PolitiFact’s Lies of the Year fall short in any mental fact check.
The latest craze in political reporting is fact-checking and truth-testing. Articles are written by major news outlets or by organizations dedicated ostensibly to truth in politics. The most prominent among these is PolitiFact, which was anointed into sacrosanct status by being granted the Pulitzer Prize. Now, at year’s end, PolitiFact has announced its list of ten finalists for Lie of the Year.
These include four statements by Mitt Romney, one by Rush Limbaugh, three by Barack Obama, one from the Democratic National Convention, and one from a pro-Obama SuperPAC. In terms of fairness and evenhandedness, that lineup seems unassailable with five Republican remarks and five Democrat. The problem is that some of the judgments being applied here are dead wrong, others verging on silly. What they all have in common is an appalling lack of understanding of the true character of political debate.
Let me run through the quotes they have identified, the reasons they give for their rating, and my commentary on their analysis”:
“Over the last four years, the deficit has gone up, but 90 percent of that is as a consequence of President George W. Bush’s policies and the recession.” — Barack Obama on 60 Minutes, Sept. 23, 2012
PolitiFact rating: FALSE. Reason: Many of the policies CBO attributes to the rise in the deficit are Bush policies that Obama supports, such as the middle-class tax cut and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. (They mention that the Washington Post gave this Four Pinocchios, its highest rating for whoppers.)
I don’t find this to be a false statement. All he is saying is that the deficit was not run up by a set of new policies he put into motion when he entered office, that what was in place already caused the lion’s share of the deficit. I think that is a fair point and the language he used was not tricky or misleading. Now it is true that he has not lost any sleep over the deficit or shown any interest in taming it, but other than the spending in the big stimulus bill, this is not a deficit created by new Obama policies.
“Barack Obama began his presidency with an apology tour.” — Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention, August 30, 2012.
PolitiFact Rating: PANTS ON FIRE! Reason: Although Obama said in France the U.S. “has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive,” he modified that by saying Europe has been guilty of a “casual” and “insidious” anti-Americanism. In the United Nations he said “America has acted unilaterally, without regard for the interests of others.” But he modulated that by adding this “has fed an almost reflexive anti-Americanism, which too often served as an excuse for collective inaction. In Egypt, he acknowledge that the United States had interfered in Iran in the 1950s, but he countered with criticism of Iran’s current behavior.
I hear them panting but I don’t see the fire. This is not even false; it is simply an opinion. Romney believes that an American President should not travel around the world talking about mistakes made by previous administrations. And if that is not technically an apology, it might well be something worse, a condemnation of your own nation while visiting other nations.
One can offer a defense of Obama and argue that it is diplomatic to show some deference abroad, even to acknowledge some shortcomings in the process. But it is certainly fair for an opponent to call this an apology tour. It is not even hyperbole, much less falsehood.
(Notice also that nobody makes the point I made in my column at the time, that it is not even proven by any legitimate evidence that we interfered in Iran. It is merely an old college professor accusation, hotly denied by the people in Iran who were actually in charge.)
“Mitt Romney called the Arizona immigration law a model for the nation.” — Barack Obama, Second Presidential Debate, Oct. 16, 2012
PolitiFact rating: FALSE. Reason: The law Romney called a model for the nation was a 2007 law called the Legal Arizona Workers Act which demanded employers use E-Verify to check a new employee’s legal work status. The more controversial Arizona law Obama is referring to is a 2010 immigration enforcement law allowing state police to check the immigration status of someone who is a suspect in another crime.