What Do You Call a Guy Like Rick Perry?

09/09/2011 by Peter Hart
Frontrunner-of-the-moment Rick Perry is getting a lot of press for his performance at the recent Republican debate–especially because he’s standing by his belief that Social Security is a “monstrous lie” and a Ponzi scheme, and that climate change is an untested theory advanced by corrupt, discredited scientists.

You can call such ideas a lot of things. “False” or “untrue,” for example, would work. But a lot of reporters characterized Perry’s performance in positive terms. In today’s New York Times (9/9/11), Michael Shear writes that Perry

made clear in his first national appearance that he would campaign as an unabashed Southern conservative who is unafraid to speak bluntly, would double-down on controversial statements and planned to shrug off the concerns of the Republican establishment.

Shear later added that “Perry did not back down Wednesday night from his assertion that Social Security was a failure, even in the face of direct criticism by Mr. Romney.”

“Unabashed,” “unafraid,” not backing down–these are all more or less positive descriptions.

Likewise, on NBC Nightly News (9/8/11), Andrea Mitchell said: “Perry proved he could throw a punch and take one. And he was unapologetic about attacking Social Security as a monstrous lie.”

So he’s not only a fearlessly blunt speaker, he’s also an unapologetic punch-thrower. This is the kind of coverage the Perry campaign would probably pay for. Yes, there are pieces here and there that point out that, you know, Social Security isn’t actually a massive scam. On the other hand, Washington Post liberal Ruth Marcus writes today (9/9/11): “On the substance, Perry’s point about Social Security-as-Ponzi scheme has some grounding in reality.” She gets around to criticizing him, but that’s a lot of ground to cede to a falsehood.

As Greg Marx notes at CJR, the media designation of certain pieces as “factchecks” is strange because one might logically conclude that run-of-the-mill articles don’t dwell on checking the facts of politicians (a conclusion that would largely be a correct one). He points to a CBS News piece on Perry and Social Security that quotes other Republicans disagreeing with his stance. Readers are apparently being asked to believe either Karl Rove or Rick Perry on the issue. That’s a lot to ask of anyone.

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