Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Assault on Paul Ryan II

Stephen Hayes
If you missed Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention last week and tried to play catch-up the next morning, you could be forgiven for concluding that nothing the Wisconsin congressman said was true.

Twelve hours after the speech, Josh Marshall, editor of the liberal Talking Points Memo, popular among journalists, asked: “Will the Paul Ryan Lying Thing Break Through in the Mainstream Press?”

Um, yes. It would.

The mainstream media “fact checked” Paul Ryan’s speech with alacrity. At the Washington Post, for instance, four of the five most-read articles were, in effect, accusations that Ryan had lied. The New York Times published an article under the headline: “Ryan’s Speech Contained a Litany of Falsehoods.” The Associated Press accused Ryan of taking “factual shortcuts.” The Week magazine published not only “The media coverage of Paul Ryan’s speech: 15 Euphemisms for Lying,” but also “Why Paul Ryan thought he could get away with lying: 6 theories.”

Here’s the funny thing about most of these articles: They fail to cite a single fact that Ryan misstated or lie that he told. In most cases, the self-described fact-checks are little more than complaints that Ryan failed to provide context for his criticism of Barack Obama. For example, virtually every one of these articles included a complaint about Ryan’s comments on Obama and entitlement reform. In accusing Obama of failing to lead on entitlements, Ryan noted that Obama had ignored the findings of the Simpson-Bowles Commission that the president himself had empaneled. The complaint: Ryan did not mention that he had served on the commission and voted against its findings.

Could Paul Ryan have gone out of his way to disclose his role? Of course. Does his failure to do so constitute a “lie”? Hardly. There’s an additional irony here. None of those accusing Ryan of omitting important context noted in their reports that Ryan, both before and after voting against Simpson-Bowles, authored comprehensive and detailed plans to address entitlements and debt—something that might be considered important context for their critiques of Ryan.

Most of the fact checking focused on a passage about a GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin, Ryan’s hometown. This, allegedly, is the big lie:

My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it—especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that G.M. 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 100 years.”

That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s fact-checker, accused Ryan of lying.

In his acceptance speech, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan appeared to suggest that President Obama was responsible for the closing of a GM plant in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisc. That’s not true. The plant was closed in December 2008, before Obama was sworn in.

There are two things wrong with this. Ryan didn’t claim that Obama was responsible for the closing of the GM plant, he faulted Obama for failing to do what he’d suggested he’d do: Save it. It’s an important distinction. If Ryan’s intent had been to deceive, he wouldn’t have introduced his critique noting that “we were about to lose a major factory” when Obama told workers, “this plant will be here for another 100 years.” Second, Kessler was simply wrong to claim “the plant was closed in December 2008, before Obama was sworn in.” The plant was producing trucks as late as April 2009, several months after Obama was sworn in. On February 19, a month after Obama’s inauguration, the Janesville Gazette reported on the imminent closure: “General Motors will end medium-duty truck production in Janesville on April 23, four months to the day after the plant stopped building full-size sport utility vehicles. About 100 employees associated with the line learned of the layoffs Wednesday.”

It’s true that GM, in the summer of 2008, had announced its intention to put the plant on standby. But if announcing something accomplished it, I would have long ago announced that I’d lost 30 pounds. The plant was not, in fact, “closed in December 2008.”

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