What could be more telling: Former President Bill Clinton last night, a k a “The Big Dog,” spoke for twice as long as Paul Ryan at the GOP convention last week—maybe three times as long (hell, he may be getting to his sixteenth encore right now)—and FactCheck.org can find very little to argue with. Its summary today: “Former President Bill Clinton’s stem-winding nomination speech was a fact-checker’s nightmare: lots of effort required to run down his many statistics and factual claims, producing little for us to write about.
“Republicans will find plenty of Clinton’s scorching opinions objectionable. But with few exceptions, we found his stats checked out.” At worst: a few “missteps” or “exaggerations.”
Now, see AP’s disgraceful fact-check by Matt Apuzzo (and see update below).
It opens with the claim that Obama was every bit as inflexible and dug in as the GOP on legislation ever since he took office. Not a real “fact-check” but pure opinion—and check out his reasoning. Then Apuzzo accuses Bill of bragging about the swell economic times of his second term—which even the GOPers have been citing like mad.
But worse than that: it ends, in a pure gratuitous shot—AP should remove and apologize—with this: “Clinton, who famously finger-wagged a denial on national television about his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and was subsequently impeached in the House on a perjury charge, has had his own uncomfortable moments over telling the truth. ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,’ Clinton told television viewers.” This came in a section on Clinton—very accurately—citing a Romney’s spokesman who said they would not allow fact-checkers to “dictate” their campaign.
Gosh, you’d think Apuzzo would write something snarky about that, not re Clinton. Instead, he took the approach of ultra-partisan Brit Hume on Fox last night after the speech, when he declared that Clinton had also wagged his finger in declaring he did not “have sexual relations with that woman.” Nice company to be in, Apuzzo.
Last week conservatives blasted AP for its relatively aggressive (but badly warranted) fact-check of Paul Ryan’s. The Clinton fact-check is only the latest example of the media making fools of themselves in too blatantly straining to appear evenhanded, even if the facts—or rather, the truths—at hand don’t warrant it.
Fact-check this: Did AP end every piece about George W. Bush in his later years, “But the president lied or misled the country into war with his claims of WMD in Iraq”? Hell, they could have included that in their Condi Rice fact-check just last week. “Ms. Rice, who once claimed, with thin and highly disputed evidence, that proved completely wrong, that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons…”
Matt Apuzzo, get back to me when you check that.
UPDATE: In response to criticism here and elsewhere about “fact-checking” Bill Clinton with a reference to Monica Lewinsky, Michael Oreskes—formerly of the NYT, now a senior managing editor at the AP—has released a statement via Huff Post. “The reference was not about that woman, Miss Lewinsky. 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.”
Keep digging, Mike.
UPDATE #2 Good piece by Jamison Foser on what he feels is the even worse AP “both sides were equally unflexible” statement. “AP’s false equivalence is so much worse than its cheap shot about Lewinsky. By claiming that both parties are equally ideological and partisan, they create an environment that encourages the GOP’s partisanship and extremism. They help drag the national political discourse further to the right. It’s the opposite of ‘balance.’ And it’s a clear falsehood, which is something you should generally avoid in a ‘fact check’ article.”
Greg Mitchell’s books and e-books on influential American campaigns include Tricky Dick and the Pink Lady, The Campaign of the Century (on Upton Sinclair’s 1934 race) and Why Obama Won. He also blogs daily at Pressing Issues.