ERIC BOEHLERT/media matters for america
In what is likely a first for a major political party, one of the themes for the GOP's nominating convention next week is built around a falsehood. When Republicans meet in Tampa on Tuesday, the banner will be "We Built It," which plays off the manufactured controversy this summer in which conservatives, led by Fox News, claimed President Obama insulted small businessmen and women by supposedly saying they hadn't built their own success.
Speaking to supporters for nearly an hour in Roanoke, VA. on July 13, the president touched on the topic of small business success and the collective forces that shape it, such as the U.S. infrastructure and teachers. Fox quickly claimed Obama insulted small business owners by telling them of their accomplishments, "you didn't build that." (He was referring to the "this unbelievable American system" which includes the "roads and bridges.")
Obama's opponents succeeded in concocting an uproar over a single sentence from an Obama campaign appearance by ripping it out of context. They were able to do that despite being debunked by fact-checker ("out of context"), after fact-checker ("taken wildly out of context") after fact-checker ("ignores the larger context of the president's meaning") after fact-checker ("that quote distorts the meaning of Obama's claim").
Nonetheless, through the sheer force of repetition, as well as taking advantage of a timid press corps that too often suggested the meaning of Obama's comment was somehow in dispute (or a press corps that didn't even care), "build that" has lived on and is now being revived in time for Tampa.
The question now is will the press allow Republicans to get away with it again? Or will the press do its job and point out that the party's "build that" attack revolves around a Fox-fueled falsehood?
Early indications are not encouraging.
Under the headline "Ryan Builds On Obama's Comment In Roanoke," CNN on Wednesday reported that leading up to next week's convention, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-WI) campaigned in the Virginia town where Obama made his "you didn't build that" comment; a comment that has been "seized upon by Republicans," according to CNN.
But CNN left out how the Republican claim that Obama's comment meant he disdained small business had been thoroughly debunked. Instead, CNN simply reported that the Obama and Romney campaigns "dispute each other's interpretation" of the "build that" remark.
Interpretation? That's being charitable to the GOP.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, USA Today reported on the Republicans' "We Built It" convention theme. After noting Mitt Romney "hammered President Obama" for weeks over the comment and that GOP campaign ads were created to tout it, USA Today reported, "Obama has said Romney's ads criticizing the line are "flat-out wrong" and take his words about the role of government out of context."
So Romney claimed the "build that" remark revealed Obama's contempt for business, while the president insisted the comment was taken out of context. Who's right? USA Today didn't bother trying to adjudicate the dispute.
And yesterday, The Hill reported Romney's nominating convention would incorporate Obama's "controversial remark." Unlike CNN and USA Today though, The Hill didn't even bother noting the Democrats' vocal objection to the use of "build that," or that the charge had been thoroughly debunked.
Assigning a convention theme that's built around a specific falsehood takes nerve. Are Republicans betting reporters will give them a pass in Tampa?