The Associated Press ran a fact check on Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention last night that contained the following section:
CLINTON: "Their campaign pollster said, `We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.' Now that is true. I couldn't have said it better myself – I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad."
THE FACTS: Clinton, who famously finger-wagged a denial on national television about his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and was subsequently impeached in the House on a perjury charge, has had his own uncomfortable moments over telling the truth. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," Clinton told television viewers. Later, after he was forced to testify to a grand jury, Clinton said his statements were "legally accurate" but also allowed that he "misled people, including even my wife."
Just to restate the obvious, I am not a fan of media fact checkers, and I have found AP fact checks to be pretty bad in the past. But I do find the backlash against AP for pointing out Slick Willie's tenuous relationship to the truth rather telling. Suddenly, bringing up context supposedly relevant to a speaker's remarks is out of bounds if it doesn't zero in exclusively on the facts at hand. Here's someone at The Atlantic blowing a gasket over this:
It's a spurious point, though, for a couple of reasons, the first being that just because a person lies once doesn't mean they always will. This is the assumptive fact-check, more a dig at character than any actual lie. And as Chelsea Rudman writes for Media Matters, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse did in fact say, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers." Not a lie. So is the dredging up the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal meant to discredit Clinton? To hurt Hillary? To discredit the Democratic party entirely, in the wake of other notable fact-checks? Or, maybe it's just to add a little sex scandalous-ity into an election season in which the only "sex scandals" thus far seem to involve old men talking ridiculously about "women's issues." Maybe it's a joke, or even trolling? It's hard to say.
Trolling? Really? Whether or not "fact checkers" should point out hypocrisy—and make no mistake Bill Clinton launching a sustained character attack on Romney and Ryan for not telling the truth is pretty breathtaking—it is not something I think they should be doing. However, this is the standard "fact checkers" have already set. For instance, the "fact checking" critique of Paul Ryan's speech centered largely on accusations of hypocrisy, not truth-telling. Supposedly, Paul Ryan was "dishonest" for chastising Obama for ignoring the reccommendations of the Simpson-Bowles deficit panel, whose recommendations he himself voted down. Again, that's an accusation of hypocrisy, not that Ryan wasn't telling the truth. (And frankly the charge of hypocrisy in this case isn't really fair, because Ryan was accusing Obama of failing to lead on the deficit issue. Ryan may have voted down Simpson-Bowles, but he went out and passed his deficit reduction plan through the house, which, again, demonstrates his own leadership on the issue.) If we're applying the same "fact checking" standard, you shouldn't expect Bill Clinton can launch a sustained character attack on Romney and Ryan without fact checkers mentioning Clinton's own track-record of lying.
I suppose it's a measure of how strongly the media "fact checking" organizations are tilted against the GOP, that on the rare occasions when the same ridiculously malleable "fact checking" standards are applied to Democrats, there's a complete freakout. And so The Huffington Post's able media reporter Michael Calderone has written an entire article on the media pushback against the AP for reminding people Bill Clinton is a perjurer. Meanwhile, the same media outlets are content to pile on when they apply the same unfair standard to Republicans like Paul Ryan.
In other news, here's how Annenberg's Factcheck.org responded to Bill Clinton's speech:
Former President Bill Clinton’s stem-winding nomination speech was a fact-checker’s nightmare: lots of effort required to run down his many statistics and factual claims, producing little for us to write about.
Republicans will find plenty of Clinton’s scorching opinions objectionable. But with few exceptions, we found his stats checked out.
Seriously? This is pathetic. I don't doubt that Bill Clinton's numbers added up and checked out. But so did Paul Ryan's! This is not the standard media fact checkers are applying. The issue was that fact checking organizations during the convention in Tampa were willing to kick up a lot of dirt by discussing context and counterarguments that were favorable to Democrats and call Paul Ryan a liar in the process. Bill Clinton can stand up and say that Obamacare can drastically slash Medicare payments to doctors and it will have no effect on medical care for seniors, and suddenly fact checkers have no need to add context pointing out the obvious: paying doctors a lot less will likely result in substandard care. I could go on about the "context" that might suggest everything Bill Clinton said was not on the level. But why bother? Factcheck.org says "his stats check out."