What media organizations refer to as “fact-checking” is shifting, in this election season, from a useful exercise in monitoring to a questionable form of editorializing. Egregious examples have lately emanated from CNN and the Associated Press, usually sources of straightforward reporting, in reaction to speeches at the Democratic National Convention this week.
This tendentious tendency first appeared in response to former President Bill Clinton’s boffo nominating speech. Referring to a Republican consultant who had said the Romney campaign would not be constrained from (falsely) criticizing the welfare policies of the Obama administration by “fact-checkers,” Clinton chortled: “Now that is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself — I just hope you remember that every time you see the [welfare] ad.”
To AP reporters Tom Raum and Calvin Woodward, Clinton’s remark became the occasion to dredge up the Monica Lewinsky affair to show that the former president “has had his own uncomfortable moments over telling the truth.” Comparing the effort to conceal a personal sexual indiscretion with the racially-tinged Republican attempt to smear Obama on welfare policy struck many observers as idiocy – and they said so.
The AP editor’s feeble defense of this stupidity didn’t help. “The reference was not about that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” he said. “It was about facts. Clinton challenged the Republicans for their attitude toward facts. We were simply pointing out that as president, Clinton had his own challenges in this area.”
But the AP “fact-check” of Clinton’s speech fell short in other ways as well, though none quite as glaring. Raum and Woodward complained that Clinton shouldn’t have credited Obamacare for the reduction in the rise of health-care costs, because experts supposedly believe that drop to have been caused by economic uncertainty. There is no logic to that claim – since costs rose during earlier periods of uncertainty – and the AP cited no experts to confirm it. (Bloomberg News found no material errors in Clinton’s speech, incidentally.)