”. Yes, the game will uncover a handful of honest dupes, gullible and easily excitable, genuinely afraid that Mexicans are getting Obama-cars and free money to impersonate dead voters in Racine and Kenosha. Or whatever. But people in general understand what’s really going on. The Republican Party isn’t doing well with certain groups like young people, poor people, black people, brown people, yellow people, union members, and women (to name a few), and so they’re making it harder for those people to vote.

Certainly the politicians themselves know exactly what’s going on in this dirty game. And — except for a few hyper-credulous dupes as noted above — the vast majority of Republican voters also know that “voter fraud” is a stratagem and a canard, but they hold their noses, and they stick together, and the cover story of voter fraud limps on.

What about journalists? Can they find the fraud in the picture? Well, presumably yes, quite easily. But how will they report it? Will they avoid the obvious? That’s a recipe for slowly piddling away their own credibility. Most people get what’s going on, and why.

For the editorial page, it’s much, much worse. They have no need to be neutral. In fact, they’re expected to call things out. If they cannot recognize or discuss imaginary claims of voter fraud in honest terms, then the editorial operation simply hemorrhages credibility.

Of course, there’s more than two ways to flub up the voter fraud story. News operations can just ignore it. They can opine on the editorial page that it’s not important (even as the GOP is flying to get it done). They can mention it but quickly move on. They can blur the facts, calling it “partisan wrangling”. They can mis-weigh the evidence.

But eventually, flubbing up an otherwise easy “voter fraud” story WILL have a bad effect.