A democracy free of facts

In the heat of battle this presidential election year, accusations are flying from both campaigns of lies, half-truths and contradictions. Yet, the candidates no longer show contrition when a statement is unmasked as a distortion or an out-and-out lie. Instead, they accuse the media of spin.

Can we run a democracy free of (apparently) bothersome facts?

Romney pollster Neil Newhouse, responding to media objections to a Romney campaign ad that falsely claimed the president had eliminated work and job training requirements for welfare beneficiaries, declared: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

Distortions have long been part of electioneering. The news media saw their job as calling out false statements and contextual inaccuracies. Yet, as reporting seemed to have less and less effect on how the candidates conducted their campaigns, journalists became more aggressive. They began abandoning the he-said-she-said-let-the-reader-decide construction in favor of boldly calling out “lies, half-truths and contradictions” (as we say in The Chronicle)...

For their attempts to preserve a functioning democracy, media now are the object of partisans’ scorn, and voters seem not to care.

How else do you explain Paul Ryan’s convention speech, where he shamelessly offered up five brazen deceptions: about the closing of the GM plant in Janesville, Wis., about Medicare, about the deficit, about the downgrading of U.S. debt, and about retaining the safety net for the poor.

Or Romney’s convention statement President Barack Obama began his presidency “with an apology tour”?

Not that the Obama campaign has the corner on the truth. Scrutiny there has revealed statements as distortions or half-truths, too.

The result: Voters are disgusted, and low voter turnout is forecast for the November election.

Science tells us voters are drawn more to candidates who share their values than they are persuaded by facts, but what voter values dishonesty? Voters of both parties should demand better of their candidates.

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