Political candidates stretch the truth on the campaign trail all the time. There's nothing new or strange about that, nor does either party have a monopoly on this common practice. But last night was a watershed moment. A vice presidential candidate stood on stage in front of his convention and the world and gave a speech filled with out and out lies and hypocrisy. Paul Ryan's speech was the school yard equivalent of a "double dog dare" bet that the media would not hold him accountable.
So the question is, WWMD? Translation: What Will the Media Do? Will they let him get away with it or not? It's not so much a question of liberal or conservative, but a seminal moment that could define the future of political journalism and the standards of acceptable electoral rhetoric in our country. If they do not challenge the vice presidential candidate and his brazen disregard for basic facts on the biggest of all possible stages, then what message does that send future candidates of either party at all levels? It says all bets are off. And no matter what your political leanings and who you plan to vote for in this election, that would not be a healthy phenomenon for our country.
There are some hopeful signs that the media isn't giving Ryan a pass, from Mara Liasson's coverage on NPR's "Morning Edition" to Sally Kohn's piece on Fox News. But whether or not the media simply raises the contradictions in Ryan's speech or presses him for answers and holds him to account is an entirely different matter and one that still remains to be seen in the coming days and weeks of this campaign.
With the advent of social media, our ability to play a role in this moment is magnified exponentially. In a sense, the media today is all of us. What we share and tweet and like influences what traditional media covers, and provides us the opportunity to hold politicians to account. So in a sense, Paul Ryan is daring us as well.
If we truly believe, as our founding fathers did, in the critical role of a free and independent media that helps create an informed citizenry, then the next three months are a litmus test of that premise. I hope we are all, traditional media included, are up to the task.