Sep
06
2012

AP's Mostly Factless Factcheck

One of the problems with media "factchecking" is the notion that all things must be "checked" equally. If you factcheck a Republican and find three whoppers, your fact check of a Democrat better work real hard to find a comparable level of spin or dishonesty.

Which is exactly how Associated Press reporters Matt Apuzzo and Tom Raum approached Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic convention last night.

Clinton's speech–along with others–"either cherry-picked facts or mischaracterized the opposition." But their first example is extraordinarily weak. They quote Clinton talking about the difference between Obama and Republican leadership when it comes to eagerness to compromise:

Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is the enemy and compromise is weakness. One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation.

It's hard to know how one would even try to fact check that, but the AP reporters present their case:

THE FACTS: From Clinton's speech, voters would have no idea that the inflexibility of both parties is to blame for much of the gridlock. Right from the beginning Obama brought in as his first chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, a man known for his getting his way, not for getting along.

Emanuel is also pretty well known for hostility to the left-wing of the party, so as "THE FACTS" go, this isn't very persuasive.

AP goes on to recount the failure of deficit reduction "grand bargain" negotiations with John Boehner, which "would have required compromise from both sides." So what happened?

Boehner couldn't sell the plan to tea party factions in the House or to other conservative activists. And Obama found himself accused of going too far by some Democratic leaders. The deal died before it ever even came up for a vote.

How on Earth this contradicts anything Clinton said is up to readers to determine.

The factcheck also includes the failure of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction plan. The piece argues that "Obama mostly walked away from the report"–this is misleading, since there wasn't a report at all–but that he "later incorporated some of the less contentious proposals from the report into legislation he supported." Which is proof of… something.

The Clinton speech listed all the policy arenas where Obama compromised with Republicans. (People seem to forget that the healthcare negotiations went on for so long in part because of the desire to get Republican support.) He also referenced Senate Republican Mitch McConnell's comment that the "single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president."

It's difficult to debunk the claim that the Republican strategy is to block Obama at virtually every turn because it is their stated political goal.

It's not all bad factchecking; AP thinks there's no evidence to support Clinton's claim that Obamacare is responsible for the slowdown in Medicare spending over the past two years. But the final item is a doozy.

Clinton accurately quoted a Romney pollster saying, "We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by factcheckers." Which means it's time to talk about… Monica Lewinsky:

THE FACTS: Clinton, who famously finger-wagged a denial on national television about his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and was subsequently impeached in the House on a perjury charge, has had his own uncomfortable moments over telling the truth. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," Clinton told television viewers. Later, after he was forced to testify to a grand jury, Clinton said his statements were "legally accurate" but also allowed that he "misled people, including even my wife."

If that's the standard, then nothing that Clinton said last night could possibly be believed. If that's AP's actual position, they should have made that their top "FACT"–and left out all the rest.

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.