Political Animal

Blog

August 06, 2013 12:11 PM When You Can’t Trust a Trusty

By Ed Kilgore

In the exceptionally important bipartisan task of keeping the Republican Party within shouting distance of the empirical world of facts and data, a particular challenge has been to convince GOPers to acknowledge that the federal budget deficit is going down rather than going up. And that is why House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s casual reference on Fox News last weekend to “this growing deficit” as the ultimate problem to deal with in the approaching fiscal policy apocalypse has drawn especially unfavorable attention.

But called in to determine whether a cloudless summer sky is indeed blue, or perhaps is instead mauve, the arbiters at PolitiFact looked at Cantor’s statement, rationalized that according to CBO if nothing else happens and current assumptions are verified federal budget deficits will soon go up, and adjudged Cantor’s howler as Half True.

Brother Benen arose this morning and pounced:

You’ve got to be kidding me.
I would have hoped for a “Pants on Fire” rating, but would have settled for at least a “False” conclusion.
But the House Majority Leader can make a claim that’s the polar opposite of reality and it’s “half true”? Seriously?
Imagine your home town has experienced a heat wave, which then faded, and I told you, “You know, it’s actually getting hotter,” despite the fact that it’s getting cooler. By PolitiFact’s reasoning, my claim may be the opposite of the truth, but it’s still “half true” because at some point in the future, it’s likely to get hotter again.
Imagine we’re driving down the highway in a car and I step on the accelerator. I then assure you, “Don’t worry, the car is slowing down,” despite the fact that the car is speeding up. PolitiFact would apparently say my claim is “half true” because sometime soon, the car will probably decelerate.

Like me, Steve doesn’t share the post-modern viewpoint that “facts” are some sort of cultural construct and that “objectivity” is a bourgeois illusion. So he’s angry at PoliFact not for posing as an objective arbiter of facts, but for doing its job so very badly.

In theory, I’m not reflexively opposed to the idea of websites fact-checking important claims made by political figures, but if you’re going to have the word “fact” in your name, you have a responsibility to get the details right. And too often, PolitiFact just isn’t good at its job.

Back in the early 60s, Mississippi governor Ross Barnett, whose office was heavily staffed by prisoners on work-release (reflecting his state’s long-time dependence on involuntary labor), sent a “trusty” on some mission or other. He promptly disappeared, leaving Barnett to wonder: “If you can’t trust a trusty, who can you trust?” I feel the same way about “fact-checkers.” Get it right, or go away.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

(You may use HTML tags for style)

comments powered by Disqus