The ‘Say Anything’ Election

Some politicians will tell voters whatever it takes to win. It's up to you to figure out the truth.


(The Root) — On my radio show TWiB! we cover myriad topics — from the problematic to the flat-out absurd to the seriously dangerous. However, because we scour through news stories every day, we’ve started to notice a frightening pattern. People — who we’re supposed to respect and listen to — are saying things that are not only questionable but completely misleading.

I’m not speaking of really complicated, wonky-type stuff (you know, the type of stuff Christine O’Donnell is into). I’m talking about ideas and concepts that a quick Google search would prove true or false, with a string of experts to back it up. One of my co-hosts, Aaron Rand Freeman, often laments the work we put in to create reasonable, fact-based arguments, yet we aren’t getting traction the way people who seem to just talk out of their asses are.

“Apparently it’s #SayAnything2012,” he said exhaustedly.

And he’s right.

We live in an amazing time. There’s so much information at our fingertips — we could become experts at virtually anything. If you had the time, energy and an Internet connection, you could learn how to dissect a frog, an engine or a political argument. Yet media outlets, pundits and politicians themselves actively promote misrepresentations, half-truths, maliciously framed ideas and outright lies. And there’s little consequence. You can say virtually anything when it comes to our political landscape and it’s OK — as long as it doesn’t mess with your team’s bottom line (*cough* Todd Akin *cough*).

If you’re lying, people who share your political allegiances and ideals will say that the accusations are political spin. There’s no one true authority. The news media, whom many think of as the gatekeepers of truth, are often nothing more than pretty, branded packages of yellow journalism. Politicians, who desire to be elected in order to represent us — to be our voice within government — seek to maintain public office. Because of that, they will often say whatever they feel will get us to trust and vote for them.

None of this equates with being honest and truthful.

For example, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has been on the stump and plastering TV ads in battleground states claiming that the president has taken the “work” out of “work for welfare.” Fact-checkers and many within the news media have pointed out that this claim is false. It’s not just a different framing or opposing viewpoint — it’s an actual lie. Yet this candidate for the highest office of the land continues to make this argument, and media with an ax to grind with the president co-sign. At Romney-Ryan rallies, audiences boo the president for taking their money and giving it to shiftless, nonworking welfare recipients.

Another example: The Aug. 21 issue of Newsweek (it has “news” in the title!) published a cover story from conservative historian Niall Ferguson on why America needs to get rid of Barack Obama as president. Ferguson, who worked as an adviser to John McCain in 2008, lays out a detailed argument as to why Obama has failed and needs to be sent packing. His argument is compelling if you have no urge to actually verify various points that he makes.

Many have already dissected, questioned and flat-out attacked Ferguson for his cover story, but outside of political junkies who either already knew something was off or actively searched for confirmation, the backlash will have little effect on the damage that he’s already caused.