In the last century, an alcoholic Sen. Joe McCarthy terrorized the nation by waving scraps of paper and lying about them. From that, journalists learned they had to do more than report with a straight face what reckless politicians were willing to say. Context was vital.
Now it’s all back with a vengeance, and media consumers have to sort out a “false equivalence” between sane and insane realities. Barack Obama and Rafael Edward Cruz are not polar choices in American politics any more than are global and flat-earth models in geography.
Yet the media still can’t resist colorful, even making news out of Cruz’s father telling the Texas Tea Party that the President is an "outright Marxist" who "seeks to destroy all concept of God" and urging the crowd to send him "back to Kenya."
That could be defended as subtle exposure of the roots of Cruz nuttiness were it not surrounded by acres of taking him seriously as a major force in the GOP. “Ted Cruz extends olive branch to GOP senators,” reports Politico with a straight face about his promise not to back their opponents in primary races.
What’s needed is more reporting like a recent New Yorker piece that pairs him with Joe McCarthy and begins thus:
“When Ted Cruz lies, he appears to be praying. His lips narrow, almost disappearing into his face, and his eyebrows shift abruptly, rising like a drawbridge on his forehead into matching acute angles. He attains an appearance of supplication, an earnest desire that men and women need to listen, as God surely listens.”
America survived Joe McCarthy but only after lives were wrecked and national trust was eroded. Ted Cruz will pass too, but more quickly if the media stops puffing him up.