At this week's CNN debate, the GOP presidential contenders continued the tradition of countless Republican and Democratic candidates before them, filling the airwaves with an abundance of factual exaggerations and bald-faced lies. Brooke identifies some of the most egregious examples, and wonders why debate moderators so rarely intervene when candidates distort the facts.
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BROOKE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. This Wednesday, after a long…
CNN: ... less than 48 hours away from the next debate with the Republican candidates.
CNN: Just 14 hours away from the CNN Republican debate.
CNN: Getting ready, getting excited, two hours, 29 minutes, 2 seconds to go
BROOKE: ….build up, CNN hosted the second round of the GOP primary debates. It was a tense three hours, as all 11 of the leading GOP hopefuls vied for attention.
As moderator Jake Tapper explained at the outset, this wasn’t going to be one of those boring debates where the candidates speak only to the moderator and remain, you know, civil. This was going to be real.
TAPPER: Our goal for this evening is a debate. A true debate. With candidates addressing each other in areas where they differ, where they disagree on policy, on politics, on leadership. [tapper_goal]
BROOKE: The candidates were more than happy to oblige.
BUSH: The one guy that had some special interests that I know of, that tried to get me to change my views on something, that was generous and gave me money, was Donald Trump! He wanted casino gambling in Florida.
TRUMP: I didn’t want-
BUSH: Yes you did!
TRUMP: Totally false.
BUSH: You wanted it and you didn’t get it, because I was opposed to casino gambling before, during, and after. And that’s not...I’m not gonna be bought by anyone.
TRUMP: I promise, if I wanted it, I woulda gotten it.
BUSH: No way, man. [cheers and applause]
BROOKE: Per CNN’s wish, civility went south, along with the facts. For instance, in the exchange you just heard, Jeb Bush was right - Donald Trump did unsuccessfully lobby the former Florida governor for the right to build a casino in the Sunshine State. Trump’s flat denial was one of the evening’s earliest bald-faced lies - but not the last.
Rubio:Let's remember what the president said. He said the attack he would conduct would be a pinprick.
BROOKE: Marco Rubio was wrong: President Obama specifically said his proposed strike on Syria wouldn’t be a pinprick.
FIORINA:I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.
BROOKE: Vox columnist Sarah Kliff watched all twelve hours of unedited footage of the Planned Parenthood videos Carly Fiorina cites - the scene she describes does not exist.
CRUZ : And most astonishingly, this agreement trusts the Iranians to inspect themselves.
BROOKE: Rumors of Iranian self-inspection come primarily from a discredited AP report, if Cruz had read the actual deal he’d know it calls for the presence of outside inspectors. When it comes to misdirection, there’s so much to choose from.
Finally, faced with a broadside from Donald Trump, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, whose own testimony was far from spotless, decided he’d had enough:
WALKER: Just because you say something doesn’t make it true. The facts are the facts. We balanced a $3.6 billion budget deficit. We did it by cutting taxes $4.7 billion....
BROOKE: You’re right, Governor Walker. Well, according to politifact, half right. But he was completely right about facts being facts. Still, in presidential debates the facts have a tendency to give way to their estranged cousin, memorably named by former fake pundit Stephen Colbert:
COLBERT: Truthiness!...The truthiness is: anyone can read the news to you. I promise to feel the news at you.
BROOKE: Truthiness rules in political debates, because candidates know that the stickiest moments are the ones in which their assertions feel right...even if they are incontestably….wrong. And it’s hard to blame the candidates entirely for their bad behavior. They probably wouldn’t do it if they thought they’d have to pay for it. And there’s the rub. Because in theory, there are moderators on the stage, seasoned journalists, who won’t let them get away with it, whereas in reality, this hardly ever happens.
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden, the day after the attack, that it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration? Is that what you’re saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed, governor.
ROMNEY: I wanna make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: He did in fact, sir…so lemme, lemme ...call it an act of terror in the Rose Garden...
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
BROOKE: When Candy Crowley did it in 2012 people paid attention:. And as Crowley explained on The View the next day, she thought that if she cleared it up, the candidates could move on to more substantive issues:
CROWLEY: It did not come to me as like, “I’m gonna fact check this.” It came to me as, “could we get past this, because the point is, this is a semantic thing.” And I understand that what they’re trying to say is “this was an act of terror and you didn’t want it to be an act of terror, Mr. President, because you wanna be the successful person here, and that would be a setback for you, but then we got wrapped up in the word.
BROOKE: But Crowley was under no delusions about how her flagrant act of journalism would be interpreted.
CROWLEY: Look, people are gonna look at this through the prism that they look at this through.
BROOKE: Did they ever. Fox’s Neil Cavuto:
CAVUTO: Every time I see that, I still have the same reaction: not so dandy, Candy. After the debate, debating a moderator who went too far. Forget town hall - did Candy Crowley turn it into a town maul?
BROOKE: And Rush Limbaugh:
LIMBAUGH: She committed an act of journalistic terror or malpractice last night. If there were any journalistic standards, what she did last night would have been the equivalent of blowing up her career like a suicide bomber. But there aren’t any journalistic standards anymore
BROOKE: Ah, the terror of truth! When conducting a foreign policy debate, why not hire a moderator with specific knowledge, and the right to use it? We expect politicians to lie, but we don’t expect journalists to keep them honest? Speaking truth to power is sooo last millennium.
So as we bemoan our dysfunctional politics, let's reserve a groan for the all too often pusillanimous practices of TV journalism. What Candy Crowley did in 2012 shouldn’t be outrageous. Certainly no more than the surreal experience of watching grown men and women of both parties lie to each other, and to us, for hours on end, while moderators who should, and do, know better, egg them on.