Linked and Loaded Lunch

Links to what I’ve been reading: PolitiFact’s true “Lie of the Year” Edition

  • Matt Yglesias finds the who episode bizarre, wondering how an argument over linguistics turns into “Lie of the Year”:

[…]Whether or not this change should be described with “harsh” terms is clearly a matter of ethical judgment. But it’s obviously a big change. Mitt Romney, for example, lauded the plan as reflecting “the need to fundamentally transform Medicare.” If friends of the plan describe it as fundamentally transforming the program, can it really be wildly illegitimate for its foes to describe it as ending Medicare? That doesn’t make sense to me. According to Mitt Romney, we’re fundamentally transforming Medicare. According to the DCCC we’re ending Medicare and replacing it with a fundamentally different program. This is a hair-splitting disagreement, not a gaping void of factual error and deliberate deception. […]

  • Robert VerBruggen wonders if guaranteed health coverage is a core feature of Medicare (really?), either way agrees that PolitiFact missed the boat on this one:

The Ryan plan is a deep, serious reform — it ends some of the program’s major features, and if traditional-Medicare supporters see those features as the core of the program, it’s fair for them to say it ends the program.

  • Jonathan Cohn ponders the inevitable conclusion that most of us reach in trying to figure out PolitiFact’s motivations:

[…] 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. […]

  • The Economist digs a little deeper into the machinations behind PolitiFact’s reasoning:

[…] On one level, it’s a debate about the nature of truth and lies. The overarching function of Politifact, as they describe it, is “to help you find the truth in American politics.” The function of the Truth-O-Meter, the site’s key tool, is “to rate factual claims.” The premise of the Truth-O-Meter is that truth “is not black and white,” especially in politics. In other words, a claim may be partly or wholly true or false. Up to this point, you’ll notice, Politifact is making no claims about intentionality: it is assessing whether a claim is true or false, rather than judging whether the speaker was deliberately trying to deceive people. This further claim is arguably implied by the Truth-O-Meter’s most damning rating, Pants On Fire: “The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.” But even in that case, it may be that the person with his Pants On Fire is merely albeit drastically wrong. The “Lie of the Year” contest, however, isn’t coy about judging the intent of the speaker. The finalists are presented as lies rather than inaccurate statements or misinterpretations. […]

  • Peter Suderman uses the occasion to point out other, much worthier (in his mind) liberal lies as a reason to justify doubting the “Lie of the Year”:

[…] Sadly, making important distinctions doesn’t seem to be their strong suit. Somehow when picking their lie of the year, Politifact settled on a minority party exaggeration with elements of truth—and managed to ignore the near-continuous stream of full-blooded whoppers coming from the folks actually running things.

  • Alex MacGillis takes a broader lesson about the role of organizations that fact-check and what’s been lost in the broader journalism field:

[…] The truth of the matter is, fact-checkers wouldn’t be needed if all of us journalists were more able, willing and empowered to do our jobs: to vet and explain political claims as they were being made. But the media lives in such abject terror of the perception of bias that it has, in a sense, decided to outsource a big part of its job: telling readers what the real deal is. This has resulted in a strange sort of division of labor, bordering on ghettoization — all of these reporters over here will record what’s being said by politicians, while this one guy, or one organization, over here with the fact-checker cap on will tell you whether it’s true. […]

  • Ezra Klein jumps into the dog-pile with a point similar to Alex:

[…] And that, ultimately, is the problem with the fact checker model. They have no actual power, so their only influence comes from the public’s sense of their legitimacy. And about half of the public leans towards one party and about half of the public leans toward the other. That means PolitiFact and these other outlets need to find some uneasy balance between the parties, too. But that just means the parties will have plenty of opportunities to decide that these are hackish, partisan operations. Conservatives got there a few weeks ago, and now liberals are following. […]

  • And finally, Kevin Drum’s rather fair take:

[…] This means that there are two things to say about all this. (1) PolitiFact made a ridiculous choice. They elevated a real but modest rhetorical difference into the biggest lie of the year, and it just isn’t. (2) Nonetheless, Democrats shouldn’t say that Ryan’s plan “ends” Medicare. It doesn’t, and there are plenty of short, punchy ways of making the same point more accurately. […]

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One response to “Linked and Loaded Lunch

  1. Pingback: PolitiFact sticks to its rubber guns | Punditocracy·

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