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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Column on Romney-Ryan Meant as Satire Is Taken as Fact


No, Representative Paul D. Ryan has not given the nickname “Stench” to Mitt Romney, despite a host of credulous journalists and bloggers who accepted as fact a column that Politico intended as satire.

The columnist, Roger Simon, used a quotation in The New York Times that was first published online Sunday in which an Iowa Republican activist, Craig Robinson, speculated about simmering tensions between Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney, and Mr. Ryan's future if the Romney-Ryan ticket loses in November.

“I hate to say this, but if Ryan wants to run for national office again, he'll probably have to wash the stench of Romney off of him,'' Mr. Robinson said.

Mr. Simon, Politico's chief political colum nist, conjured a situation in which Mr. Ryan was doing all he could on the campaign trail to distance himself from Mr. Romney. “Reportedly, he has been marching around his campaign bus, saying things like, ‘If Stench calls, take a message' and ‘Tell Stench I'm having finger sandwiches with Peggy Noon and will text him later,''' Mr. Simon wrote.

The column continued in that vein, with broad hints of its satirical nature. Its lead sentence read: “Paul Ryan has gone rogue. He is unleashed, unchained, off the hook.”

Yet many political writers, almost all left-leaning, accepted Mr. Simon's account, which contained no named sources, as straight reporting.

On MSNBC on Tuesday night, the host Lawrence O'Donnell said: “Paul Ryan is desperately trying to avoid the stench of Romney. Yes, the stench. That is what Paul Ryan is actually calling Mitt Romney, according to Politico.''

On Mediaite, a press gossip site, Tommy Ch ristopher wrote:

“It's true that Roger Simon is a columnist, and the quotes are unsourced, leaving the piece vulnerable to attack by folks like MSNBC's Republican analyst Susan Del Percio, who called the ‘Stench' remarks ‘alleged quotes' on air yesterday, but such qualms are for the tourists. Simon's anecdote has the recognizable (to the Beltway crowd) ring of truth that renders it canonical in political circles.''

Gawker, a gossip site, opined: “Rather than decry Robinson's comments or reaffirm his commitment to the Romney ticket since the Times story broke, Ryan has been running with the nickname, according to Politico.''

Paul Krugman, the Times columnist, also thought it was real, not fake news. On his blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, Mr. Krugman wrote: “Can I say that even though I'm not exactly a fan of Mitt Romney's, this is just bad behavior? You're supposed to wait until it's actually over before you do this kind of thing.''

Faced with the flood of misrepresentations, Mr. Simon added an author's note to his column to emphasize that it was satire, writing in part, “Jonathan Swift did not really want Irish people to sell their children for food in 1729; George Orwell did not really want the clocks to strike thirteen in 1984.”

Some who had misread the column corrected themselves, including Mr. Krugman, who updated his blog: “OK, the word is this was really clumsy satire.''

The issue of how clumsy seems to have been colored by the writers' and broadcasters' own partisan filters. Most who gleefully repeated the bogus “Stench” nickname worked for left-leaning news media outlets.

“Some people always don't get a joke,'' Mr. Simon said in an e-mail exchange. “Judging from my Twitter feed and other anecdotal evidence, an overwhelming number of people got the satire and a some actually thought it was funny,'' he said.

“Satire has been called ‘the lie that tells the truth ,' and that is why people react so strongly to it and that is why, for centuries, it has been such a powerful tool for writers. They will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands. (That was satire, by the way.)''

As for Mr. Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party and now editor-in-chief of The Iowa Republican, “things have gotten a little crazy,'' he said Wednesday.

“It's a sad day for traditional media when numerous ‘journalists' quote a satirical column as if it is fact,'' he added.