Truth-Tellers, Lost and Found (In Week in Review)

In yesterday’s New York Times “Week in Review,” Patrick Healy wrote a piece headlined, “Let’s Call a Lie A Lie…Finally. ” It was not, however, a piece by a political reporter urging his peers to call a lie made by a candidate a lie (I, too, was fooled by the “Let’s”). Rather it was a piece by a political reporter observing that “once considered politically out of bounds, the word ‘lie’ —stated blunty and unapologetically — has had its unveiling in the 2008 campaign” by, largely, the Obama campaign asserting that the other guy is lying, often.

Healy does not directly address what a campaign repoter’s role should be in dealing with candidates’ lies and/or accusations that their opponent is lying (what can we possibly do?) but he does, I suppose, show us what he considers his role to be:

On Thursday, for instance, an Obama spokesman denounced, as “another flat-out lie from a dishonorable campaign,” a McCain television advertisement citing a newspaper report that Franklin D. Raines, the former leader of now-disgraced Fannie Mae, was advising Mr. Obama on housing issues.

I’m just giving you a “for instance.” You know, of how one campaign responded to a claim made in an opponent’s ad. You know. One campaign ran an ad claiming one thing. The other campaign called it a lie. On to my next paragraph…

Healy did find an expert who addressed the obvious “What now?” aspect of Healy’s overall observation that, Wow, the “L-word” is getting used a lot lately by one of the campaigns:

“When politicians ignore a lie and it doesn’t go away, they can be tainted, and when they deny it, they can sound defensive,” said Geoff Stone, a University of Chicago law professor and an informal adviser to Mr. Obama. “Americans need someone who many people watch who has credibility and can be an independent arbiter — a Walter Cronkite, say — and there isn’t one.”

Today’s Murrow or Cronkite… Someone who many people watch who can be an independent arbiter. Riiiight. But… who?

A few pages further along in the “Week in Review” (in a column by Frank Rich):

You know the press is impotent at unmasking this truthiness when the hardest-hitting interrogation McCain has yet faced on television came on The View. Barbara Walters and Joy Behar called him on several falshoods, including his endlessly repeated fantasy that Palin opposed earmarks for Alaska. Behar used the word “lies” to his face.”…In our news culture, Behar, a stand-up comic by profession, looms as the new Edward R. Murrow.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.