Final Factcheck: Political Lying Perfectly Balanced

Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler had his last election piece in the Sunday edition of the paper (11/4/12)– and it made you glad there won’t be any more.

Glenn Kessler at the New America Foundation.

Glenn Kessler

The article promised, in the headline at least, “The Best–or Worst?–Pinocchios of This Presidential Race.” What it delivered was something else: Eight themes of lying and deception (like “Silliest Blooper” and “Worst Math Skills”), each with one example drawn from each side. In other words, lying was perfect balanced.

And the piece closes with this bizarre attempt at “balance”:

Most complex subject for spinning–bipartisan effort

The Obama administration’s memo saying it would accept welfare waivers related to worker participation targets prompted bipartisan spinning. The Romney campaign aired an over-the-top ad that accused Obama of gutting the welfare reform law, even though no waivers have been issued. But the Democratic counterspin was also questionable, leaving largely unanswered what the administration hoped to accomplish with the new rules.

So the Republican claims about Obama’s welfare plan were “over-the-top”–which I guess is another way of saying flatly untrue. The questionable “counterspin” (hey!) Kessler is talking about would appear to be mostly about something Bill Clinton said, based on a letter written by Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. The core of the Republican claim–that Obama was seeking to end the work requirements under current welfare law–is not supported by any evidence. But Kessler, even on this controversy, wants to make it seem like the deception is bipartisan.

This, in a nutshell, has been one of the main problems with media fact checking of the presidential election. And it’s not just Glenn Kessler. PolitiFact has a “Biggest Falsehoods of the Presidential Campaign” piece by Bill Adair, where readers get three lies from each side. This is curious kind of a balance since, as an op-ed in today’s New York Times points out, PolitiFact has found Romney guilty of far more “pants on fire” lies than Obama– 19 to 7 since 2007.

But the kind of factchecking that would tell you one side is far more guilty of lying and manipulation than the other isn’t the kind of factchecking corporate media want to do.

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.