Mitt Romney claims he's got a winner with his criticism that President Barack Obama is giving welfare recipients a free ride. Never mind that aspects of his argument against the Democrat are factually inaccurate.
Those flaws aside, Romney's team is pressing on with the charge that the president ended a provision requiring welfare recipients to work. Romney aides insist the argument is helping them gain ground with middle-class voters anxious about the economy and independents who see Obama's welfare changes as an indication that he is a typical liberal, not a moderate. But the campaign offers little evidence to back up those assertions.
Obama's team, in turn, says Romney's welfare charges are dishonest. Numerous independent fact-checkers, including The Associated Press, have determined that Romney and his surrogates are distorting the facts.
This looks suspiciously like journalism. The average media outlet tends to avoid calling liars liars, instead reducing truth to a "he said/she said" matter of opinion; "Mitt Romney says Pres. Obama's giving welfare recipients a free ride. The president disagrees. Big debate! Controversy! Perhaps harsh words! Who's right? Who cares?"
And this is the AP -- a wire service. That means it's being republished all over the country. Team Obama is no doubt happy with this reporting, but so should anyone be who's been concerned with the decline of the quality of American journalism during the past few decades. Whether this will be an ongoing trend is to be seen, but it's reason to hope for the best.
And what a blow it would be to the Romney campaign to suddenly have reporters citing facts. Mitt's been able to get away with quite a bit by relying on the media skittishness about calling out lies. As a result, his lying has reached Michele Bachmann/Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh levels -- i.e., it's depressingly constant.
We exist in a world filled with verifiable facts. Most of the media seems to live in some other world. In that world, true and false aren't logical values, they're buzzwords thrown around by politicians looking to put a positive or negative spin on a story. There are no facts, just opinions -- and all opinions are treated with equal validity.
Maybe it's the Todd Akin story that finally broke the seal on truth-based reporting for the AP. It was like an inoculation; Akin's statement was so ridiculously untrue that it awakened journalism antibodies, which then protected the host reporters from looking like complete idiots. You can't write, "Rep. Todd Akin believes ladies have built-in emergency contraceptives. Maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong. Who even knows?" without looking as astonishingly stupid as Akin. At a certain point, pure shame and self-respect has to make it impossible to resort to the "he said/she said" model.
One story doesn't mean the plague has ended. The AP themselves may relapse back into laziness and cowardice. But there is hope. Truth may yet prove newsworthy.