The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto:
Over the past few years, many organizations have promoted “fact checkers” by making them writers, or perhaps demoted writers by making them fact checkers. No, it’s more the former, because other writers have been bowing to the “fact checkers” as submissively as Barack Obama upon meeting some anti-American dictator. …
Perhaps the reason other journalists are so deferential toward the “fact checkers” is that these fact checkers, unlike the traditional ones, don’t check the facts of journalists but of politicians. By and large, they aren’t actually checking facts but making and asserting judgments about the veracity of politicians’ arguments.
The quality of their work is generally quite poor. “The MSM’s ['mainstream' media's] fact-checkers often don’t know what they’re talking about,” notes Mickey Kaus, who cites an example on a subject he knows well:
The oft-cited CNN-”fact check” of Romney’s welfare ad makes a big deal of HHS secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius’ pledge that she will only grant waivers to states that “commit that their proposals will move at least 20% more people from welfare to work.” CNN swallows this 20% Rule whole in the course of declaring Romney’s objection “wrong”:
“The waivers gave ‘those states some flexibility in how they manage their welfare rolls as long as it produced 20% increases in the number of people getting work.’ ”
Why, it looks as if Obama wants to make the work provisions tougher! Fact-check.org cites the same 20% rule.
I was initially skeptical of Sebelius’ 20% pledge, since a) it measures the 20% against “the state’s past performance,” not what the state’s performance would be if it actually tried to comply with the welfare law’s requirements as written, and b) Sebelius pulled it out of thin air only after it became clear that the new waiver rule could be a political problem for the president. She could just as easily drop it in the future; and c) Sebelius made it clear the states don’t have to actually achieve the 20% goal–only “demonstrate clear progress toward” it.
But Robert Rector, a welfare reform zealot who nevertheless does know what he’s talking about, has now published a longer analysis of the 20% rule. Turns out it’s not as big a scam as I’d thought it was. It’s a much bigger scam. The merits of the argument are beyond the scope of today’s column. It is quite possible that there are people whose knowledge of the subject is as deep as Kaus’s and Rector’s but whose honest interpretation is more favorable to the Sebelius position. An appeal to their authority could carry as much weight as our appeal to Kaus’s and Rector’s.
But an appeal to the authority of “independent fact checkers” carries no weight at all. In case you’re skeptical of this assertion, let’s look at some other examples of their output from the past week.
Here’s an excerpt from an Associated Press ”fact check” of Paul Ryan’s convention speech:
RYAN: “And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly. . . . So they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.”
THE FACTS: Ryan’s claim ignores the fact that Ryan himself incorporated the same cuts into budgets he steered through the House in the past two years as chairman of its Budget Committee. . . .
RYAN: “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.”
THE FACTS: Ryan himself asked for stimulus funds shortly after Congress approved the $800 billion plan.In both of these cases, the AP neither disputes nor verifies the factual accuracy of Ryan’s statements. Each of these is simply a tu quoque–an argument against Ryan. Under the guise of fact checking, the AP is simply taking sides in a partisan political dispute.
The most disputed portion of Ryan’s speech involved the closing of a General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal Friday defended Ryan’s account against “the press corps ‘fact checkers’ and the liberals who love them.”
But even the so-called fact checkers can’t agree on the facts. PolitiFact rated Ryan’s account “false,” while CNN.com called it “true but incomplete.” Anyone who really believes in the authority of “fact checkers” has a liar’s paradox problem. …
Sometimes the “fact checkers” are ignorant even of facts that, in contrast with the welfare material above, require no special expertise to know. This is from a CNN.com ”fact check”:
In a new policy paper, his Republican rival for the White House, Mitt Romney, says, “President Obama has intentionally sought to shut down oil, gas, and coal production in pursuit of his own alternative energy agenda.” . . .
Obama has, for sure, angered some oil and coal producers by steering federal money to alternative energy sources. But there is no evidence that he is trying to “shut down” traditional energy industries.No evidence? How about Obama’s own words? “So, if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.” …
Among “fact checkers,” the worst of a bad lot may be the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler. On Thursday afternoon he actually wrote a post called “Previewing the ‘Facts’ in Mitt Romney’s Acceptance Speech.” With those scare quotes, he declared the Republican nominee a liar before Romney had even opened his mouth. …
Obama may yet eke out an ugly victory, but the decline of the MSM’s authority seems inexorable. And it’s not only “fact checkers” who are acting like out-and-out partisans. Time’s Joe Klein is “the Pope of American political journalists” according to the French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur. RealClearPolitics notes an ex cathedra pronouncement he made the other day when he granted an audience to the New York Times’s Helene Cooper:
Cooper: Four years of covering Barack Obama, he does not play the race card. Not in a negative way. He does not do that.
Klein: He hates it. He hates it. He probably should, though. He probably should address it because the bitterness out there is really becoming marked.Some may dispute Cooper’s claim that Obama doesn’t “play the race card.” But Klein’s assertion that he “probably should” is really quite stunning. It’s almost certainly bad advice. Indeed, we’d say following it in 2008 would have been one of the few ways he could have lost to John McCain. Successful or not, the attempt to foment racial division would be as repugnant coming from a black leftist as from a white conservative.
Above all, though: What in the world is a journalist doing offering such rancid advice? In general terms, the same thing all those “fact checkers” are doing. Also the same thing journalists did when they slandered the Tea Party as racist, and when they wrote puff pieces about ObamaCare and insisted the public would learn to love it, and when they falsely blamed conservatives for the Tucson massacre.