When you claim that President Obama was responsible for the closing of an auto plant that actually shut down before President Bush left office, people are going to notice. The question is whether anyone will care.

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan delivered a speech Wednesday night that was unusual for its deliberate mendacity, even by the rough-and-tumble standards of political combat. Right after he finished, the usually timid souls of CNN praised his address for its tone and approach, but volunteered that the fact-checkers would surely have something to say.

Indeed. FactCheck.org, nonpartisan and often cautious to a fault, reports that Ryan’s speech “contained several false claims and misleading statements” — the auto-plant closing, of course, but also:

  • Criticizing Obama’s $716 billion reduction in the future growth of Medicare when Ryan himself, before joining the Romney ticket, had embraced those same cuts.
  • Taking Obama to task for the ratcheting down of the federal government’s credit rating even though Standard & Poors specifically blamed congressional gridlock.
  • Blaming Obama for the failure of the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission’s recommendations without mentioning that he himself had a key role in ensuring they would fail.
  • Falsely claiming that none of the more than $800 billion in stimulus money went to American workers.

FactCheck competitor PolitiFact rated Ryan’s auto-plant whopper as “false” and his Medicare claim as “mostly false.”

New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen recently wrote a provocative blog post on the media’s encouragingly aggressive response to a much bigger lie being perpetrated by the Romney-Ryan team — that Obama had loosened the work requirements for welfare recipients.

The problem is that though the media have deviated from their usual he-said/he-said/you-decide formula in frankly labeling the welfare claim a falsehood, the Republicans keep using it on the theory that it’s working. And there’s little evidence that the media’s diligence will make any difference with the public, which is likely to chalk it up to politics as usual.

As for the notion that “both sides do it,” well, they do and they don’t. I think Rosen gets it exactly right:

If you’re wondering: do I recognize that the Obama forces have also used deceptive, depraved and untrue claims? Yes. I do. These stand out: Romney didn’t say he likes firing people in the way some Democrats and TV personalities have suggested, so that counts as a kind of lie. The Priorities USA ad that suggested (without quite saying it) that Bain Capital was somehow responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife: that goes in the depraved category. When the White House claimed it knew nothing about the case that was clearly untrue — pathetic, really. The refusal to condemn the ad was a black mark, as well. Obama ads calling Romney “outsourcer in chief” were over the top and relied on false or overblown claims.

In my view these are serious transgressions. And in my view they do not compare to the use of falsehood and deceptive claims in the Romney 2012 campaign. Nor is there anything coming from the Obama machine that is like the open defiance of fact-checking we have seen from Romney and his team.

Romney delivers his acceptance speech tonight. It will be interesting to see whether he takes the high road, content to let his running mate do the dirty work — or if he will dive into the muck himself.

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Editor's note: This story originally appeared at DanKennedy.net. Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Dan Kennedy

Dan Kennedy

I am an assistant professor at Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, specializing in new-media trends. I write a weekly online column for The Guardian’s Comment is Free America section, and was a finalist for a Syracuse University Mirror Award in media commentary in both 2008 and 2009.

In addition, I am a contributing writer for the Boston Phoenix, for whom I worked as the media columnist from 1994 through 2005. While at the Phoenix, I won the National Press Club’s 2001 Arthur Rowse Award for Press Criticism and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ 1999 award for media reporting. I’m also a regular commentator on media issues on “Beat the Press,” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2).

My weblog, Media Nation, is featured on Jim Romenesko’s media-news site at Poynter.org and on the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Daily Briefing page.

On the summit of Mt. Hancock.

On the summit of Mt. Hancock (south)

My book on the culture of dwarfism, “Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter’s Eyes,” originally published by Rodale in 2003, is now available in a free online edition issued under a Creative Commons license, as well as a high-quality, print-on-demand paperback edition. “Little People” was praised by the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, and Publishers Weekly, and was featured by NPR, Salon, and Child Magazine.

From 1979 through 1989 I worked as a reporter for The Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn, Mass., where I covered the trial at the center of Jonathan Harr’s book “A Civil Action.” My account of the case and its aftermath is online here.

On July 21, 2007, my son, Tim, and I hiked to the northern and southern summits of Mt. Hancock, my 47th and 48th (and final) 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire, finishing a quest I had begun in 1968.

I am currently writing a book on the New Haven Independent and the rise of hyperlocal community news sites, to be published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2012.