David Corn weighs in on the Arianna Huffington/PolitiFact dispute, making the key point that PolitiFact missed an essential element of the story. (Quick background: On ABC's "This Week" in June, Huffington said Halliburton has "defrauded the American taxpayer of hundreds of millions of dollars." Liz Cheney, whose father Dick Cheney ran Halliburton back when it was selling oil equipment to Saddam Hussein, said Huffington's assertion had "no relationship to the facts." PolitiFact weighed in on Huffington's quite reasonable statement, declaring it only "half true.") Here's Corn:
Readers can judge for themselves if Huffington was ill-advised or justified in using the word "defrauded" on the basis of all those investigations and findings. (I lean toward calling fraud "fraud.") But what is beyond dispute is that Liz Cheney was dead wrong. On "This Week," she said that Huffington's charge had "no relationship to the facts." Given that even the stingy vetters of PolitiFact concluded there is "much in the public record to support [Huffington's] statement," Cheney's denial deserves the Truth-O-Meter's "Pants on Fire" rating.
Yet PolitiFact didn't evaluate Cheney's remark. So here's the real problem: Huffington made a charge that was rooted in reality. Cheney responded with a statement that had no basis in reality. Yet PolitiFact zeroed in only on the former and let the real lie escape. True, Huffington had dared PolitiFact to review her remark. But Adair and his intrepid band were free to expand the mission. The greater public service would have been to compare Huffington's and Cheney's comments and determine who was closer to the truth. This is where PolitiFact truly fell short.
Corn is, of course, right: In narrowly focusing on Huffington's statement rather than the entire exchange, PolitiFact missed the forrest for the trees -- even if you think its assessment of Huffington's statement is correct. This strikes me as another occasion in which PolitiFact's decisions about presentation -- and, in particular, its "True," "Mostly True," "Barely True," etc classifications -- stand in the way of actually giving readers a clear understanding of what the truth is and who is (and isn't) telling it.