By Chez Pazienza: Last week on the Bob & Chez Show podcast that I do with him, Bob Cesca brought up a fantastic point about the second presidential debate that I have to admit I’m ashamed I hadn’t considered myself. It had to do with Mitt Romney’s epic blunder on Libya, wherein he tried to call Barack Obama out for supposedly lying about how long it took to label the deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi an act of terror. Romney really thought Obama had walked into a bear trap by bringing the whole thing up, since as far as Romney was concerned it took 14 days for the president to call the attack terrorism, but in short order he found that it was he himself who’d carelessly stumbled into the trap, since his attempted “gotcha” moment was debunked on the spot by debate moderator Candy Crowley; the truth was that Obama had called the incident an “act of terror” almost immediately after it happened.
The question is, why was Romney so sure he was right? Why was he 100% confident that Obama hadn’t, in fact, mentioned terrorism following the Libya attack until two weeks after the fact?
Bob’s apparently even more cynical about politics and the media than I am, at least when it comes to the thinking of today’s Republicans, because his point was decisive and seems shockingly obvious in retrospect: The Romney campaign is getting its information from Fox News and other press outlets that cater solely to right-wing biases. While I get that Fox and its ilk act as a 24/7 propaganda machine — creating and reinforcing the epistemic bubble that surrounds many hardcore conservatives these days and then blaring a nonstop feedback loop inside that bubble in the name of making money and keeping the prejudices of viewers, listeners and readers firmly in place — I truly believed that many of the high-profile politicos they pushed were wise to the game. Put simply, there’s just no way a man and a campaign running for the highest office in the free world could be that misinformed; they had to know that while Fox News pushes a highly spun vision of reality that benefits them by keeping people safely inside that epistemic bubble, the stuff it puts out there under the guise of being a news outlet can’t always be taken at face value. Opinion, particularly opinion that’s regularly divorced from fact, can’t be completely trusted. And yet I think Bob’s right. I think that’s exactly what Romney’s people did: they trusted conservative media.
The implication of this kind of thing can’t really be overstated. Yes, there’s an easy argument to be made that right-wing-biased media directly affect our political discourse and process by pummeling a sizable portion of the American electorate with a nonstop flow of bullshit, but when it also informs — or misinforms — the opinions of actual political leaders who should know better, it’s gone from directly hurting us to directly hurting us. This is a guy who could legitimately be our next president — and there’s a strong possibility he has no idea what’s really going on when it comes to certain very important issues because he and his closest advisers choose to get their information only from media outlets that will bolster their biases through propaganda and nonsense.
Jonathan Bernstein over at Salon also noticed the influence that conservative media had on Romney’s debate performance last week, but the point he brings up is about the political ethos outlets like Fox News teach rather than simply the “facts” they provide. In Bernstein’s opinion, the reason it’s even important to the right that Barack Obama immediately knee-jerk and call the Benghazi attack terrorism before any of the facts are in is that the politics of the right, certainly its reaction to a crisis situation, now consist of nothing more than scandal and symbolism. Scandal was the first thing Romney grabbed for when the Libya attack was happening; rather than calmly assessing the situation or even dispensing with politics altogether during a time when U.S. interests were under attack overseas and people were dying, he instantly sought a truncheon he could use against his opponent; he saw scandal and cover-up as a first response because he’d been trained to by the right-wing echo chamber.
As for symbolism, is it really even necessary to expound on that? The modern GOP is nothing but symbolism. When it comes to brown people, particularly Muslims, any and every kind of violence is terrorism. You never apologize. You always preach American exceptionalism. And you never forget that a failure to be 100% clear about any of the above is nothing but a tacit admission that your convictions are nothing of the sort and should be viewed with suspicion. Republican politics are like a country song: there’s no room for subtlety or metaphor and you never hint at something you can come right out and say. You leave nothing to the imagination.
It’s a frightening thing to imagine a candidate for President of the United States essentially hearing only what he wants to hear and not hearing everything else. We’ve got enough people in this country who do that these days — and enough singularly focused media outlets to serve and confirm every opinion. I expect more from our leaders and the men and women who want to be our leaders. They can’t afford to be so hopelessly wrong.