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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Politi"Fact" continues its big, sloppy kisses to Republicans

by folkbum

I am not sure how much the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel paid to buy the PolitiFact brand, but if they were expecting their own brand to be buoyed by a true independent voice this election season, they got ripped off.

Take the last two Politi"Fact" Wisconsin stories. On Tuesday, they examined a claim in a TV spot from Republican candidate Ron Johnson about Democratic Senator Russ Feingold's vote on health care. Here's a bit, with my bold (italics in the original):
A closer look at the language [in the ad] shows Johnson frames the issue around a question the polls did not ask.

The pre-vote polls used straightforward references to the "health care reform plan" or "proposed changes to the health care system." That is in contrast to the Johnson ad, which says a majority of Wisconsinites opposed--and Feingold voted for--a "government takeover of health care." [. . .]

That two-word phrase--government takeover--became Republican shorthand in opposing the legislation, even though Democrats dropped the "public option" approach under which the feds would have run a plan to compete with private health insurance.

Our PolitiFact colleagues have repeatedly probed the truth of the government takeover charge, and found it ridiculously false--a Pants on Fire. In truth, the health care law creates a market-based system that relies on private health insurance companies.
So looking around the page there, you might be wondering: Where are the dancing flames? Where is the honest labeling of what Johnson has done, as determined by PoltFact's own standards?

Indeed, in missing the opportunity here to call Johnson's ad a pants-on-fire lie, Politi"Fact" keeps its streak of only awarding flames to Democratic candidates alive. (They awarded one pants-on-fire rating to a statement by a conservative yakker at a competing media conglomerate, true, but no Republican candidates even when they clearly deserve it.)

Then today's Politi"Fact" awards the first and to date only 100% "True" rating in the feature's near two-month-long history. And what claim was rated as true? That Scott Walker, Republican candidate for governor, gave back a large chunk of salary in his first six years on the job as Milwaukee County Executive. Here:
For years, folks in southeastern Wisconsin have heard about Scott Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, giving up thousands upon thousands of dollars of his salary. [. . .] The returned money was part of a 2002 campaign promise to cut the job’s salary by $60,000 per year. Walker, the Republican candidate for governor, made the pledge in the wake of a scandal over lavish county pensions.

His Democratic opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, has taken a jab at Walker, pointing out Walker has reduced his annual giveback from $60,000 to $10,000. The Barrett campaign points to a 2002 Walker flier, which includes the promise to reduce the county exec salary by $60,000 per year.

That promise, however, didn’t specify for how long Walker would reduce the salary by $60,000. And in April 2008, he was re-elected after telling voters he would reduce the giveback to $10,000. (Walker joked at the time, according to a news report, that his decision to give back nearly half of his $129,114 salary had been unpopular with his wife.)
It goes on from there to talk about just how precisely accurate the number touted by Walker is.

But do you notice anything missing? That's right--no one has challenged Walker's salary claim as untrue. Politi"Fact" is literally answering a question no one has asked. It's one thing to take a disputed item--like whether or not the Affordable Care Act of 2010 is a "government takeover of health care"--and arbitrating the truthity or falsity of that claim. It's another thing to take an item that no one has claimed to be false and declare it true.

And the part of this Walker claim that is disputable--whether or not he broke a promise--is glossed over with a glib "whatevs" when a nearly identical semantic distinction made by Russ Feingold was awarded pants-on-fire status. Can the bias be any clearer?

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