One of the most important modern advances in journalism — courtesy, mind you, of the ethics of blogging -- is the opportunity for writers and publisher to own up to mistakes in the same place, time and fashion where the mistakes were made.
Journalists have always had an obligation to correct their errors, of course. Not all have, of course. And the truth can be elusive, even a matter of opinion sometimes.
But what isn't up for debate is requirement to tell the same audience you deluded that a) you were wrong and b) here's the truth.
Not to pile on, but newspapers haven't always been too good at this. Even when they have grudgingly acknowledged error, they did so in an error section that only the curious few bothered to check, often exposing themselves to the story in question for the first time. Once the paper was out it was out, and gone. Fish wrap. No sane publisher was going to spend valuable paper and ink to re-print old news, just so an error could be acknowledged and fixed in the proper venue.
But blogs changed that. Blog posts never go away. They beg to be fixed, and the right audience will always see the fix, no matter when they discover the story.
Oh, if it were only always this in politics.
The old adage that it takes a second for a lie to go around the world while the truth addles to catch up is not only true in politics, but it has been weaponized. Sound-bite savvy politicians know that even if they have to walk it back that will only be to a smaller, and — more significantly — different audience. Convenient lies are shared only for an audience that is not the target demographic. So there is no real downside to telling a whopper if your big worry is that someone on Fox or MSNBC is going to point that out to the choir a day or even hours later.
But debates are different. They are like blogs to the old media convention of fail now, fix later (and elsewhere).
In a well-moderated (and fought) debate, nobody will be able to get away with anything. Because there are two people, right here right now, who will call you out. To the same audience who heard the lie. In real-time.
This was part of Tim Pawlenty's problem in the GOP primary debates. He called out Romney by using the phrase "ObamneyCare" in some friendly forum, and declined to man up on stage with Romney himself.
This will not be a problem when Mitt Romney faces off with Barack Obama tonight debates and two more times.
And this is the risk to Romney. His best material is ... questionable. But deploying Obama surrogates to opine on cable TV about the challenger's Medicare and welfare shots at the president does nothing to prevent the continued spread of that propaganda, even though it has been identified clearly by "fact-checkers" as false. The asynchronous nature of statement and rebuttal (and a lack of shame) enables the lie in the daily give-and-take of a campaign. With both parties, and a ref, on one stage it shouldn't be possible to slide out from under a smear.
Romney survived the GOP primary debates, with only a few big stumbles — Brother, can you spare $10,000? He's good in formal settings, and he has the best debate prep team money can buy.
But what he can't do on stage is argue like Romney. That is the path to embarrassment and humiliation and the death sentence that is appearing "unpresidential." That may be why there is talk of prepared "zingers" — a tactic to derail seriousness, play out the clock and fight for tomorrow's viral video sound bite.
But you can't live on improv alone. Maybe if there was one debate, but surely not when there will be three.
Which leave one possibility: The Big Reveal.
I can't wait I hear Romney's argument for himself on debate night. Because if I do, I will be hearing it for the first time.
(Photo: "Teacher's Pet")