Fact Checkers are Under Assault. As They Should Be.

Glenn Kessler, AKA The Fact Checker, bemoaned that “Fact checkers are under assault!” and defended his colleagues at Politifact in Politifact’s decision to give Democrats the Lie of the Year award for saying Republicans voted to end Medicare. Mr. Kessler makes a good argument but I don’t buy it.

According to Politifact’s Bill Adair (via CBS News), the house “voted to protect Medicare on people who are 55 or older, but to privatize it and restructure it in a dramatic way for people who are younger”. Saying they voted to protect Medicare is less accurate than saying they voted to end it. All they did was vote not to “restructure it in a dramatic way” for people 55 and over. For the rest of us, Medicare would be a new program with an old name. The old program will have ended.

Politifact is trying too hard to seem fair and balanced. Five of their finalists for lie of the year were things that right wingers said and five were things that left wingers said. What are the chances of such an even split? Almost nil. But in order to seem unbiased, they came up with a list of five each. One of the items on the list was something Debbie Wasserman said but immediately retracted and admitted was a mistake, on the same day she said it. Politifact explains:

At PolitiFact, we do not typically fact-check statements that are quickly retracted by the speaker. However, we made an exception in this case because we expect voter identification laws and other election-process issues to remain a significant and divisive issue in the 2012 election.

That doesn’t ring true to me. Wasserman’s mistake was saying “… literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow” when describing Republican tactics to restrict voters. She shouldn’t have said “Literally” but was ( pretty obviously, I think ) just exaggerating for effect, not to actually mislead. That’s supported by her immediate retraction. Just because Politifact feels that voter identification will be an important issue doesn’t give them the right to call Wasserman a liar.

Another item on that list is, of course, the one that got the prize. That statement is at best debatable, since the program will still have the same name. But it’s not a lie to say that something has “ended” when, as Igor Volsky says, “everything that has defined the program for the last 46 years” has been eliminated.

None of the right wing lies were such flimsy candidates as Wasserman’s statement or even the Medicare characterization, but obviously Politifact didn’t want to seem biased by including fewer left wing lies than right wing lies.

And since a right wing lie was the winner last year, it was obviously time honor the left. And that’s the truth.

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