Saturday, August 30, 2008

Yes-but factchecking

One of the perennially irritating practices of is its insistence on tut-tutting about how something a Democrat didn't actually say is misleading. Its carping about Obama's acceptance speech falls almost completely into that category.

Factcheck less fair on taxes than Obama

Factcheck's first point is its best. Obama does need his taxes on the wealthy to pay for his programs, and he didn't say so. But there are still major omissions in Factcheck's take:
  • Obama is asserting this equation: new program costs = new revenues + savings. Factcheck doesn't even try to quantify new program costs.
  • Factcheck objects to Obama's failure to mention continuing deficits. This is a non sequitur. Obama is only talking about the contribution of his promises to the deficit, not the deficit as a whole.
  • If Factcheck's goal is also to add context by raising the question of the aggregate deficit, it's irresponsible not to point out that McCain's plans are significantly more indebting than Obama's.
Not even a nit

Next, Factcheck asserts that Obama is unfair to McCain about McCain's 2003 statement that we could muddle through in Afghanistan. But Obama is showing how slow McCain has been to reach his current judgement about Afghanistan, and the distinction Factcheck wants to make between "could muddle through" and "may muddle through" is a distinction without a difference.

Factcheck dishonesty

Third, Factcheck is captiously dishonest, attempting to hold Obama responsible for statements he didn't make - shades of Al Gore and "inventing" the Internet. Here's the bullshit:
  • Obama says he will cut taxes for 95% of working families. Factcheck moves the goalposts and says his plan will only cut taxes for 81% of all households.
  • Obama says McCain's plan will leave 100 million Americans without a tax cut. Factcheck demurs that only 66 million households would be high and dry.
  • Factcheck follows up with another non sequitur : "We'd also note that retirees would fare quite a bit less well than working families under Obama's tax plan: The TPC estimates that 32 percent of households with a person over age 65 would see a tax increase." Obama did not address this. If he had, he would have said that only the affluent, investor class retirees would see an increase and that for most of them it would still be modest.
Guys, the units have to match. If I say my body temp is 37 °C, you can't say I'm misleading you because I didn't give the temperature in Fahrenheit!

Evasion and division

Fourth, McCain's "joke" about the middle class starting below $5 million was an evasion that he never remedied. Obama had given a direct and honest answer. When McCain does as well, then Obama should stop using McCain's "joke" against him - and start using his direct answer.

The fifth item at least takes both campaigns to task for presenting partial pictures of McCain's ridiculous "health plan."

Checking something he didn't say

Item six is back to flaying Obama for something he didn't say. He said the McCain supported Duhbya 90% of the time. He didn't make the Broderist Beltway argument that partisanship is bad and ought to be symmetrically avoided. He said, for chrissake, that Duhbya is bad and that McCain by his record offers four more years of Bushism. Anyone who's not spending his evenings kissing Joe Lieberman's ass could figure that out.

Central tendency

Last, Factcheck "catches" Obama in an error, mistaking the mean for the median. Most Americans don't know the difference, and the median is a much fairer way to assess overall equity anyway. You, me, and Bill Gates have a mean income of one third of Bill's income (unless you're Warren Buffett or T. Boone Pickens sneaking a peek). The median of the three of us? Much lower. Factcheck's catch of Obama's need to omit retirees is valid, assuming that wasn't clear from context. But I'm not listening to the speech in detail to rebut such small potatoes.

On the whole, Factcheck and Brooks Jackson do a terrible job of enlightening us as to the actual facts and a terrific job of muddying the water to the benefit of John McCain.

Republicans can get annoyed on their own behalf at Factcheck's other pieces, but I don't see this happening to them very often. I suspect, in fact, that Factcheck feels the need to provide journamalistic faux balance by padding out its checks with this kind of carping so that the count of Democratic sins roughly matches the count of actual Republican bullshit.

But I haven't studied that in detail. Maybe Factcheck could fact check itself. Ha.

Update (9/5): CNN shovels these same claims forward as if they were perfectly unassailable.

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