A tabulation of recent rulings from PolitiFact, a prominent but increasingly controversial website devoted to fact-checking candidates’ claims, found that “statements by Mitt Romney and other Republicans” were rated false “twice as often as statements by President Obama and other Democrats.” That’s a lot more false statements by Republicans, which makes it harder to cling to the false equivalency that “both sides do it.”
Or maybe not.
A snap poll of conservative reactions shows that the study of Politifact, from George Mason’s Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), proves the conservative theory that the fact-checkers are out to get Republicans.
“This discrepancy is not because the Romney campaign is egregiously truth-challenged,” explains The Weekly Standard, “but because the ‘fact checking’ enterprise is more often than not partisan.” When you’re done attacking the messenger, go for the refs! That approach may be welcomed by CMPA, however, which has played up its past studies as proof that life is hard for the GOP. (Press release headlines include “GOP Candidates Were Big Joke to TV Comics in 2011,” “TV News Coverage Helped Sink Santorum…”, and, for good measure, “Arab Media Boost Obama.” Oh that Arab Media—it just loves American presidents.)
In the end, it’s true that your view of the findings depends on your view of Politifact, though, because if you think they generally get it right, then cumulative data like this is still bad for the right:
A majority of the Obama campaign’s statements (55%) were rated as true or mostly true, compared to one out of four statements (26%) by the Romney campaign.
All the sparring over Politifact’s findings and methodology suggests that plenty of political experts think the site matters. From this study to The Weekly Standard to Rachel Maddow, Politifact is scrutinized because people believe a website devoted to fact-checking can impact how the campaign is scored. Add in social media, which has turned fact-checking into a viral race, and these sites can have an outsized impact. As a recent essay argued on Daily Kos, a liberal site that has long been critical of campaign media coverage, this year’s coverage is improving because of the interplay of fact-checking and the web:
While those Gang of 500 media guys could ignore the blogs all day long, they all play on Twitter and Facebook. And it’s hard to ignore the criticism you get there not just from the grassroots, but from their peers in the industry…[and while] fact checkers…are consistently stupid, particularly when searching for “balance” in their targets…they have provided other media guidance on how to cover campaign claims. So Romney can go around claiming all he wants that Obama went on a world apology tour and tried to end welfare reform; the fact that it’s patently false means that no one will cover that nonsense, or if they do, they’ll include a line about it not being true. Indeed, the Romney campaign has been so flustered by the media fact checkers that they famously proclaimed that “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”
And the Romney campaign is entitled to that view. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, though, it doesn’t matter what he thinks of the facts—what matters is what the facts think of him.