WSJ: Politifact Was Wrong

Contrary to popular belief, it was the Wall Street Journal that originally claimed Paul Ryan’s “Path to Poverty” would effectively kill Medicare.

Fact-checking organization Politifact however chose to assign that accusation to the Democratic Party after Democratic politicians began repeating the Wall Street Journal’s analysis. Politifact then chose “Republicans voted to kill Medicare” as their Lie of the Year.

The Wall Street Journal opined on Politifact’s decision yesterday and agreed with the critics that Politifact is wrong.

The outrage over PolitiFact’s decision to declare the claim that Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget would end Medicare as the lie of 2011 has spread to the conservative Wall Street Journal, which explains in a Best-of-the Web feature today, the charge is “an assertion that combines elements of fact (Republicans did vote), interpretation (“end Medicare” means different things to different people) and prediction (about how the Ryan plan, if enacted, would work out in practice) That is to say, it is a statement of opinion.” The paper adds, “by practicing a style of journalism that centers on baselessly impugning the motives of others, it has managed to earn distrust across the political spectrum.”

I don’t necessarily agree that it was a statement of opinion, however it seems clear that Politifact’s rationale is flawed.

(via ThinkProgress)

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  • GrafZeppelin127

    It’s not an opinion; it’s a characterization. There’s a difference.

    The key is the phrase “end Medicare” (or “kill Medicare” or “end Medicare as we know it” or whatever). This is actually both a characterization and a prediction, but mainly the former; i.e., it’s a characterization of what the legislation at issue, which Republicans did vote for, will do, meaning what it intends to do or is designed to do.

    The problem with characterizations like this is that they can’t really be lies per se, nor can they really be true per se. To ask or examine whether it’s “true” or “false”, binarily, is to miss the point. The correct question is whether the chosen phrase is a fair, valid, accurate, reasonable characterization of the thing being characterized, which itself is indisputably real. And even then, the inquiry is not a binary one (e.g., fair or unfair, valid or invalid, etc.).

    It is indisputably true that Republicans voted for Paul Ryan’s plan to change Medicare, over time, into a “premium-support” system, which would provide seniors with cash to buy insurance instead of insuring them directly. The question is not whether it’s “true” or “false,” but whether it’s fair, valid, accurate or reasonable, to characterize this action taken by Republicans as “voting to kill Medicare” or “to end Medicare as we know it.” Even if the answer is no, it’s still not a lie.

    The problem is I have a hard time accepting PolitiFact’s reasoning that the phrase is an unfair, inaccurate or unreasonable characterization of what the Ryan plan is designed to do. Changing X into Y means you’re effectively “ending” X; continuing to call Y X doesn’t make Y X. If X is changed into Y, and Y is not the same thing as X even though it’s still called X, then X no longer exists.

    We do ourselves no favors if our understanding of what politicians, pundits, &c. say is limited to whether it’s “the truth” or “a lie.”

    • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

      I totally agree, but Politifact and the MSM in general likes to appeal to the lowest common denominator. They are in essence giving Americans what they think they want–a binary answer for people with binary minds (which brings to mind the discussion of Greenwald’s deontological thinking from the other day and how this kind of thinking runs rampant in the U.S.)

      • GrafZeppelin127

        Well, to be fair, PolitiFact does attempt to classify statements in more than two categories (“Half True,” “Mostly True,” “Barely True,” &c.). They usually do a decent job; how and why they screwed the pooch on this one is beyond me, especially when there were so many other direct, unambiguous and inflammatory falsehoods circulating in 2011.

        When I was an English teacher, one of the hardest things for me to do was get students to understand the concept that written response and composition is not a matter of “right” or “wrong,” whether it’s “good” or “bad;” there are levels of performance, and characteristics of performance, that can be measured objectively. The correct question is not whether your response or essay is “right” or “wrong,” “good” or “bad”; the question is, at what level are you performing, and what are the characteristics of your performance?

        Even harder was getting them to view reading comprehension or “understanding” as a non-binary inquiry. The question is not “Do you understand this or not?”; the question is, “What is your understanding of this?”

        Binary thinking is easy and convenient; it alleviates the need for understanding and makes our choices simple. Is Obama a good president or a bad president? Is the health-care reform law good or bad? Am I for it or against it? Should I vote Republican or Democratic? Nine out of every ten “gotcha” questions are binary, because a “yes” or “no” answer is always inadequate, but no one wants to hear anything other than “yes” or “no.” It’s a lose-lose-lose proposition.

        • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

          Graf, I am not questioning your experience on this issue (I went to a damn fine High School, Cumberland Valley in Mechanicsburg, PA,. Class of 1988!). It was infinitely better than the education I received down South, and even better than what received in my undergrad and grad school education. All that being said, I never received instruction (not that I remember and my memory is faulty) on the difference between “is this good or bad” vs. “is this a good performance or not”

          Ultimately, the conservative complaint of a lack of morality originates from this exact point. If we only ever judge things from how well someone made their argument, how can we really “see” their morals? In essence, how can we judge right from wrong? And the reason that they do this is because they crave that black and white answer like humans crave air when they don’t have it. WE NEED it…our lizard brain tell us we can’t live without it. Our lizard brain tells u that everything is something to be overcome (Fight) or something we can’t defeat so run like the wind (Fly)….

          99% of people listen the Lizard, the Lord of the Flies and the rest of us are Liberals, knowing that the dichotomy is false. I don’t have an answer to this and I wish to Hell, that I did.