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Liberal Pundits Shocked to Discover PolitiFact Not Always Factual

4:30 PM, Dec 20, 2011 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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How is this not an end to Medicare? And given all the actual, indisputable lies out there, how on earth could saying that it is be the 'Lie of the year'? The answer is, of course, obvious: the people at Politifact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there's a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they've bent over backwards to appear 'balanced' -- and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.

Unlike PolitiFact, I don't pretend to know the motivations of those I criticize, but Krugman's scenario actually strikes me as about as likely a motivation as anything. (There's also the matter that PolitiFact put their "Lie of the Year" up to a vote.) Where Krugman's wrong is that PolitiFact's penchant for treating opinions as facts was always useless, it only now seems irrelevant because he feels betrayed. After years of using the same problematic methodology against Republicans, the tables have been turned in a big way. Not coincidentally, liberal pundits are suddenly discovering the same exact problems with "fact checkers" conservative media critics have been railing about for years.

But don't worry. I'm sure PolitiFact will be back to bashing the Republican arguments in a highly disproportionate fashion in no time. Which is why some liberal pundits are hedging their bets before they condemn PolitiFact too harshly. Here's The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn. First, he readily acknowledges that PolitiFact frequently ignores the facts:

I've cited their Pulitzer-winning work before and hope I get the chance to do so again. But Politfact and its counterpart, Factcheck.org, are prone to certain errors. Among them is a tendency to confuse statements of opinion, or interpretation, for statements of fact.

Now here's his conclusion. I hope Cohn is kidding me here, or does he always miss the point this badly?:

Of course, it’s possible Politifact had another motive, as Krugman suggests: The organization may simply be trying to show that it can be balanced. Conservatives have suggested that fact-checking organizations, like the traditional media, are hopelessly biased against them. A recent cover story by Mark Hemingway in the Weekly Standard made that claim, noting that fact-checkers had cited Republican lies much more than Democratic lies.

I would argue there’s a good reason to cite Republican lies more than Democratic lies: They have been more plentiful and more egregious in the last few years. Conservatives won't like to hear that, but that's no reason for Politifact to pretend otherwise.

If the problem is, as Cohn acknowledges, PolitiFact tends to portray what's obviously opinion as fact, doesn't the notion that they single out Republicans as "lying" much more often suggest that they're just disagreeing with Republican opinions a lot more than Democratic ones? How is that not bias? And further, I'm glad Cohn "would argue" that Republicans have a bigger problem with telling the truth than Democrats. But it's not surprising he thinks that given his obvious sympathies. Making such a categorical and unsubstantiated assertion in the midst of a debate about what it means to check facts kind of refutes itself.

In any event, I'm happy liberal pundits have finally figured that there's more going on in this fact checking bordello than some raucous piano music. But if they'd been paying attention, they should have stopped patronizing these houses of ill journalistic repute a long time ago.

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