The Magazine

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers (cont.)

From the Scrapbook.

Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Writing in these pages some months ago, Mark Hemingway made the case for being -skeptical of media “fact checking” operations (“Lies, Damned Lies, and ‘Fact Checking,’ ” December 19, 2011). They routinely get the most basic facts wrong; they laughably claim that Republicans lie more than Democrats at a rate of three-to-one; and they niggle over obviously rhetorical statements—but only when Republicans utter them. Hemingway ended his piece by warning that media fact checking organizations were about to launch a blitzkrieg in an attempt to leverage their undeserved status as impartial arbiters to reelect Barack Obama. 

Indeed, with the election drawing near, the disingenuous deluge from fact checkers has been something to behold. Since Paul Ryan was -nominated, there have been scores of misleading and outright false “fact checks” relating to his Medicare reform plan. An Associated Press “fact check” actually upbraided Ryan for quoting Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment. Supposedly, Ryan didn’t understand the rhetorical context. What that has to do with facts went unexplained.

Then on August 17, a nonpartisan watchdog, Media Trackers, revealed that PolitiFact Ohio writer Tom Feran had a Twitter feed where he referred to conservatives as “wingnuts” and “yahoos,” and sent out links to blog postings on such topics as “the Cancer of Conservatism.” On the other hand, Feran is an enthusiastic Obama supporter—“Go-bama!”—and supporter of Occupy Wall Street. Over the summer, Feran wrote three PolitiFact articles slapping Ohio GOP Senate candidate Josh Mandel with the organization’s “pants on fire” label, and capped it off by writing an article in the ClevelandPlain Dealer headlined “Campaign attacks give Josh Mandel Pants on Fire crown.”

Meanwhile, fact checking organizations have rarely mentioned Obama campaign ads and fundraising emails claiming that Mitt Romney opposes abortion in cases of rape and incest, a flat-out lie. And in the last week, there have been repeated and dishonest Democratic claims in the media that Paul Ryan tried to “redefine rape” by supporting legislation limiting federal funding of abortions. Like the Hyde amendment before it, the legislation distinguished between abortions owing to “forcible rape” and “statutory rape” (only those in the former category have been paid for by Medicaid since 1993). As you might have guessed, the “fact checkers” have not rushed in to clarify things. 

But don’t worry, fact checking organizations are always finding new and creative ways to remind fair-minded readers they have zero credibility. The Scrapbook now submits to you the following email from PolitiFact as evidence of the group’s seriousness of purpose (or rather, lack thereof):

 

This week, we’re releasing Settle It!, a free app to help you resolve dinner-table arguments and test your knowledge of PolitiFact rulings. The app, available in the iTunes, Google Play and Amazon stores, is known as “PolitiFact’s Argument Ender” because it allows you to enter names and keywords and instantly find relevant Truth-O-Meter ratings. It includes the PolitiFact Challenge, an addictive game that shows factual claims we have checked. You have to choose whether each one was rated True, False or Pants on Fire. You earn points and can work your way up through five levels, from “Intern” to “Aide,” “Lobbyist,” “Pundit” and then “Wonk.”

When it comes to PolitiFact’s credibility, we think that does in fact (sorry) settle it.

 

 

Sympathy for the Plagiarist

The Scrapbook is not in the habit of quoting itself, even disapprovingly; but sometimes it cannot be helped. For example, last week, discussing the case of celebrity-plagiarist Fareed Zakaria, we noted that his professional punishment (one week’s suspension from Time, CNN, and the Washington Post) seemed astonishingly lenient, and predicted that he would “no doubt proceed from strength to strength, a sadder but wiser pundit.” 

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