Another Embarrassing Factcheck From Calvin Woodward

AP‘s Calvin Woodward, who has the standing assignment of “factchecking” political speeches, continues to be an embarrassment to genuine factcheckers everywhere–substituting his own weird value judgments, semantic games and crystal-ball gazing for genuine examination of facts (FAIR Blog, 10/30/08, 2/25/09, 4/30/09). In his post-State of the Union effort (1/27/10), he singles out Barack Obama’s call for a non-military discretionary spending freeze, pointing out that during the 2008 campaign Obama had said that rival John McCain’s proposal for a spending freeze was “using a hatchet where you need a scalpel.” Saying that Obama’s “proposal is similar to McCain’s,” Woodward complained that “he didn’t explain what had changed.”

Actually, regardless of what you think of the freeze proposal, the administration has explained quite specifically how the two proposals are supposed to differ: While McCain’s “hatchet” would freeze funding for individual programs, Obama’s “scalpel” would freeze overall domestic discretionary spending, allowing some programs to expand while others are cut (White House Blog, 1/26/10). Again, you can question the wisdom of the policy, but you can’t claim that the White House doesn’t offer an explanation of how Obama’s approach differs from McCain’s. Or rather, if you work for AP, you not only can–you can make it the centerpiece of your “factchecking” article. (The article’s headline is a pun about Obama’s “Hatchet’ Job.”)

Woodward indulges in fortune-telling when he dismisses Obama’s talk of creating a deficit-cutting commission as a “weak substitute” for a congressionally established panel: “Any commission set up by Obama alone would lack authority to force its recommendations before Congress, and would stand almost no chance of success.” Actually, Nostradamus, the Senate plan for a deficit commission would have required three-fifths majorities in both houses to enact the recommendations (McClatchy, 1/26/10), proposals that came from a White House-created panel could pass by majority rule (since deficit-cutting measures fall under the Senate’s reconciliation rules)–a far easier political hurdle. (Once more, the question of whether such “success” is to be hoped for is another matter–see FAIR Action Alert, 1/6/10.)

Woodward follows Obama’s “Our approach would preserve the right of Americans who have insurance to keep their doctor and their plan” with the retort, “But Obama can’t guarantee people won’t see higher rates or fewer benefits in their existing plans.” Because an honest president would have pointed out, apparently, that his or her reform bill wouldn’t permanently eliminate all medical inflation.

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.