When Fact-Checks Have a Quota

Almost as useless as not fact-checking politicians’ statements at all is to insist on presenting fact-checks as though both sides are equally guilty–a classic form of false balance that gives a big advantage to whomever happens to be the biggest liar. In this genre we find “Facts Go Adrift on Taxes, Energy in VP Debate: Palin, Biden Differed on Key Issues in Only Debate” (10/2/08), AP‘s attempt at setting the record straight after last night’s encounter.

In keeping with the studiously neutral, passive-voice headline, the story starts by declaring that “facts went adrift” in last night’s debate–not specifying whether anyone did more or less to set them adrift. The lead is followed by alternating examples from each candidate–though it starts with a Sarah Palin example and ends with two Palin examples, resulting in a total of six for her and four for Joe Biden. So apparently AP found Palin bending or breaking the truth 50 percent more than Biden, a seemingly important finding that is indicated by neither the headline, the lead nor the format.

And AP seemed to stretch to get even this level of equality in mendacity. Its first example for Biden points out that there was “excessive deregulation” in “the last eight years,” even though he voted for a financial deregulation bill–in 1999, during the Clinton years. Is it really a “fact” that you have to be a lifelong opponent of all deregulation in order to think that there can be too much deregulation?

Funnily enough, another item in AP‘s list criticized the Democratic VP candidate for saying that McCain had said “that he wants to do for the healthcare industry–deregulate it and let the free market move–like he did for the banking industry.” AP‘s rejoinder is that when McCain said he favored “opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking,” he was only talking about a specific kind of deregulation, and not endorsing deregulation in general. You’d hope that these fact-check items would hold themselves to at least the standard of accuracy and consistency to which they hold the candidates.

Meanwhile, Media Matters (10/3/08) points out ABC‘s Cokie Roberts highlighted Joe Biden referring to Bosnians as “Bosniaks” as a mistake. “If [Palin] had said ‘Bosniak,’ everybody would be making a big deal of it, you know,” Roberts said–apparently unaware that “Bosniak” is actually a more correct name for the ethnicity. That was the only “mistake” in the debate she seemed to notice.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.