Press failures, especially massive ones, tend to be right there in plain site and yet totally invisible, entirely ignored. And yet we have a massive one coming out of Wednesday night’s Republican debate that the press seems inclined or insisting on totally ignoring. Commentators are toasting Carly Fiorina as the break-out winner of the debate. And yet she not only made a string of false statements, or claims that showed a willful disregard for or ignorance of reality, she almost certainly manufactured a bogus memory entirely out of whole cloth. And all of this is cast into particularly high relief since Fiorina went into the debate intent on branding Hillary Clinton as a liar. “Her track record of lying about Benghazi, of lying about her e- mails, about lying about her servers,” is something Hillary will have to answer for, Fiorina bellowed in the debate.
Now it may seem odd to call this a press failure when I’m about to cite several press organizations that quickly noted all these distortions and outright lies. But this is always the case with a press failure of this magnitude. Someone is always making the point here or there. But it doesn’t take shape as part of the narrative of what happened in the debate or the campaign. That’s certainly the case here. Vox, ABC News and Esquire have each in one way or another been all over this. But the reality of what Fiorina did in this debate and a number of earlier press encounters is totally absent from the basic themes of the post-debate coverage.
Fiorina has a habit of simply making things up. In the case of the parts of the Planned Parenthood videos, the way she made it up seems to verge on the pathological. Again she says she saw something in these videos that completely wasn’t there. And she doubled down on it the next day. This is just lying through your teeth or just being so indifferent to whether things are true or not that it amounts to the same thing.
Another avenue here is her tenure at HP. I don’t know enough about all the specifics to analyze her defense of her tenure. But I do know enough to remember that long before she entered the political arena and the question became partisanized, it was widely accepted that her time running HP was a disaster. Even from my limited following of these things it’s clear that purchasing Compaq had none of the ‘synergies’ or strategic advantages for HP which were expected of it. And notably, the folks in the minority who say it worked say it was only able to bear fruit after the company ditched Fiorina because “she simply did not have the skills to manage one of the world’s largest technology companies.” All of this makes me think her claims about her tenure at HP could probably bear some probing scrutiny.
Why is the press ignoring or hushing this up? It’s almost always a matter of laziness. Hillary is the shifty-eyed liar, Rick Perry was the dolt, Obama is stand-offish and cerebral. Everybody has their cliche or caricature through which all their actions are understood. Confirmatory news is kept; disconfirmatory news is tossed aside. To an important degree, this is simply human nature. We all do it to some degree in our daily lives. But journalists have special responsibilities to look past caricatures and the familiar. In this case, they’re failing that test. You should not be able to tell a slew of small fibs in a big debate and one mammoth one that not have it become part of the campaign discussion at all.