Extraneous Truth at the Vice Presidential Debate, Continued
I wanted to add a few extra pieces of evidence to my contention that facts were extraneous to the Vice Presidential debate.
The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Z. Barabak was one of three journalists “scoring” the Vice Presidential debate for the paper. In doing so, he may have given the best example of the meaninglessness of facts to the news media:
Ignoring the empirical evidence, Pence continued to deflect Kaine’s rat-a-tat attacks with a show of furrow-browed Hoosier earnestness. His approach: either ignore or deny things that Trump has said, regardless of all evidence to the contrary. Substance aside — and as much as he sometimes strained credulity – Pence once more edged Kaine with his sober presidential mien. There’s a reason it’s called a debate performance. Substance matters. But style matters more.
It’s not that Barabak is unaware of the facts, or that he doesn’t know Pence is lying. It’s just that he thinks they don’t matter at all. Here’s how he summed up the debate:
If the facts were more often on the Democrat’s side, his GOP rival did the better job of seeming convincing and, on that basis, was the winner of the debate.
His colleague, Cathleen Decker, added:
Stylistically, Pence was a better debater: He came across as cool and measured. If you’re a stickler for truth, however, you might have objected to the fact that he repeatedly denied things that Trump has said or done, as though by force of personality he could erase Trump’s insults.
Over at CBS News, Managing Director of Politics for CBS Digital Will Rahn explained why he thought Pence won the Vice Presidential debate:
On Tuesday, though, he at least seemed studied, well-versed, polished. He knew his stuff, and appeared at ease talking about it.
At no point does Rahn ever consider whether facts played any role in the debate. If he had, then maybe he would have noticed the irony of a journalist saying that Pence “knew his stuff” while being factually wrong about everything. The mere fact that lies are polished and well-rehearsed doesn’t excuse them from being lies – if anything, that just shows that the lying was premeditated. Rahn continued:
Back to Pence. By seeming polite, knowledgeable and, most importantly in this ongoing freak show of an election, normal, Pence may have reassured some voters that a Trump White House would at least have one sane, functioning adult walking around.
Rahn actually employs the word “knowledgeable” without any consideration of facts or accuracy, which may be the ne plus ultra of journalistic malpractice. His use of the word “seeming” puts all the emphasis on style and appearance. And he’s literally normalizing Pence’s alternate reality where facts are meaningless, which is exactly what political scientist Brendan Nyhan – who studies political misinformation – warns against:
This is the key point. Can’t allow norms to erode further. Politicians will always spin but this goes much further and is more damaging. https://t.co/QWcqUxtfFf
— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan) October 5, 2016
Meanwhile, former CNN pundit Bill Schneider – now a “political analyst and professor of policy, government and international affairs” at the libertarian fantasy camp otherwise known as George Mason University – posted his take on the Vice Presidential debate for Al Jazeera:
Who won? Close call. Kaine had the stronger points, particularly in his relentless attacks on Trump. But Pence may have elicited more sympathy from voters. Pence was a gentleman. Give the victory to Kaine on points. But public sympathy probably favoured Pence.
Apparently, lying repeatedly makes you a gentleman. (Insert joke about fragile masculinity or the soft bigotry of low expectations.) He concludes:
Pence came across as a man of honour and decency.
Contrary to Professor Schneider’s “analysis,” there’s nothing honorable or decent about willfully ignoring basic facts.