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Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

Sep 24, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 02 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Recently, the Washington Post fact checker wrote a column examining a series of claims made by pro-life groups about Obama’s abortion record. He evaluated four pro-life claims that were found wanting, receiving from one to three “Pinocchios” for being misleading, with four being the maximum number of Pinocchios the Washington Post fact checker dispenses. The Scrapbook, you may not be surprised to hear, was underwhelmed. It long ago concluded that media “fact checkers” are inherently partisan and terrible at evaluating factual claims fairly. 


But that fourth claim was interesting, and not just because it focused on Barack Obama’s mendacity. A recent campaign ad by a pro-life group pointed out that while serving in the Illinois legislature, Obama twice voted against something called the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. The original incarnation of the bill stated that “a live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.” You might call this a restatement of the law against infanticide. Obama actually voted against making it illegal to kill babies outside the womb, because he feared the law would undermine abortion rights. The bill was retooled to remove the line mentioning abortion, making the second version nearly identical to the federal Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which passed unanimously in 2002. Obama still voted against the Illinois version.

In 2008, Obama was asked about his vote by the Christian Broadcasting Network. The Washington Post fact checker quotes his response. “I hate to say that people are lying, but here’s a situation where folks are lying. I have said repeatedly that I would have been completely in, fully in support of the federal bill that everybody supported,” he said. In other words, Obama is accusing others of lying about his record while he himself is telling a very big lie.

How does the Washington Post fact checker handle this? We’re about to take the train to Pinocchio city, right? “The evidence suggests we could have awarded Four Pinocchios to the former Illinois senator for his comments to the Christian Broadcasting Network, but that interview is several years old now, and it’s not the focus of this particular column.”

Of course, we wouldn’t expect anything less than this free pass for Obama from the Washington Post’s fact checker. When it comes to abortion, some facts are just too politically inconvenient.

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