You had only one job

Yesterday we saw the AP check President Clinton's facts by pointing out an instance in which he failed to tell the truth.  This occasioned a chorus of boos from the world.  Undaunted, the AP clarified its position.  Before we get to that, here is the original passage.

CLINTON: "Their campaign pollster said, 'We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.' Now that is true. I couldn't have said it better myself — I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad."

THE FACTS: 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. Later, after he was forced to testify to a grand jury, Clinton said his statements were "legally accurate" but also allowed that he "misled people, including even my wife."

The job of a fact checker seems simple enough in this case.  You merely need to see whether Clinton has accurately represented the words of the Romney campaign's Pollster.  The answer is yes, by the way.  Whether Clinton lied in the past is completely irrelevant.

Perplexed at all of the hoopla over this manifestly ridiculous passage, the AP defended themselves as follows.

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.

Yes, we got that.  But it's still irrelevant to whether what Clinton said was true. 

In case anyone is still confused, this is the way ad hominems work.  When a person's character tends to make that person's judgments suspect, then it is legitimate to point that out.  When such facts about a person are irrelevant to whether the claims they make are true, pointing out those facts are irrelevant and so fallacious.  People may have a tendency to disbelieve Clinton, the fact checker's one single job in this case is to tell us whether he was lying.  He wasn't.

Besides, how does Clinton's having lied in the past excuse the Romney campaign from lying now?


2 thoughts on “You had only one job”

  1. A disappointing and utterly pathetic response.  The most likely reason is ye old false equivalence. Paul Ryan lied outrageously last week, and many media outlets did a surprisingly quick and thorough fact-check of him.  Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog theorized that they'd go to ridiculous, pedantic lengths about the DNC to appear "balanced."  Sadly, that seems to have happened.  (Although NPR did a decent job, as did the WaPo and Politifact.  Some questionable calls, but respectable.)  
    The rest of the AP piece is pretty weak, too (apart from fairly bringing up Glass-Steagall).  The first item, about Obama's supposed rejection of cooperation and bipartisanship, is quite vague and ignores a great deal of evidence, including a few recent major articles about Republicans meeting after Obama's inauguration and vowing to oppose Obama regardless of what he did, Mitch McConnell stating publically that the Republicans' chief goal was to make Obama a one-term president, the entire debt ceiling debacle or "hostage situation," etc.  Several blogs have run more detailed debunks.  But the Lewinsky thing really is the show-stopper.  
    The sad thing is, it would be really great to have every political figure, regardless of party, fact-checked.  (I had a conversation this past weekend with someone arguing that both sides were to blame, both sides lie, and my response was, of course they do, so the media should do its best to fact-check them all.)  I think the various fact-checking organizations do more good than ill overall, but they do run into some consistent problems.  Beyond all the challenges of sincere evaluation, I'm afraid they are susceptible to efforts to "work the ref," probably without realizing it.  Or there's sheer exhaustion.  Steve Benen has done a remarkable job chronicling and fact-checking all of Romney's lies, and the number is pretty astounding.  One can find fault with Obama, Clinton and other Dems, of course, but they're simply not in the same ballpark as Romney and Ryan on that front.  That creates a problem for a news organization that prizes appearing "balanced" over being accurate and informing its audience.  Hey, they're human, but it's disappointing, and it doesn't help the voters.
    It's rather ironic that Clinton was essentially defending fact-checkers, and this was the AP's response.  

  2. Good points Batocchio.  Along these lines I worry that the current culture of equivalence produces the following sad result: If you are guilty of a few small distortions, you seem in the eyes of some to be more of a liar than someone who does that habitually and reflexively.  It just stands out more.   

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