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August 30, 2012

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Commenters Mike H and Mark Richard made good arguments over at CJR showing that there's more truth to the Romney ad than the 3 self-proclaimed "fact-checkers" acknowledge. After all, the law as written has an absolute work requirement. Obama's waiver eliminiated the absolute work requirement. (BTW I think we should also be concerned about a President simply assuming the power to amend a properly enacted law. Could President Romney unilaterally waive the current tax rates and give us all a 20% cut?)

Here's an analogy. Suppose some President waived the requirement for non-discriminatory hiring, as along as the state Governor and some federal agency thought some other approach was worth a try. Wouldn't you blast this hypothetical President for eliminating the requirement for equal opportunity hiring?

In order for the fact-checkers to succeed in their mission, they themselves must be accurate and politically unbiased. Unfortunately, they are neither, as is demonstrated here and here.

It's a shame that the public doesn't have a source it can trust to clarify the facts fairly and accurately. The New York Times used to play that role, but no longer.

No, David in Cal, there is no such requirement. You can, of course, fact-check the fact-checkers. And, of course, the fact-checkers you link to are themselves egregiously biased, but that somehow doesn't seem to bother you at all.

Yes, rone, the people I cited were righties. But, in this case, I think their points were valid.

In his column today, I think Glenn Kessler tacitly acknowledged that his fact-checking had been unfair. Although he didn't specifically withdraw his criticisms of Ryan, he did write that Ryan's speech was "par for the course" and "the GOP convention that just ended was strictly in the mainstream for such party celebrations."

Mickey Kaus, a hard-headed liberal, writes:

One problem [with fact-checking], of course, is the ease–rather, the constant temptation–of presenting debatable policy issues as right/wrong fact issues, a problem emphasized by dissenter Ben Smith yesterday. Another is the way what Smith calls “the new pseudo science of fact-checks” opens up a giant sluice for the introduction of concealed bias, especially when “facts” are fed to the fact-checkers by the competing campaigns.

But a simpler problem is that the MSM’s fact-checkers often don’t know what they’re talking about.

Kaus illustrates his point at the link in a discussion of the change in the work requirement for welfare.

The Ben Smith article is here. Smith says

The Democrats are hoping to do to Paul Ryan what Republicans so successfully did to Al Gore: To conflate stray real personal exaggerations; rhetorical simplifications; and actual policy differences into an unfair character attack. Ryan (and now Romney) is in fact far more honest than any Republican national figure in memory in his explicit plan to turn Medicare into a less-expensive voucher system and to cut health care spending for poor people deeply.


Another excellent article, this one detailing that bias and inaccuracy of PolitiFact, is here.

The article begins:

If a Republican campaign spokeswoman says the other party’s candidate “and his special interest allies in Washington are plotting to spend over $13 million” in a race and has verified figures to support that claim and more, she should have nothing to fear from a fact-checking organization. PolitiFact, a national fact-checking effort co-sponsored by the prestigious Poynter Institute and several major daily newspapers, found the Republican spokeswoman’s claim no better than Half True.

If a Republican schools commissioner says an annual standardized test takes “less than 1 percent of the instructional time,” and the actual figure is between 0.26 percent and 0.90 percent of annual class time, a serious fact-checker wouldn’t make a different claim and check that instead. But that’s precisely how PolitiFact found the Republican commissioner’s statement False.

If a conservative advocacy group runs an ad saying Obamacare could cost “up to $2 trillion,” an honest fact-checker would look up the government’s own estimate and see that, indeed, the Congressional Budget Office puts the cost at $1.76 trillion for just the first few years.

The article makes too many good points for me to summarize in a few words. It should be read in its entirety.

I gather that Clive Crook is considered a serious writer. In "Glenn Kessler's Shamesless Lies," at the Atlantic Crook blasts Glenn Kessler for writing punditry in the guise of fact-checking. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/09/glenn-kesslers-shameless-lie/261891/

Crook's article doesn't add anything new to the analysis of Kessler's work, but it does suggest that media fact-checkers aren't going to succeed in making politicians more honest.

More terrible and biased fact-checking by ABC News at http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/09/fact-check-paul-ryans-jimmy-carter-comments/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Typical problem. The "fact-check" says,

Both parts of this sentence are true according to the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, but...

The "fact-check" goes on to try to make Obama look bad. However, the words following "but" are irrelvant to the question of whether Ryan's statement was factual.

The "fact-check" found one small error. Ryan compared the enormous number of bankruptcies in 2011 (1.4 million) vs. the number in 1980 (330,000). Ryan said he was comparing the number of business bankruptcies, but his figures show the total number of bankruptcies. However, as the article acknowledges, the comparison was apples-to-apples. Total number of bankrupcies in 2011 was indeed over four times as high as the number in 1980.

I don't see how this sort of "fact-checking" can have the beneficial impact Brendan is hoping for.

Correction:

The "fact-check" goes on to try to make Obama look LESS bad.

Yet another example of bad, biased fact-checking:

Check out this Politifact: it rates Gov. Scott Walker's statement that "Last month, 44 of the 50 states saw an increase in the unemployment rate"... as HALF TRUE. The logic? yes, Walker's statement is absolutely true, but some of the increases were statistically insignificant.

For your morning delectation, compare with the Journal Sentinel's OWN headline:

Unemployment rates rose in 44 US states in July

http://www.620wtmj.com/blogs/charliesykes/168444566.html

James Taranto provides another example of bad "fact-checking":

Sometimes the "fact checkers" simply pronounce trivial truths. From the AP on Mitt Romney's convention speech:

ROMNEY: "I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs. It has five steps."
THE FACTS: No one says he can't, but economic forecasters are divided on his ability to deliver. He'd have to nearly double the anemic pace of job growth lately.
This is like "fact checking" somebody's wedding vows by asserting that while marriage can be wonderful, it's hard work and ends in divorce half the time.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444301704577631470493495792.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLESecond

OTOH, Obama made an incorrect statement about GM. Will the fact-checkers evaluate it?

Mickey Kaus writes:

Hey, Fact Checkers! It’s all about the fact checking in 2012, according to the Obama aides (Cutter, Messina, LaBolt) interviewed at the ABC News/Yahoo!Newsmakers Live event this morning in Charlotte. … One of the aides–Cutter, if I remember right–then cited Obama’s claim that, after the government-engineered bailout, ”GM is Number One” again. … The only problem with this is that the claim is … how to put it … not true. Toyota has now re-passed GM to become the No.1 auto maker in the world. You could look it up. … P.S.: The “larger truth,” the one fact-checkers often miss while they parse niggling details, is also not true! Despite Obama’s vaunted restructuring, GM is now struggling again, though it’s unlikely to actually go broke anytime soon...

http://dailycaller.com/2012/09/04/yo-fact-checkers/#ixzz25XqpdevH

Liberal digby deplores the AP's fact-checking of Clinton's speech. http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2012/09/fact-check-follies.html

I agree with her that the AP was wrong ro quote Clinton's lie about Monica as proving that he was lying about something last night. Conservative James Taranto made the same point. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390443686004577635411077078008.html?mod=WSJ_Opinion_MIDDLETopOpinion

Although I don't agree with digby that the Reps are more intransigent than the Dems, I do agree that the AP's comment was inappropriate. The AP wrote, "the inflexibility of both parties is to blame for much of the gridlock." That's a judgment, not a checkable fact.

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