When former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a potential contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, spoke at length during a radio interview the other day about President Obama's worldview having been shaped by his growing up in Kenya, the inevitable criticism about Huckabee's intentional spreading of a known lie was met with a predictable, tiresome and insulting response: he "misspoke."
Misspeaking is when you unintentionally say something that you do not mean to say. It's the act of invoking a poor choice of words when you mean to make a related point and, if nothing else, misspeaking is an accidental event. By definition, one cannot misspeak on purpose.
Saying something you know to be false isn't misspeaking, it's lying. Period. You would think a former Baptist minister would know the difference - and he probably does - but somewhere along the way, spreading outright lies has been conflated with misspeaking so often that the shock value of a national figure knowingly spreading a hateful, bigoted, fear-mongering whopper of a lie has become virtually non-existent. The public has been lied to so often, so consistently over the course of the last 30 years or so that such incidents are barely met with a shrug of the shoulders, much less the outrage that such instances deserve. Politicians telling lies is considered par for the course and, regrettably, no big deal.
The problem is so much more pervasive today, however, with the advent of Fox "News" and the extensive reach of the ultra-regressive right wing media machine. Regressive programming dominates AM talk radio, thanks to the Reagan Administration's dismantling of the fairness doctrine in 1987, and Fox "News" effectually operates as the communications arm of the RNC. As a result, the problem is no longer limited to the occasional lie told by a politician; rather, such lies have a way of becoming accepted as truth when repeated often enough by partisan hacks posing as journalists.
Journalism in America used to perform a necessary and noble function as an additional check on the powers of those who hold higher office. Whereas journalism used to be understood as a profession devoted to seeking out and reporting the truth, the lines between real journalism and partisan propaganda have been blurred to such a degree that the average consumer of news often has no idea that they're being lied to and manipulated to advance a political and ideological agenda, rather than being informed about local, national and international events.
Nowhere is this phenomenon put on such blatant display than at Fox "News." While claiming to be "fair and balanced," Fox "News" exists for the sole purpose of advancing the interests of the Republican party, at the expense of the interests of the middle class. Their embarrassingly vapid and moronic reporters and anchors are utterly incapable of independent thought, while their commentators are an endless parade of current and former high-ranking Republicans looking to cash in from their time in office.
One cannot claim to be "fair and balanced" when only one point of view is ever presented, however, that's really beside the point. The truth doesn't have sides - either what is being reported consists of actual, verified facts or what is being reported is not news. It cannot be both. The implication behind the Fox "News" claim that their facts are "fair and balanced" is that other news outlets' facts are not. Again, facts don't have different sides - something is either true or it is not - it doesn't get any simpler than that.
Nevertheless, for at least the last 15 years, the public's understanding of the role of Journalism in maintaining a healthy and honest democracy has eroded to the point where an entire generation has been instilled with the false notion that there's a liberal side and a conservative side to every story when nothing could be further from the truth. Facts are neither liberal nor conservative - they're either true and, thus, verifiable, or they're not facts at all and, thus, lies. It’s well past time we start acknowledging that reality.
On a near daily basis, the constant barrage of lies and distortions emanating from the Fox propaganda machine, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and countless other shameless peddlers of ignorance, bigotry and hate is exposed by sites like MediaMatters for America and shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Politifact.com uses a graphic “truth-o-meter” to judge the accuracy of claims made by politicians – it’s downright appalling how often such claims are deemed “false” or, worse, attributed with the wholly unflattering “Pants on Fire” designation. Michelle Bachmann, the batshit crazy Republican Representative from Minnesota has the dubious distinction of never having uttered a single statement deemed more than “half true,” yet she just won re-election in her home district by a landslide.
The real tragedy behind our collectively slipping insistence on truth is the so-called mainstream media’s wholesale abdication of their role as the arbiters of what is true and what is not. Instead of playing the indispensible role of the “fourth estate,” the mainstream media is a corporate-dominated business enterprise with just as much of a vested interest in keeping the masses uninformed and ignorant as the politicians who tell their lies in the first place.
As a result, only those of us who have the critical thinking skills necessary to recognize that truth is elusive and must be actively sought out through a variety of sources are truly informed about the world around us. With the systemic dumbing-down of America occurring during the past few decades, fewer and fewer of us actually possess those skills and these disturbing trends are on a fixed trajectory to worsen over time.