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Media Mangle

The sophistry of liberal fact-check websites

PolitiFact’s ‘Lie of the Year’ as much a ‘lie’ as Bush’s WMD statement

Dec. 17th, 2010
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RALEIGH — One of the biggest scams going are the supposedly non-partisan, fact-checking websites run by journalists. Only journalists in serious denial about their image in American society could think the average reader will accept them as arbiters of truth and objectivity. But still they carry on.

Let's take PolitiFact.com, the "independent fact checking website" sponsored by one of the country's most liberal newspapers, the St. Petersburg Times, as an example:

PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen "government takeover of health care" as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats' shellacking in the November elections.

Anyone paying attention remembers that ObamaCare was a government takeover bid. That's what it was when Hillary Clinton was pushing it in 1993, and the 2009 Obama plan was, too. It included a "public option," which was really a "government option" to any objective news outlet. But PolitiFact sniffs that, while this may have been true before the "public option" was taken out of the bill, it wasn't accurate once that onerous provision was excized.

By the time the health care bill was headed toward passage in early 2010, Obama and congressional Democrats had sanded down their program, dropping the "public option" concept that was derided as too much government intrusion. The law passed in March, with new regulations, but no government-run plan.

Robert Gibbs couldn't have spun that any better. PolitiFact maintains that anyone who continued to use "government takeover" after the public option was killed is a liar, and a big fat "liar of the year," to boot.

This, like most of the items that come from left-wing media watchdogs like Media Matters and the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org, is so much sophistry. Even a quick reading of the health care bill reveals an astounding level of government control of health care, even without the public option. Many observers say the new powers given the HHS are designed specifically to push the entire industry toward a "public option."

The Health and Human Services bureaucracy is given an unprecedented degree of power by the ample use of the phrase "the Secretary shall, by regulation" in the bill. Any objective person would conclude that 2,000 pages of new regulations devoted to one industry constitutes a "government takeover" by definition, but not PolitiFact.

That extraordinary power has been used already to exempt unilaterally hundreds of government-friendly businesses, unions and other organizations from the effects of the health care bill, which makes these entities beholden to the government, and implies some level of "control" by the "government."

But here's the kicker (my emphasis):

Readers of PolitiFact, the St. Petersburg Times' independent fact-checking website, also chose it as the year's most significant falsehood by an overwhelming margin. (Their second-place choice was Rep. Michele Bachmann's claim that Obama was going to spend $200 million a day on a trip to India, a falsity that still sprouts.)

This is a textbook example of the half-truth way liberal fact-check sites operate. Yes, Bachmann did say that the Obama trip would cost $200 million a day, but it was not her claim. It was the claim of an Indian mainstream news outlet, the Press Trust of India, and was picked up by other news outlets. Bachmann was simply repeating what had been reported.

The quick determination by PolitiFact readers that Bachmann's repeating of this report constitutes a "lie," and PolitiFact's evident acceptance of that determination, tells you all you need to know about the readers and PolitiFact. Why did they brand only Bachmann as a liar, an not the the many others who repeated what was thought to be an accurate report? I'd venture that it had something to do with the left's Bachmann Derangement Syndrome, second in severity only to Palin Derangement Syndrome.

These are the same people who still maintain Bush "lied" about WMD in Iraq. That Iraq had WMD was an assessment shared by most Western countries, including ours. But to liberal fact checkers, you're a liar if you're a conservative or a Republican who states something you believe to be true but which later turns our to be untrue (though recent Wikileaks cables, it could be argued, vindicate Bush's statement).

The thing to keep in mind is that most organizations that call themselves "fact checkers" (and this includes your local newspapers) are left-wing or liberal, no matter how "nonpartisan" and "independent" they claim to be.

Jon Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of its newspaper Carolina Journal.