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Late Night: A Weeklong Course in Self-Defense for Media

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Over at Raw Story this past week, David Edwards has been documenting a rather impertinent — and surprisingly sustained — effort by CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien to speak truth, if not to power, at least to a series of GOP spokespuppets appearing on her show.

It began on Tuesday with O’Brien refusing to back down when faced with a sputtering John Sununu in a dispute over the Romney campaign’s false spin on Medicare cuts:

“I understand that this is a Republican talking point because I’ve heard it repeated over and over again,” O’Brien observed. “These numbers have been debunked, as you know, by the Congressional Budget Office. […]

“Soledad, stop this!” Sununu shouted. “All you’re doing is mimicking the stuff that comes out of the White House and gets repeated on the Democratic blog boards out there.”

I’m telling you what tells you, I’m telling you what the CBO tells you, I’m telling you what CNN’s independent analysis says,” the CNN host explained.

Put an Obama bumper sticker on your forehead when you do this!” the frustrated surrogate shot back.

“You know, let me tell you something,” O’Brien said. “There is independent analysis that details what this is about. … And name calling to me and somehow by you repeating a number of $716 billion, that you can make that stick when [you say] that figure is being ‘stolen’ from Medicare, that’s not true. You can’t just repeat it and make it true, sir.”

In the days that followed, O’Brien had similar disagreements with Romney surrogates Tim Pawlenty and Jason Chaffetz — a dogged refusal to accept talking points that, if she keeps it up, might make the GOP Wurlitzer launch into a chorus calling for her to be fired.

It’d be laughable proof of the old saw about Republicans believing the truth having a liberal bias, if it weren’t so serious.  Because on the one hand, sure, the Romney team’s aggressive dishonesty about Medicare and other issues is just classic Rovian strategy: accuse your opponent of the same thing they’re charging you with, so low-information voters will just throw up their hands amid the crossfire and not bother sorting out the truth.

But on the other hand, the all-out devotion not just to telling lies, but to “repeat[ing] it and make it true,” is Orwell’s prediction in Nineteen Eighty-Four come true:

In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy.

It’s understandable, on one level, that news journalists would rather not put themselves in the position of refereeing what is “truth” during a political campaign, when aggressive spin from both sides is to be expected.  But when one party tries to take advantage of that reluctance by outright inventing its own reality — and expecting the media to stay neutral — then a stance like O’Brien’s becomes essential.

Because if the Romney-Ryan ticket gets to the White House (and the Republicans gain majorities in both houses of Congress) based on a strategy of converting demonstrably false statements into political “truth” by the sheer force of advertising dollars and media repetition… well, they’re not going to just switch to honesty because the election is over, are they?  Of course not; they’ll just aim their rhetorical fire directly at the press, rather than Obama and the Democrats.

As Soledad O’Brien is demonstrating, Orwell was right when he wrote that “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four.”  And if the media doesn’t use that freedom while they can, they just might lose it.

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (