PoliFact falls down

Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

We're all for independently fact-checking candidates during the campaign. In fact, it seems to be all the rage. But who's going to fact-check the fact-checkers?

Unfortunately, PoliFact, a joint venture between the St. Petersburg Times and CQ magazine, falls down while trying to get to the bottom of Sarah Palin rape kit story. PoliFact fails because it fundamentally misstates the central issue of the controversy.

The rape kit story is a somewhat complicated one and by all means visit PoliFact for the background information provided. The simple explanation is that in 2000 the Alaska legislature passed a law forbidding towns from charging rape victims (or their insurance companies) for the cost of the traumatic, forensic examines needed to collect evidence for sexual assault crimes. One of the towns charging was Wasilla when Sarah Palin was mayor.

The story, for obvious reasons, has received some mainstream media attention and even more online.

Here's how PoliFact frames the question and where PoliFact gets in immediate trouble:

SUMMARY: Bloggers contend Palin supported a city policy that charged sexual assault victims for forensic exams. We find the truth is murky.

Wrong. Bloggers have not, for the most part, dwelt on whether Palin "supported" the city policy. They have dwelt on the fact that while mayor of Wasilla the policy existed. The notion freaked them out.

It's a subtle but telling difference. Becuase instead of focusing on the very simple question of whether it was accurate to say that Wasilla, under Palin, had a policy of charging rape victims for the sexual assault exams, PoliFact gets bogged down on whether Palin "supported" it.

But wouldn't the simple fact that Palin, as mayor of a very small town and who had authority over the budget process, okayed a budget where the rape kit policy was implemented prove Palin "supported" it? Or was she in the habit of signing off on city budgetary initiatives she disapproved of?

It seems like common sense to us. But because PoliFact can't find any quotes of Palin supporting the rape kit policy, PoliFact claims "the bloggers' charge" is "Half True."

The half that's not true? The half that the bloggers don't really care about; whether Palin technically "supported" the controversial policy.

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