The media is obsessed with subjecting the Republican National Convention speeches to “fact-checking,” which as everyone knows is a special kind of media report that contains completely helpful, accurate, objective, independent, non-partisan analyses of things candidates say, as opposed to the usual slanted reporting of things candidates say.
For example, on Wednesday night Paul Ryan said:
My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory.
A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.
Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day.
However, the Fact-Checkers informed us that Ryan:
Faulted Obama for failing to deliver a 2008 campaign promise to keep a Wisconsin plant open. It closed less than a month before Obama took office. (USAToday)
Politifact.org was among the many to rate Ryan’s barb “false,” since the plant closed a month before the Democrat took office (LATimes)
Twitter lit up as soon as he started telling the story of the Janesville auto plant that Barack Obama didn’t save – a plant that, it turns out, closed before Obama was president. (Washington Post)
See, folks? Ryan wants to blame Obama for not saving an auto plant he said he’d try to save, but it closed before he was President, so, see, he couldn’t save it, anyway! It was all Bush’s fault!
But there’s one little problem. According to Wikipedia, the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal, and people who live in Jainesville, the plant closed in 2009! It was being idled a month before Obama took office, but did not actually close until April of the next year!
I will forgive you if the partisan bickering about the importance of idling vs. closing flies over your head. Ultimately, Obama made a dumb campaign statement about the ability of the government to keep a plant open for 100 years, and Ryan mocked him for it, but nothing he said was false. Ryan exaggerated Obama’s connection to the closing just as Obama exaggerated his ability to be connected to it; it doesn’t make Ryan more truthful than Obama, but it makes him no worse. Unfortunately, none of that nuance is explained in the “fact-checking” articles which simply and bluntly dictate that the “plant closed a month before Obama took office.”
Now the conservative pundits in my Twitter feed, while devoting dozens of tweets and retweets to checking this fact-checking, completely ignored the other accusations of Ryan’s mistruths, which suggests Ryan really was being hypocritical about the debt commission and making contradictory statements about Medicare. But the fact remains that the Jainesville “fact”, as presented by the “fact-checkers”, was not, in fact, a fact.
Conservatives have long held an uneasy distrust for the media’s favorite allegedly independent fact-checkers, believing them to be biased in their simplifications and selections of complicated truths. But this distrust has exacerbated lately. Several months ago this guy blogged about how Politifact contacted him to get some facts about a claim, how he responded, and how he disagreed with Politifact’s ultimate conclusion. A few days ago there were accusations about Politifact’s distorted conclusions regarding things Ryan said about Obamacare. Then some Romney aide said, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers,” which of course cedes the brilliant framing of the debate to the leftists, who can then double-down on their claims that conservatives don’t care about facts and science and truth and honesty.
But of course it’s not Truth itself that conservatives don’t like; it’s liberals claiming to have the Truth when they really don’t. I’ve seen pithy lines going around like “Who fact-checks the fact-checkers?” They’re riffs of the cultural “Who watches the watchmen?” meme that is often used to denote skepticism about powerful decision makers.
I think the meta-comparison is appropriate because they reveal the curious progressive faith in the ability of Intentions to produce Results. There’s an almost comical assumption that the Fact-Checker’s conclusions must not be questioned. He’s a Fact-Checker! Of course he’s checking facts! What else do you think he would be doing? We don’t have to fact-check the Fact-Checker because the Fact-Checker is Qualified and could never be slanted or subjective in his or her oversimplification of a complicated topic – besides, he’s the Fact-Checker, not you. How could you possibly know how to fact-check him? We’d have to fact-check your fact-check fact-checking! If you oppose Fact-Checking, it’s clearly not because you doubt the capacity of the fact-checker to accurately produce fact-checked results, especially when you have clear evidence of inaccuracy; no, if you oppose Fact-Checking, you must oppose the intent of Fact-Checking! You must hate Truth!
Similarly, if you oppose regulation, like the recent Dodd-Frank financial regulation, it couldn’t be because you doubt the ability of these regulations to actually do what they’re intended to do; no, you must like fraud and letting people be swindled. If you oppose government intervention that encourages bad mortgages, you must not want poor people to buy houses. If you oppose raising the minimum wage, you must not want people to make more money. There are so many issues where progressives seem to focus on the Intent of something and completely ignore whether the Results have anything to do with them, and this Fact-Checking Hullabaloo is just the latest manifestation of that fallacy.
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