Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler misquoted Hillary Clinton while criticizing her recent and accurate comments about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.
Kessler specifically took Clinton to task over a comment she made during the Aspen Ideas Festival:
CLINTON: It's very troubling that a salesclerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception, which is pretty expensive, is not going to get that service through her employer's health-care plan because her employer doesn't think she should be using contraception.
But in taking issue with the portion of Clinton's remarks about the affordability of contraception, Kessler actually misquoted what she said:
As for "very expensive," this is in the eye of the beholder. Studies have indicated that when times are tough, women have tried to save money by skimping on birth control, such as skipping pills and delaying prescription refills.
Clinton never said that contraception is "very expensive." She said it was "pretty expensive." The distinction is meaningful in light of the fact that Kessler specifically went on to criticize Clinton for not being careful while making extemporaneous remarks.
Kessler also criticized Clinton for observing that a Hobby Lobby sales clerk would not be able to access contraception because her employer doesn't think she should be using it. Here's Kessler's rationale:
In the specific case, the company on religious grounds objected to four of 20 possible options, leaving other possible types of contraceptives available to female employees -- though not necessarily the most effective or necessary at the moment.
Contrary to Kessler's reasoning, it's entirely accurate to say that a sales clerk could decide in consultation with her doctor that a valid form of contraception is the best option for her health needs and yet be denied access because her boss doesn't think she should be using it.
Kessler addressed similar criticism from readers in an update, calling it an "interesting parsing" but standing by his original analysis.
A growing number of mainstream media outlets are holding Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) accountable for flip-flopping on his support of a deal to release Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from Taliban capitivity.
McCain joined in the right-wing outcry that followed the White House's May 31 announcement that it had secured the release of Bergdahl, the only U.S. service member remaining in enemy hands from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, telling Politico that he "would not have made this deal" if he was the president and denying that he was ever told of the potential prisoner exchange in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo.
McCain's rejection of the deal stood in stark contrast to his position on the issue just months ago, when he told CNN's Anderson Cooper that he "would be inclined to support" "an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man," depending on the details -- an inconsistency the media initially missed.
He went on to day the exchange was "something I think we should seriously consider."
McCain's February position was already a change from the position he held in January 2012, when Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings reported that McCain "reluctantly came around" on the idea of exchanging the five Guantanamo detainees in question for Bergdahl.
After Media Matters raised the issue of McCain's inconsistency on Bergdahl's release, CNN's Jake Tapper noted McCain's conflicting stances on the prisoner exchange on the June 5 edition of The Lead. The New York Times wrote that McCain "switched positions for maximum political advantage." And MSNBC's Rachel Maddow criticized McCain for standing "against his own idea."
Days later, Tapper went on to press McCain on the inconsistency. McCain disputed the "flip-flop charge" by noting that he'd made his support contingent on "the details." McCain said the details of the deal that secured Bergdahl's release "are outrageous" and "unacceptable."
This attempt to rewrite history was short-lived. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler weighed in the following morning, pointing out that "the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners -- was known at the time he indicated his support" and stamping McCain's statements with the upside-down Pinnochio that denotes "flip flop":
McCain may have thought he left himself an out when he said his support was dependent on the details. But then he can't object to the most important detail -- the identity of the prisoners-that was known at the time he indicated his support. McCain earns an upside-down Pinocchio, constituting a flip-flop.
The New York Times called McCain on "switch[ing] positions for maximum political advantage" and Politico included the flip-flop in a list of times McCain has complained of misrepresentation this week.
Back in August, Mitt Romney's campaign set a controversial benchmark for accuracy, announcing that "we're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers," and you could make the argument that since then they've hewed closely to that standard. The October 16 presidential debate presented a challenge not just to that fact-checkers-be-damned mentality, but to one of the Romney's campaign's central claims: that as president he would create 12 million new jobs.
This morning Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler wrote that the math underlying Romney's claim "doesn't add up," calling it a "bait-and-switch" that fudges with timelines, and quoted Glenn Hubbard, one of Romney's chief economic advisers, acknowledging as much. Again, this is one of Romney's key campaign arguments. He repeated it early on in tonight's debate.
There's been a great deal written lately about post-truth politics and journalism, in which corrections of blatant falsehoods have no discernible effect on the repetition of said falsehoods. This issue -- central as it is to the political campaign but also the economic recovery -- represents an opportunity to alter that dynamic.
But such change can happen only if the media step up and actually press the Romney campaign on this point. It's too important to let slide.
We've already seen numerous examples of the Washington Post printing the false "death panel" claim about health care reform without noting its falsity. The "death panels" lie, as you may remember, was so pernicious PolitiFact named it "Lie of the Year" for 2009. Unfortunately, that didn't stop the Post from frequently repeating the claim that health care reform would result in "death panels" -- and didn't inspire the Post to ensure that it always corrected the falsehood.
PolitiFact's 2010 "Lie of the Year" was the claim that health care reform constitutes a government takeover of heath care. The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler notes: "This snappy talking point is used by Republicans repeatedly to bash Obama's crowing [sic] legislative achievement, but it is simply not true. In fact, PolitiFact.com labeled this claim the 2010 'lie of the year,' but that has not stopped lawmakers from making this claim."
Nor has it stopped Washington Post bloggers from making this claim. Here's Jay Sekulow, the Post's Religious Right Now blogger:
ObamaCare is bad for the economy. The federal government is taking control of what some have estimated to account for as much as 1/6 of the economy while simultaneously creating yet another entitlement program doomed to failure.
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler rightly criticizes politicians for telling the "Lie of the Year." It would be nice if the Post would hold its own personnel to the same standard.
Last year, I wrote about some problems with the branded "fact-check" features several news organizations have been creating. Among them:
The other problem with the execution of these highly structured, branded "Fact Check" pieces is that fact-checking shouldn't be relegated to occasional, highly specialized pieces; it should be a basic part of everyday journalism. Checking the truthfulness of a politician's statements shouldn't be something a news organization saves for its "Fact Check" feature; it should be present in every news report that includes those statements. It isn't enough to occasionally debunk a false claim, as I've been saying over and over again.
What I'd like to see isn't another media organization with a branded, occasional "Fact Check" feature -- it's a news organization that commits to never reporting a politician's statement without placing that statement in factual context.
The Washington Post -- the poster child for occasionally debunking false claims -- recently revived its "Fact Checker" column, and in doing so reminds us how little the paper actually cares about checking facts. Here's today's "Fact Checker":
"A secretive government committee ('death panels') will be created to make end-of-life decisions about people on Medicare"
This claim, first made by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate, has been thoroughly debunked and was labeled "lie of the year" in 2009 by Politifacts.org. Yet it persists in the popular imagination. The September Kaiser poll found that 30 percent of seniors still believed this to be the case--and 22 percent were not sure, meaning fewer than half knew the claim was false.
Why might the false "death panels" claim "persist in the popular imagination"? Perhaps in part because the Washington Post routinely mentions the claim without pointing out its falsity. Just last week, the Post did this on consecutive days, in a January 13 article by Karen Tumulty and Peter Wallsten and a January 14 article by Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane. Both articles reported the allegation that health care reform contained "death panels," but neither so much as hinted that it was false. This has been a defining characteristic of the Post's treatment of the "death panels" claim (contrary to former Post media critic Howard Kurtz's praise for the paper's reporting on the topic.)
I can't imagine that there's anyone at the Post who doesn't know by now that "death panels" were a lie. And yet the paper routinely prints the lie without noting its falsity. The only conclusion you can draw from that is that the paper just doesn't think it has any responsibility to avoid passing falsehoods along as though they are true -- at least as long as those falsehoods come from right-wing political figures.
Let's say a stock broker tells a Washington Post business reporter "ACME Wireless, Inc. stock has increased in value each of the last four years, with no signs of slowing down. Investors should buy it immediately!" And let's say the reporter knows this to be false -- knows that, in fact, ACME's stock is in a free fall, with no end in sight, and that its entire leadership is under indictment. Would the Post print the false claim without noting its falsity? I doubt it would; I suspect the reporter or an editor would recognize that it has a responsibility not to pass along such dangerously false investment advice to its readers. Likewise, if Happy Fun Ball was conclusively shown to cause cancer in everyone who touches it, the Post wouldn't print Wacky Products Incorporated's claim that the toy is perfectly safe without noting that, in fact, it causes cancer. Nor would the paper quote Redskins owner Daniel Snyder bragging about his team's playoff victory last weekend without noting that in fact the team finished 6-10 and failed to make the playoffs.
So why does the Washington Post print Sarah Palin's lies without noting their falsity? Does the Post think its readers' ability to make informed political decisions is less important than their awareness of sporting events?
The Boston Globe and The Washington Post echoed the discredited accusation, advanced by conservative media figures, that Sen. Hillary Clinton did not condemn controversial comments by Suha Arafat during a 1999 trip to the West Bank, where Arafat, according to the Globe, "launched into an unscripted tirade accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinian children." In fact, Clinton reportedly "condemned Mrs. Arafat hours later, after receiving, she said, an official translation of her remarks."