NYT Fails to Factcheck Republican Victory Laps

Thereare almost always stories in the Monday papers about what politicians said on the Sunday morning chat shows. Today’s New York Times is no different, and given the election outcome the quotes are primarily from Republicans taking their victory laps. None of that is surprising, but it would make sense for journalists to fact check some of the egregiously misleading statements that these politicians are uttering. (In a perfect world, of course, they’d be pressed during their TV interviews, but we’re nowhere near that reality.)

The Times story by Joseph Bergers (11/8/10) includes several such statements, none of which are challenged–such as this passage from Kentucky Republican Senator-elect Rand Paul:

To rein in annual deficits and cut that debt, he said he would reduce the federal work force and its wages by 10 percent and freeze hiring. He said an average federal worker earns $120,000 in wages and benefits a year, twice what an average worker in the private sector earns.

The government is paying twice as much? That sounds unlikely. The Times should have searched around for an assessment of this statement, which was likely derived from an August 10 USA Today article that FAIR’s Jim Naureckas flagged right here for being totally misleading. There were also experts cited at who explained that this USA Today analysis was flawed–one study found public workers were paid slightly less than their private counterparts, once education and experience were factored into the analysis.

The article also cited Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.):

Despite post-election talk of working with President Obama, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, took a hard line on one of the most pressing issues facing the government–whether to extend tax cuts put into effect during the Bush administration for those earning more than $250,000.

Mr. McConnell said rejecting an extension would amount to tax increases in the middle of a recession and would raise taxes on “750,000 of our most productive small businesses,” whose payrolls support 25 percent of the American work force.

This is a familiar–and false–GOP talking point about tax cuts for the wealthy. There are very few small business that would even be affected by this increase on wealthy individual tax filers. The Times for some reason provides numbers detailing how much of the workforce is employed by small businesses, but doesn’t think that a politician claiming a tax hardship for 750,000 small businesses is worth looking into?

The Times also quotes McConnell’s characterization of the new healthcare law as “this awful 2,700-page monstrosity that took over one-sixth of our economy.” It’s generally understood that the healthcare industry comprises that share of our total economy (which in many ways is part of the problem, since it suggests health costs are out of control). But the law is in no way a “takeover” of the healthcare industry. Arguably the main part of the law is the requirement that the uninsured go out and buy coverage from private carriers. Unless a secret part of the law mandates the creation of a national healthcare system, McConnell’s being wildly misleading.

We might have a more rational political conversation in the country if journalists were more willing to point this kind of stuff out.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.