September 16, 2012 · 2 Comments
By Marie Burns:
On Friday, Paul Ryan made a 25-minute speech at the “Values Voters Summit,” an annual project of the ultra-conservative, Christian fundamentalist Family Research Council. I urge readers to read Ryan’s speech, or for those who can stomach it, watch the video (both via Politico). The speech is a masterpiece of propaganda that exposes the dark side of right-wing thought.
You would not know much about the speech, however, if you relied on the New York Times. In an article published in the print edition of the Saturday Times, Ashley Parker and Trip Gabriel contrast Ryan’s speech with an interview Mitt and Ann Romney gave the same day: “While Mr. Ryan played the hammer of Thor, pounding President Obama in unusually caustic terms, Mr. Romney allowed a lighthearted, humanizing glimpse of himself in an interview for ABC’s ‘Live!’ morning show.” Here the reporters give you that glimpse of the lighthearted, humanized Mitt:
Mr. Romney and his wife, Ann, proved themselves adept consumers of pop culture, disclosing that ‘Modern Family’ is their favorite television show and that Mr. Romney prefers Snooki (of ‘Jersey Shore’) to Honey Boo Boo (of the reality TV show). Asked if they kept up with the Kardashians, Mrs. Romney replied: ‘Who keeps up with the Kardashians? Who can keep up with the Kardashians?’
Later in the piece, Parker and Gabriel write,
The Romneys were unusually playful in their joint interview, part of an effort to humanize Mr. Romney that began at the Republican National Convention and included an intimate portrait of the couple at their New Hampshire lake house filmed for CBS News’s ’60 Minutes.’ When Mr. Strahan asked Mr. Romney what he wears to bed, the former governor of Massachusetts asked: ‘Really? Really?’ before saying: ‘I hear the best answer is as little as possible.’
The reporters go on to tell us Ann Romney “delighted the [TV] audience” with a story of her visit to the White House with Anita Perry, wife of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, where the two women accidentally came upon then-President George W. Bush while he was having a massage:
‘He was covered up, but I was so embarrassed that the next time I did see him I didn’t know what I was going to say to him,’ she recalled. ‘We were going down the elevator from the White House, going to an event together, and I walked up to the elevator and am just like blushing, blushing, blushing, and he looks at me and he winks as he does and says, “I look pretty good, don’t I?”
Sandwiched in between these hilarious, humanizing grafs, Parker and Gabriel write,
Meanwhile, Mr. Ryan was the iron fist inside Mr. Romney’s velvet glove. He spoke to a very different audience from the expected viewers of ‘Live!’ – social conservatives gathered in Washington for the Values Voter Summit sponsored by the Family Research Council, which opposes abortion and gay marriage. Mr. Ryan nodded to both those issues, but his main thrust was to dial up the attacks against President Obama, accusing the president of using ‘straw-man arguments’ because he has no record on which to run. ‘Lately he’s been trying out a new tactic,’ Mr. Ryan said. ‘It’s a classic Barack Obama straw man: If anyone dares to point out the facts of his record, why then, they’re just being negative and pessimistic about the country. The new straw man is people hoping for the decline of America. It’s pretty sad, but this is the closest President Obama can come these days to sounding positive himself,’ he added.
I am unaware of President Obama’s having said anything of the sort, but – even if it were true – Ryan does not seem to understand the term “straw-man.” A straw-man argument is one that misrepresents his opponent’s position. If that is what Ryan means, then he is arguing that President Obama has been saying that the Romney-Ryan camp is “hoping for the decline of America.” I’ve reviewed both the President’s convention speech and his newest stump speech. Obama says nothing even remotely like “Romney and Ryan are hoping for the decline of America.” If anyone is making a straw-man argument, it is Paul Ryan. This is a typical demagogic technique: to project one’s own shortcomings onto one’s opponents. We saw Mitt Romney in a particularly egregious example a few days ago. Infamous for his serial mendacity, Romney told [link updated] George Stephanopoulos, “I think the challenge that I’ll have in the [presidential] debate is that the president tends to, how shall I say it, to say things that aren’t true.”
You would never know that Ryan was making a false assertion by reading the New York Times report. Parker and Gabriel simply quote Ryan without comment except to note that Ryan “was frequently cheered.” Following the he-said/she-said tradition of New York Times reporting, Parker and Gabriel give the Obama camp a one-paragraph rebuttal to the speech:
In response, the Obama campaign criticized Mr. Ryan’s tone as much as his substance. ‘Today, speaking at a values summit, he unleashed a series of over-the-top, dishonest attacks against the president that once again reminded voters that he’s just not ready for prime time,’ said Danny Kanner, an Obama campaign spokesman. ‘In the not too distant past, Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan said they wanted a serious debate on substantive issues. We’re still waiting.’
Yet in the context of Parker and Gabriel’s report, the rebuttal doesn’t make a lot of sense. The reporters cite only the remarks by Ryan which I copied above, so the reader cannot be sure “he unleashed a series of … attacks” against the President. The single quote – untruthful though it is – also is one of the least offensive things Ryan said about President Obama. So a reader is left with the impression that it is the Obama spokesman who might be making an “over-the-top, dishonest attack” on Ryan. After all, Ryan’s tone didn’t sound so bad in that one quote – Ryan said he was all sad about the President’s straw-man – and Parker and Gabriel never hint that there is no truth to Ryan’s remark.
In a Caucus blogpost, published only online, Gabriel much more extensively cites Ryan’s remarks. Gabriel notes in the blogpost that Ryan’s “tone was notably aggressive.” That is to say, Gabriel knows there is more to the story than he and Parker are telling readers of the dead-tree edition. In fact, Ryan’s speech was one extended harangue of character assassination and alarming augury. Just look at this passage, which comes near the top of Ryan’s remarks:
In 53 days, we have a choice between two very different ideas about our country – how we were meant to live, and what we were meant to be. It’s the kind of choice that can never be taken for granted. Peace, freedom, and civilized values have enemies in this world, as we have been reminded by events in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
This is masterful. Ryan connects Obama to our “enemies.” The election presents a choice, Ryan says, between (1) the American way of life as we know it, even our essential selves – “how we were meant to live and what we were meant to be” – and (2) the loss of our “peace, freedom and civilized values” to Obama and “other” enemies. Yes, I know if you read carefully, that is not precisely what Ryan says. But his audience here are “values voters,” most of whom already believe Barack Hussein Obama is an “enemy Muslim.” What you, as a careful reader, read, and what these values voters hear are two entirely different things. The passage I cited is not even a subtle dog-whistle. All the subtlety is in the calibrated sentence structure, something surely lost on Ryan’s audience.
Ryan goes on to suggest that Obama’s “equivocations” have emboldened extremists:
The least equivocation or mixed signal only makes them bolder. Look across that region today, and what do we see? The slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration.
Here again, Ryan is brilliant. He starts out with two examples for which he does not specifically hold Obama responsible. But the third example? – Iran’s being four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon? No question who he’s talking about there. In his fourth example, Ryan specifically names “the Obama administration.” Again, the listener is meant to conflate all four examples and blame President Obama for all of these Middle East situations. There is nary a clue to this charge in Parker and Gabriel’s report.
In her column in Sunday’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd mocks these remarks, describing Ryan as a know-nothing puppet of neocon disaster Dan Senor: “Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor. The hawkish Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte. A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption – it’s all ominously familiar.” Remarkably, in his blogpost Gabriel calls Ryan’s remarks about Obama’s Middle-East policy a “more modulated broadside.” Do you think maybe the Times reporters are not too bright?
When Ryan switches to speaking about domestic issues, he follows a similarly sneaky script: he begins by sounding pretty charitable toward the President: “It is true that President Obama had a lot of problems not of his own making.” Then he goes on to claim that Obama “came in with one-party rule, and the chance to do everything of his own choosing.” Actually, no. The Democrats controlled the House, but they did not get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate until Al Franken of Minnesota was sworn in on July 7, 2009. Even then, the 60 “Democrats” included two independents, one of whom was Joe Lieberman of Connecticut who used his “independence” to increase his Sunday talk-show bookings and quash one Democratic plan after another. Massachusetts Democrat Ted Kennedy, who was extremely ill and unable to work, died August 25, 2009, so again, the Democrats had no majority until his replacement, Paul Kirk, was sworn in as a placeholder a month later. Democrats lost that tenuous 60-vote advantage in January when Scott Brown of Massachusetts, a Republican, was sworn in after a Massachusetts special election to replace Kirk. Since Republicans filibustered almost every piece of legislation and many presidential nominations, Republicans – not Democrats – effective controlled the Senate during most of the 111th Congress. President Obama by no means had “the chance to do everything of his own choosing.” (In fact, no President does. Ryan, a member of Congress, knows perfectly well that Congress – not the President – are the lawmakers.)
And so Ryan continued, making a series of inaccurate, misleading or superfluous remarks about the President and his policies, none of which the New York Times reported in the print edition. Here’s one: “He didn’t say the word ‘stimulus,’ either, because he wasted $831 billion of borrowed money.” Really? The Times’ editorial page writer David Firestone writes in a Sunday Review editorial,
On the most basic level, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is responsible for saving and creating 2.5 million jobs. The majority of economists agree that it helped the economy grow by as much as 3.8 percent, and kept the unemployment rate from reaching 12 percent. The stimulus is the reason, in fact, that most Americans are better off than they were four years ago, when the economy was in serious danger of shutting down.
One funny one: after complaining that the President has accused Republicans of being “anti-government,” Ryan makes a long string of “anti-government” remarks, contrasting Obama’s secular belief in government with his own – and his audience’s – belief in God. Internal inconsistency does not bother demagogues.
The thrust of Ryan’s speech is to establish President Obama as a kind of Anti-Christ, the enemy of God, “peace, freedom and civilized values.” His purpose is to instill in his audience a true existential fear that President Obama’s re-election would “set in motion things that can never be called back. It would be a choice to give up so many other choices…. If we renew the contract, we will get the same deal – with only one difference: In a second term, he will never answer to you again.”
You surely wouldn’t glean any of that reading the New York Times. In fact, I doubt Parker and Gabriel even get it. If they know that Ryan was delivering a Doomsday speech to values voters – many of whom are probably preparing for the End of Days now – they certainly do not let on.
And there’s something else Parker and Gabriel do not let on. In fact, Romney did “appear” at the Values Voters Summit, too. Readers will have to go to the Los Angeles Times or some other news source to find that out: Michael Memoli of the L.A. Times reports, “Romney addressed the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington via a recorded video message, surprising attendees who had not expected to hear from the Republican nominee.”
Why don’t Parker and Gabriel tell us about Romney’s video appearance? Because it would ruin their “good-cop/bad-cop” thesis (or “softball and hardball,” as the headline writer puts it) – their claim that Romney spent the day with his wife, joshing with teevee hosts and being a fun-loving human being while his running mate was lambasting the President. There is nothing in the New York Times – on line or in print – about Romney’s video message. Perhaps the Times is keeping Romney’s video address under wraps because that is the way the Romney-Ryan campaign wants it. Chris Geider of BuzzFeed writes,
You won’t find Mitt Romney’s heartfelt video address to the Values Voter Summit this afternoon on his YouTube channel – or almost anywhere else. Both Romney’s campaign and the Family Research Council – which organized this weekend’s Values Voters Summit – have declined to make available a copy of Romney’s video address to the group, despite an FRC spokesman telling reporters before 5 p.m. Friday they would do so shortly.’ … The Family Research Council Friday evening released all of the videos from the day’s event — except Romney’s.
Geider adds, “The lack of urgency in distributing a video focused intensely at social issues offers a glimpse at the Republicans’ message calibrations, and at an apparent decision not to seek a broader audience for an address focused largely on abortion.” Geider later updated his post: “A Family Research Council spokesman sent out the video at 10:47 p.m.” It is now embedded at the bottom of the linked BuzzFeed post. Romney’s speech is not “lighthearted.”
Paul Ryan’s speech to Values Voters was a long-winded ad hominem attack on President Obama. It was peppered with untruths and incendiary innuendo. His suggestions that President Obama’s re-election would deprive Americans of their God-given way of life is extremist rhetoric that falls outside the realm of the usual political grandstanding. The New York Times report characterized a stream of false accusations and dire warnings merely as “unusually caustic” and characterized Ryan himself as “the iron fist inside Mr. Romney’s velvet glove.” But absent any evidence of the extent of Ryan’s attack or any analysis of the veracity of its content, the reporters left New York Times readers with no idea of how distorted, hyperbolic and demagogic the speech was. “Unusually caustic” just doesn’t cut it. Moreover, Parker and Gabriel used the Romney interview – an interview that was conducted by a television personality, not by a journalist – to distract the reader from Ryan’s extreme and largely unfounded remarks. Reporters covering a speech by a candidate who accuses the President of the United States of abuse of power and shirking his Constitutional duties should not dilute such charges with “fun” stories about naked Mitt and half-naked Dubya.
The New York Times published a dishonest and deceptive news report. While the reporters hinted at the character of Paul Ryan’s speech, they did not provide any evidence that would lead the reader to draw the same conclusion. On the contrary, by printing the Obama campaign’s criticism of the speech without documenting evidence of the spokesman’s complaint, the report made the Obama spokesman seem more unhinged than Ryan. Most glaringly, Parker and Ryan completely omitted any reference to the videotaped speech Mitt Romney gave to the same convention. This omission leads the reader to believe that Romney had avoided a presence at the anti-feminist, anti-gay fundamentalist convention and had devoted himself instead to “reaching out to women watching morning television.” Pro-choice and gay advocates reading the New York Times report just might think Mitt Romney was “secretly” on their side – a misapprehension that would please the Romney campaign. Instead, the reporters used the device of a daytime television show to hide the fact that the presidential nominee was right in there with his vice-presidential pick, telling values voters he would “uphold the sanctity of life” and “defend marriage, not try to redefine it.”
New York Times readers should not have to search out BuzzFeed to learn Mitt Romney addressed the values voters, too. Nor should they have to rely on Politico to find out what Paul Ryan really said.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com