Fact-checkers have been diligently pointing out all the untruths from the campaigns this election cycle, but what can be done to prevent the candidates from lying in the first place? Bob proposes a measure to do just that. He calls it "The Oath."
BOB GARFIELD: We began this program talking about campaign fact-checking, the process of scrupulously weighing candidates’ assertions in context against established facts, a laudable exercise that has recently utterly debunked, for instance, this. [CLIP]: [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] ANNOUNCER: Obama’s one accomplishment? Legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners. [END CLIP] BOB GARFIELD: Never mind the details. Look it up. It was a bald lie, artfully constructed out of nominal facts, duly vetted and discredited by truth squads. Discredited, but not prevented.
Throughout the campaign, in ads and on the stump, both McCain and Barack Obama have wantonly mischaracterized the positions and political histories of the other. Whether it’s Obama fiddling with a participle to misrepresent McCain’s long-reversed stand on stem cell research or McCain sewing together irrelevancies to paint Obama as a friend of terrorism, they are both, in varying degrees, resorting to standard political operating procedure.
Needless to say, if Crest or Wal-Mart or Bridgestone tried these tactics, there would be hell, or at least a lot of lawyers, to pay.
Obviously, the First Amendment gives political speech a whole lot more leeway, but free expression isn't the problem here. The problem is consequences. In the past few election cycles, there have been none.
And even now, though fact-checking is a mighty hammer, it is a hammer without an anvil. Voters either don't come across fact-checks or they [LAUGHS] hear so many of them that they throw up their hands and hold everybody – and therefore nobody – responsible.
And so, not for the first time, I propose the anvil. What if, at the outset of each race, candidates were asked if they subscribe to “The Oath,” something like, “I will not lie or misrepresent my opponent’s record and positions on the stump in my press materials or in my advertising”? Of course, that would all be on tape.
The theory is that nobody could refuse to make such a pledge. And because every trespass is now documented by the opponent or the media, nobody could dare break it, lest they see an opponent’s ad juxtaposing the lie, the fact-check and “The Oath.” That’s the anvil.
Or, if you prefer another metaphor, “The Straight-Talk Express” will be like that bus in Speed. Take your foot off the truth gas and the whole thing explodes. [CLIP]: [SOUND OF EXPLOSION] DENNIS HOPPER AS HOWARD PAYNE: Do they think I’m doing this for fun?
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.