The “Objective” Nitwittery of Politifact

Harry Reid says he heard from someone that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for ten years. We don’t know if what Reid said was true or false, because the evidence that could be easily proffered to settle the dispute is still being held back by Mitt Romney. But Politifact says Reid isn’t telling the truth, so they issued their idiotic pants on fire judgment againt Reid.

The logical problem here is that Politiface is saying Reid is lying, and supporting their claim by citing tax experts who say that the it can’t be true that Romney didn’t pay taxes. But that’s not what Reid is saying, he’s not saying he knows Romney didn’t pay taxes. Rather, he’s saying he was told Romney didn’t pay taxes. If the claim is wrong, it’s person who made the claim who’s wrong, not Harry Reid for repeating it. Jamison Foser tweeted a great observation about this part of Politifarce’s silliness:

If, per @politifact, believing & repeating something false you’re told makes you a pants-on-fire liar, pretty much all reporters are liars.

Touche’.

The more fundamental problem, however, is what I suspect was Politifact’s motive, and the reason they didn’t pursue their motive directly. Harry Reid accused Mitt Romney of a fairly serious political (even if not legal) offense, without providing any evidence to back up his charge. I think Politifact wanted to condemn Harry Reid’s action on ethical grounds. Doing so would have undermined their image as conscientious protectors of the myth of journalist objectivity. But they didn’t want to let Reid’s statements pass without comment, so in place of the ethical argument Politifact made an empirical judgement. Condemning Harry Reid’s actions on ethical grounds would have been reasonable. But Politifarce’s empirical argument was ludicrous.

It appears that being accurate is not what’s important to Politifarce. They’re more concerned with being arbiters of conduct, but they show their silliness by using a charade of objectivity to cloak what is really just a bunch of smug tut-tutting.

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6 Responses to The “Objective” Nitwittery of Politifact

  1. I think that’s a bit of a dangerous conflation. We know that reporters could, potentially, be repeating a lie but if every politician could get away with saying the most outrageous things by saying ‘well, I heard’ then you’d end up in a world of Rush Limbaughs. Actually, I remember Rush using ‘your’ defense not even a month ago. I think it was on a Birther thing. (I wasn’t saying that I *knew* I’m just saying that I heard from someone that Obama was a Kenyan.)

    I do, however, approve of the shameless political expediency. I’m sure Rush Limbaugh is already becoming very popular in Reid’s camp.

    “So, uh, Rush… How do you get away with saying hilariously wrong and inaccurate things?”

    “I’ll send you my guys.”

    • Dana Houle says:

      I’d address what you say about my defense of Reid had I in fact defended Reid.

      • Ah, sorry I wasn’t more explicit. You mentioned “We don’t know if what Reid said was true or false” because, as you continued, “but that’s not what Reid is saying, he not saying he knows.” Now to me that sounds like a defense but whatever you’d like to call it I’m fine with it. My only point was that (I’m not even joking) *the same words* were used by Limbaugh in some YouTube clip. I think I have it favorited on another computer. It actually went along the lines of “But that’s not what I’m saying, I did not say I knew. I’m just saying we don’t know if what Obama said was true [if he was born here].”

        So, really, that’s all I’m saying. Politifact is just using the same ‘empirical’ approach (which, I guess, you don’t like? I guess you also have some stern words for all those other silly scientists who use empirical evidence as well) that I use in knowing that Obama isn’t a Kenyan. And that, whether you like it or not, disagreeing with Politifact on in your methods has been trailblazed by Big’Ol’Rush.

  2. Dana Houle says:

    You should apply for a job at Politifact.

  3. greennotGreen says:

    Years ago I commented to an American who spoke fluent German that German and English sounded alike to me. He responded brusquely, “No they don’t!”
    Well, they didn’t sound alike to him, I guess, but they do to me, possibly because I grew up watching WWII TV shows where American actors played Nazis and spoke American-accented German mixed in with the English.

    So Politifact wants to make a judgement about what Harry Reid heard. Actually, they don’t. They want to make a judgement about the veracity of the claim he’s repeating. But they have evidence of neither. Politifact ist eine sehr dummkopf.

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