Politicians’ statements pose impassable barrier to truth

“A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” once quipped Mark Twain.

This is an astute observation and a point illustrated over and over in an age where technology moves messages halfway around the world in the blink of an eye. But many of these claims will never have the privilege of going through a fair journalistic review.

Enter the characters in the 2012 presidential campaign: Gov. Mitt Romney’s camp putting out an ad saying President Barack Obama had put forth legislation in July to take a work requirement out of welfare. However, when examined by the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, it received a rating of “four Pinnochios” for the claim’s untruthfulness.

Then, as widely noted by various news sources, Neil Newhouse, a pollster for Romney, said last week, “Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

True, it’s impossible for a journalist to be completely objective, as he or she is human with unique experiences and world views. But journalists — at least the good ones — aim to seek truth and report it in a manner that’s fair and balanced.

The basic standard of journalism is checking facts, which has now been pitted against the lies and half-truths of politicians like never before. But while propaganda spews all over the nation from both sides, the voices of fact checkers are often much too weak to clean up the mess already made.

While fact-checking “fact-checking”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/30/a-not-very-truthful-speech-in-a-not-very-truthful-campaign/ a “Washington Post”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/08/30/the-true-the-false-and-the-misleading-grading-paul-ryans-convention-speech/ piece about vice-presidential hopeful Paul Ryan’s speech at the Republican National Convention last week, columnist Ezra Klein could only find two truthful claims amid six absolutely false and three misleading statements.

Propaganda has steered the world in many directions in history. Human emotion can be more effective at persuasion than straight reporting of the facts.

But in a world where we want our coffee in two minutes and our news even faster, not many are going to be checking every claim Ryan made, which may be what he desires anyhow.

Some swing voters may be doing their homework right up until the moment they enter the voting booth, but a greater majority will go with the candidate that makes the most emotional appeals, devoid of fact-checking roadblocks.

Journalists and news consumers have to fact-check their way through an increasingly convoluted world of post-truth politics. While one fact is verified, exponentially more lies have migrated around the world.

The political arena may be a dismal environment for both journalists and people who care about the facts: The lies of political campaigns have become too much to handle.