Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 7, 2008

FALSE EQUIVALENCY.... I tend to like the fact-checking work the Washington Post's Michael Dobbs has done over the course of the campaign, but this morning, he published an item about "some of the more questionable claims" that didn't quite work. For example, there's this quote from Joe Biden:

"In the Senate, John [McCain] has voted with President Bush 95 percent. And that is very hard to believe."

The claim isn't quite right to Dobbs, because, he argued, McCain supported the Bush administration position 95% in 2007, but 90% since Bush took office. As Dobbs sees it, Biden was imprecise, and therefore, the claim is "questionable."

He then notes this quote from Sarah Palin:

"I championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress. I told the Congress, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' on that Bridge to Nowhere."

Dobbs explains that Palin "is overstating her opposition." That's an exceedingly polite way of saying she isn't telling the truth at all -- Palin supported the bridge project, campaigned on a pledge to build the bridge project, and took the federal money even after the project was scrapped. What's more, she didn't "champion reform" of congressional earmarks, Palin hired a lobbyist to help get her town $27 million in pork-barrel projects, some of which were condemned by none other than John McCain.

Just as importantly, the claims about Palin and earmarks have been definitely disproven, but Palin and McCain keep repeating them anyway, making their dishonesty all the more breathtaking.

In the Post's fact-checking piece, these two claims, Biden's and Palin's, are offered as relative equivalents. The reader is left with the impression that all the candidates for national office are fudging and spinning on the campaign trail.

But this is a false equivalency. Biden's claim is completely accurate -- McCain really has voted with Bush 95% of the time. Palin's claim is complete false -- she really didn't reject earmarks.

Why lump them both together as "questionable claims"?

Steve Benen 12:01 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Comments

Because he's a hack?

Posted by: David on September 7, 2008 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK

this is classic msm journalism: each side is equal; each false statement is equal; all truth is relative, so all "truths" get broadcast

don't journalism schools cover this stuff anymore????

how can neutrality and silence in the face of lies be considered responsible journalism?

Posted by: sjw on September 7, 2008 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

Chris Wallace, of all people, actually pushed back pretty hard on this sort of BS coming from Rick Davis' piehole this AM. Here's the video.

Posted by: Jake on September 7, 2008 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

Because you have to be equally hard on both sides. And the Rethugs know how to game the system.

Posted by: John McCain: Worse than Bush on September 7, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

As we kept telling Kevin, just putting this stuff out there and being baffled is neither informative nor working to make a difference. We need to dig into these people's backgrounds, the media culture, what their bosses are telling them, what the media owners are telling their bosses, even party affiliation to the extent found in public records or statements etc., and find better ways to combat and expose this silliness, and confront them about it.

But it isn't just the media's fault. This morning Joe Biden had a chance to knock at Sarah Palin's put-down of community organizers, when she said "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a 'community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities." !!! Think: she is implying that people with jobs, period, which is what a community organizer is when you really get down to it, "don't have responsibilities"! - what, only government officials have responsibilities, not people with work to do? See the irony of a conservative saying that, how we could slam her on that without any "personal" angles?

But when Brokaw asked him about it, Biden went along with the flabby meme that he's supposed to chuckle and say it was good line, etc. No way that kind of gelatin is going to win this election! Guys, pull it together!

Go BO-Joe, defeat McBushlin!

Posted by: Neil B on September 7, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

I noted during the Dem convention that most people were using the 95% number in their speeches, but that Kerry said 90%. I made a mental note at that time that the 95% figure was probably going to bite someone in the ass.

As to why the press writes stories like this, with baldly false equivalences passing for equal treatment, it's because they don't want to piss off their readership, which would hurt sales.

Believe me, I'd like to say it's because of bias, but it's not. The press, like all working groups, is mostly concerned with the next pay check, not democracy. Which is why the blogosphere should keep dismantling the press and replace them with something a little more focused on America and Americans.

Posted by: The Phantom on September 7, 2008 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

He usually has a "Pinocchio scale" that ranks the falseness of the statement and gets around the false equivalence problem. I don't know why it is missing here.

Posted by: Jason on September 7, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

Overstatements? Misquotes? Exaggerations?

These are lies. Lies. Obama's team better get over their shyness about using this word loudly and often.

Everyone hates a liar. Democrat, Independent, or Republican, it's probably something everyone can agree on. The majority of Americans believe the last eight years have been filled with lies. McCain and Palin are just a continuation of the same approach, brought to you by the same people
(Rove, Schmidt, Wallace, etc.).

Start calling McCain and Palin liars. They're doing it every day and no one seems to have the balls to call it for what it is.

Posted by: Bobby Stravinsky on September 7, 2008 at 12:18 PM | PERMALINK

AsI wrote on one of the overnight threads, the earmark argument is a red herring. It is presented to the public as an issue of wasteful spending, when it is really about executive vs legislative power. McCain prefers to pressure executive agencies like the DOD or FCC to push spending preferences, rather than go through the Appropriations Committee. Palin was for "earmarks" when it was Fed money that she had no control over, but when she became Governor, she was against letting her own legislature decide how Alaska spent its money.

The one billion dollars for the Republic of Georgia for "humanitarian aid" follows Cheney's visit with oil executives there. I would bet the money will actually fund a pipeline, as well as enrich a few lobbyists. It's not an earmark because it originates with the executive branch, but it's the same kind of special interests-driven funding that McCain and Palin pretend to be against. But in this case they are so tied to the Georgia Lobby, that they would no doubt approve it, regardless of whether it provides any relief to people hurt in the Russian conflict.

Posted by: Danp on September 7, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

Even if you allow the idea that both are false, one is a difference of degree and the other is a difference of polarity. Mentally, these are very, very different things. I can legitimately forget how much money I've given Obama, but I can't possibly remember it as having given money to McCain.

Very, very different kinds of "lies". And the press should really become more conscious of these things.

Posted by: Chuck on September 7, 2008 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

The Biden comment has the benefit of having been just plain true for at least a period of time within the entire frame of interest, whereas Bushlin's tricks are truly deceptive - that should matter to M. Dobbs.

Posted by: Neil B ☼ on September 7, 2008 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

maybe Dobbs is no longer invited to the famous BBQ's that McSame holds for his "base". Perhaps this is his way of retaining his access to the ol' maverick.

Posted by: jcricket on September 7, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Because he's working. Yeah Chris Wallace questioned Rick Davis about it. Great! I'm shocked and awed that its coming from Fox, but you can't lick a gift horse in the mouth.

Someone needs to ask John McCain about the Bridge To Nowhere claims. He's also repeating these lies. It should definitely be a debate question.

BTW, no one in MSM is going to call them liars because they are not going to get access. No access means no ratings. No ratings means someone gets fired.

Posted by: John Henry on September 7, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Obama Camp-pain should go with a slightly lower unassailable number and let it be corrected upward by the press than try for the highest. 90 instead 95% would do the job.

When is Joe Biden gonna quit giving testimonials about McCain and start giving some eulogies? There should be some orchestrated speeches about the old McCain being replaced by the new McCain.

That's Just What I Said

Posted by: Dale on September 7, 2008 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently, The Anchorage Daily News ran an interesting article on September 4th (http://www.adn.com/sarah-palin/story/515512.html) about Sarah Palin that I think all voters should read because it gives you a VERY good clue as to who she is. When Sarah Palin was elected mayor of Wasilla., the city librarian (Mary Ellen Emmons) was asked to remove certain books from the library. When she refused, she received a letter that she was being fired, or more specifically, asking for her resignation. Similar letters also went to police chief Irl Stambaugh, public works director Jack Felton, and finance director Duane Dvorak. John Cooper, a fifth director, resigned after Palin eliminated his job overseeing the city museum.

Palin told the Daily News back then the letters were just a "test of loyalty" as she took on the mayor's job..."

WTFF??!! Firing people as a test of loyalty? Right. Strong-arm, scare, fear, and intimidation tactics are more like it. Ain't that grand. Another dictator-wanna-be who abuses her position of power. This is the GOP's great "reformer"? Right. Just another GOP hack using GOP tactics to circumvent democracy.

Posted by: on September 7, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

(Sorry for the double post.)
Apparently, The Anchorage Daily News ran an interesting article on September 4th (http://www.adn.com/sarah-palin/story/515512.html) about Sarah Palin that I think all voters should read because it gives you a VERY good clue as to who she is. When Sarah Palin was elected mayor of Wasilla., the city librarian (Mary Ellen Emmons) was asked to remove certain books from the library. When she refused, she received a letter that she was being fired, or more specifically, asking for her resignation. Similar letters also went to police chief Irl Stambaugh, public works director Jack Felton, and finance director Duane Dvorak. John Cooper, a fifth director, resigned after Palin eliminated his job overseeing the city museum.

Palin told the Daily News back then the letters were just a "test of loyalty" as she took on the mayor's job..."

WTFF??!! Firing people as a test of loyalty? Right. Strong-arm, scare, fear, and intimidation tactics are more like it. Ain't that grand. Another dictator-wanna-be who abuses her position of power. This is the GOP's great "reformer"? Right. Just another GOP hack using GOP tactics to circumvent democracy.

Posted by: OptiMysticalCynic on September 7, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

That's the familiar mode of the press. You can take a proven lie, a documented and proven falsehood, and it will be reported as "a questionable claim" if you even get that much.

Posted by: Algernon on September 7, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

...and took the federal money even after the project was scrapped.

Strictly speaking, one can oppose earmarks and still keep the money with no contradiction -- since earmarks are simply designations for how money already allocated is to be spent.

However, we don't know if Alaska would have gotten the transportation funding if the Gravina Island Bridge had not been included in the list of projects.

Posted by: Grumpy on September 7, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "Why lump them both together as 'questionable claims'?"

Good grief, are you too young to remember the 2000 presidential campaign?

The corporate-owned media is following EXACTLY the same script that they did in 2000, when they diligently overlooked or minimized Bush's numerous, brazen, outlandish lies while simultaneously distorting, misrepresenting, and outright inventing statements by Al Gore to make him appear untrustworthy.

Please don't go playing the too-cute "naivete" game that Kevin Drum was so prone to engage in.

Why, oh why, oh why, are highly-paid employees of giant media corporations (who will benefit enormously from a McCain presidency that continues the CheneyBush policies of huge tax cuts for the rich and deregulation of media ownership rules) slanting their analysis to cover up Palin's lies and falsely suggest that Biden is lying? When, oh when, oh when, will they get it right?

Give me a break.

Democrats need to realize that the corporate-owned mass media is their adversary, not some kind of neutral party performing a public service by impartially informing the electorate of the facts. The corporate-owned media is an integral part of the Rove-Palin-McCain campaign.

Wake up and deal with it.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on September 7, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Speaking of outright untruths, how come nobody has challenged the claim of "US business pays the highest taxes in the world?" As of three years ago, Germany, Ontario Canada and Japan all paid a higher tax rate than the US did, and those were just countries I dealt with with a previous job. Singapore and Quebec were lower. So unless the tax laws have changed dramatically in the last few years, this "highest business tax rate" meme is a bald faced lie.

Posted by: sublime33 on September 7, 2008 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

It's the democratic party's own damn fault the MSM holds them in such contempt. It is a political organization that long ago lost sight of the power of political rhetoric. They willfully ceded that high ground to the GOP, and (surprise, surprise) have consequently spent the past three decades (at least) being horse-whippped with impunity by the most sinister criminal syndicate in the nation's history. It is quite likely too much to expect them to regain their chops within the next 8 weeks.

Yesterday, Obama said, "Words mean something". Were he he in fighting trim, he would have prefaced that remark by saying, "As George Orwell noted sixty years ago..".

Their enfeebled rhetoric, in combination with their craven idiocy in continually according the republican crime family a lickspitel-like respect ("the good and most honorable opposition" salutory bullshit, infused even in their criticisms, even with all the chips down), is the stuff of tragedy.

Posted by: JW on September 7, 2008 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

why, because he is a Republican hack Steve.

Did you notice that all summer while McCain was out there downright lying about Obama's record, Mr. Dobbs couldn't find a minute out of his time to do one fact check. Nope...no sirree...you see, he is waiting for his big moment to call Obama out..

McCain, not so much..

shill like Fournier...

Posted by: justmy2 on September 7, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

as Neil B tells it above, Biden's response is pitiful

the Dems have these next 13 days or so before Palin gives a real interview to define her and drive the media storyline: they'd better get crackin'

Posted by: sjw on September 7, 2008 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

Rep. are criminal liars. It's just brazen criminal.

This is where we are -- the media won't call a lie a lie. And half the country will support these liars.

Why won't people stand up to this shit????

Palin's a heartbeat away and can't even answer questions on TV yet. What happens when she needs meet with Putin one day? Sorry Vlad, our president's not ready to negotiate because she's still fucking clueless. Give us 3 more months and promise you won't invade any satellite nations before then, thanks, dude.

Posted by: jonno on September 7, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

McCain really voted with Bush 95% of the time? And here I thought Bush was president, not a senator...

Posted by: senatorbush on September 7, 2008 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

This is what passes for "balance" in the media these days. It's actually laziness and spinelessness.

Posted by: SteveB on September 7, 2008 at 5:48 PM | PERMALINK

Heh, let's admit that the question by "senatorbush" is actually worthy: it would help to get an explanation of just how we rate such things, which I think is based on what Bush requests through the party leadership. But senatorbush, remember that John McCain himself *said* he voted with Bush over 90% of the time, so he must know what he meant. Let's ask him ... over and over again!

Go BO-Joe, stop McBushlin!

Posted by: Neil B on September 7, 2008 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

I used to live in Wasilla. I've been listening to Sarah's lies for years but she has really gone over the top in recent weeks. I knew the business about the Gravina Island bridge was complete b.s. because I've been on that story for seven years. I knew that she'd done damn little regarding "reform" since taking office on 12/20/06. I knew that she'd fire someone in a nanosecond for refusing to go along with her even illegal demands.

Some of her other lies were fascinating and haven't been touched on by the press. Her claim that the proposed Alaska gas pipeline will help solve U.S. energy problems is complete horseshit. The pipeline will probably never be built, despite her giving a half-billion dollar gift to a Canadian corporation. They don't own any gas, their prospects for getting any are weak, they have many other projects with higher priorities. They will get treble damages if the state decides to back out of the contract at any point. Most of all, however, the gas will be destined not for the U.S., but for Alberta, where it will be used in the immensely destructive process of extracting petroleum from oil sands.

How can she tell lies like that and get away with it? Previous posters are right. When the media is owned by right wing outfits such as Fox/News Corp/Murdoch, Disney (ABC) and General Electric (NBC), they will never confront the mendacity. Not if they want to keep making billions through the subservience of the FCC.

If anyone watched the Pennsylvania "debate" between Obama and Clinton they should understand how discussion of relevant issues is avoided and "flag pin" blather is substituted.

For those with short term memory problems, that "debate" was a thinly disguised trap for Obama, with Clinton hack George Stephanopolis and ABC's fawning Gibson double teaming to sink Obama.

Gibson can be trusted, more than any television toady this side of Fox, to take very, very good care of Palin.

Posted by: Frank on September 7, 2008 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

"The Biden comment has the benefit of having been just plain true for at least a period of time within the entire frame of interest, whereas Bushlin's ...."

Had to stop and think for a minute. Bushlin? I was so used to McBush. Then I got it. But I humbly submit instead (because I just can't help myself):

Palbush?

Posted by: A noun, a verb and POW on September 7, 2008 at 9:06 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe Petey can answer since he seems to be really fond of false equivalencies.

Posted by: OhNoNotAgain on September 8, 2008 at 6:10 AM | PERMALINK

There are two reasons. First, the press always bends over backwards to fight the perception of liberal bias. They do that because, apparently, it really pisses off the editors and owners. Therefore, there is a serious pressure exerted on them to present themselves as completely neutral. Secondly, some in the press reflexively write as though the fairness doctrine is still in place. That think they have to present a "balanced" story, even though that is demonstrably incorporating the Fallacy of the Golden Mean within their story. If a Democrat says that the elections will be held in November, and a Republican says they'll be held in March, the truth is not that they'll be held in June. Nor is it a service to the public to report both and let the public decide which is factually correct. However, they still write that way.

Posted by: Diogenes on September 8, 2008 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

Joe Biden should really stop dodging the fact that McCain actually became WORSE with regards to voting with Bush in 2007.

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