Sarah Palin, the Mainstream Media Filter, and the Growing Culture of Casual Lies

As much as pols would like to skip the media, we're necessary.

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SHOREHAM, Vt.—Sarah Palin took great pleasure last night in declaring her independence from the "filter" of the mainstream media. No doubt.

Scoring cheap shots off of the media is easy, especially for a Republican.

But here's why the "filter" of the media is important: Politicians lie.

They also shade the facts, spin, evade, and occasionally just get things inadvertently wrong.

Who calls the pols on these things? Do the media get them all? No. Have nontraditional media (blogs—which, by the way, are rapidly entering the mainstream) helped the process? Absolutely.

(And while we're on the subject of the media, let's dispense with the myth of the mainstream media as some sort of ideologically-driven monolith. Fox News and MSNBC are both mainstream media, and the only ideology they share is a desire to turn a profit.)

Is there any question why politicians like to cut the media out of this process? For all that the public dislikes the media, however, we need them. (Yes, we in the media are also citizens, voters, and consumers of media—we qualify as the public as well.)

And politicians have learned to game the system, using media attempts at objectivity and balance to foist absurd untruths and exaggerations upon the public, knowing that reporters will give each side equal weight, even if one side is obviously full of something other than well-intentioned veracity.

Think of the whoppers and white lies with which we've been bombarded over the past few weeks alone. Off the top of my head, I think of Joe Biden's recounting of Barack Obama's legislative record, which might make one think that the gentleman from Illinois is the second coming of Henry Clay; the initial portrait of Sarah Palin—antipork crusader who killed "the Bridge to Nowhere," sold a state plane on eBay for a profit, etc.—which turned out to be as tissue-thin as her foreign policy experience; allegations that Barack Obama called Sarah Palin a pig and that he favors sex education for kindergarteners; even avowals from top campaign staff and surrogates that the latest flub, stumble, or bit of bad news is not a problem at all for their campaign.

In a way the last example—that of the small, acceptable, expected white lie—is the most pernicious, and the one in which the media are most culpable. We are developing a culture of casual lying in our political discourse. People go on the so-called news networks and spout talking points regardless of whether or not they personally believe them. The networks don't complain—they need to fill the airtime.

But when we accept, even encourage, the little lie, it makes the big lie that much easier to tell—and to swallow. And that does none of us any good.