Last week, a lot of media attention was devoted to latest GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich using the word "humane" in a debate answer about illegal immigration, suggesting we should avoid policies that tear families apart. Will erring on the side of humanity sit well with "family values" voters?
There was another big story -- the brazen dishonesty of former frontrunner Mitt Romney -- that received a lot less attention from the media. Instead of obsessing over whether an element of humanity might disqualify Gingrich with some Iowa voters, the media would be better served focusing on whether out-and-out lying should disqualify Romney with all voters.
The lie is found in Romney's first television ad, run last week in New Hampshire. The ad shows President Obama saying, "If we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose." What the ad doesn't tell you is that this was from 2008 -- and that Obama was quoting an aide to John McCain at the time. Here is the full Obama quote: "Senator McCain's campaign actually said, and I quote, 'if we keep talking about the economy, we're going to lose.'" (The full speech can be found here.)
This is far from the garden-variety truth stretching we're used to in political advertising. This is so breathtakingly cynical it should cause us to question whether a candidate that would put it forth is fit for any public office -- let alone the presidency.
This ad isn't about the economy -- it's about character. Or at least it should be. Instead, for those in the media who bothered to cover it, it led mostly to a discussion about campaign tactics. Usually the media loves to play up these "character moments," and here was a moment that really did reveal a candidate's character. Yet, with some notable exceptions, the media punted.
Our own Jason Linkins superbly covered the ad and the reaction to it here, but the story deserves to stay alive. As Jason wrote, "people in the political media just don't take well to calling people liars, probably because if they did, they'd spend so much time doing that that people might get cynical or something!"
Of course, as Jason points out, what actually makes people cynical is seeing obvious lies not called lies. That Mitt Romney hasn't been forced to apologize for this ad, that he hasn't been forced to fire the team responsible for it, isn't just a failure of Romney's -- it's a failure of our media culture and highlights the role it has played in the degradation of our political system.
Instead of a national conversation about what sort of person would approve such an ad, what we mostly got was just another "he said/she said" episode. The Obama camp attacked the ad, and the Romney camp responded. "There was no hidden effort on the part of our campaign," Romney