Welcome to the age of post-truth journalism.
Glenn Kessler, the resident fact checker at The Washington Post, took Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney to task last month for continuing to accuse President Obama of going on an "apology tour," writing with clear exasperation: "Despite earning Four Pinocchios for months, Romney keeps saying this."
Kessler's lament neatly sums up the problem of post-truth politics, a problem that has plagued the political press throughout the campaign, as pants-on-fire falsehoods accusing Obama of ending welfare work requirements, and four Pinnochio fabrications about Medicare funding were repeated on a loop en route to a Republican National convention built on the "you didn't build that" lie and focusing on Paul Ryan's fact-free convention speech.
Put simply by Boston Phoenix political journalist David Bernstein:
More important for media professionals: What do you do when people employed by your own media outlet practice post-truth journalism? What if the entire news media, including your own in-house fact-checker, has called out your colleague's lie, but he keeps pressing it? Now what?
Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, came under fire this week over a self-evidently false attack in the Post questioning President Obama's commitment to national security.
The central claim in Thiessen's September 10 column was that Obama has not prioritized national security. Thiessen's evidence was a report (a report, it later turned out, that he commissioned) claiming that Obama has not attended half of his daily intelligence briefings.
The column itself was self-defeating: Thiessen acknowledged in the column that Obama reads his intelligence briefing every day, quoting a spokesman for the National Security Council who said that Obama "reads his [security briefing] every day." All Thiessen is quibbling over is whether Obama has his briefing dictated to him, or whether he reads it.
Perhaps book on tape would satisfy the Post scribe?
Thiessen's self-evident falsehood, published in the Post, became fodder for a Karl Rove ad, at which point Kessler weighed in, giving the "bogus" and "misguided attack" three Pinnochios.
Thiessen quickly thumbed his nose at the Post's fact checker
And Thiessen is not alone in the Post's stable of post-truth columnists. In a September 28 column, Charles Krauthammer claimed that Obama's entire Middle East foreign policy has been built on apologies - the very basis of Kessler's exasperated Aug. 30 critique of Romney.
Despite earning four Pinnochios for months, the Post keeps printing this?
Right-wing media have responded to the attacks in Libya and Egypt by pointing fingers at President Obama, saying his policies are to blame. Conservative media figures are also amplifying blame by harping on the accusation that Obama does not attend daily intelligence briefings in person; in fact, Obama receives national security briefings in other ways throughout his day.
Fox News contributor Marc Thiessen falsely claimed that 90 percent of small businesses would face a tax hike under President Obama's tax plan. Official estimates and independent analysts agree that Thiessen is wrong, and thatonly about 3 percent of businesses make enough profit to face the proposed higher rates.
After Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion upholding health care reform, the right-wing media have attacked his conservative credentials. Despite experts' statements that the opinion might have cleared the way for more rulings restricting federal power and progressive legislation, media conservatives are using this as a pretext to demand even more conservative judicial nominees. There is evidence their pressure is having an effect.
Marc Thiessen's recent attack on Chief Justice John Roberts for his opinion upholding the health care reform law attempts to move the right's ideological goal posts for the Court from the strongly conservative part of the field into what Reagan Administration Solicitor General Charles Fried has called "radically reactionary" territory. Thiessen, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, expressed his discontent in a July 2 Washington Post op-ed that criticized Roberts - a Bush appointee - for agreeing with the court's liberal members in an opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act. He framed his attack as a lament over the supposed difficulties Republican presidents have had in confirming dependably conservative justices.
But in doing so, Thiessen downplayed Roberts' extensive record of voting similarly to his fellow conservatives, especially Samuel Alito, whom Thiessen identified as a reliable conservative. Thieseen also ignored the well documented shift in the court's ideological center in recent years: the four "liberal" justices are much closer to the center than William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and other justices on the court's left only a few decades previously. In this way, Thiessen paints a picture of liberal triumph and conservative frustration which bears scant relationship to reality, which is the most conservative Supreme Court in modern times.
Thiessen grouped Roberts with justices who disappointed conservatives (Sandra Day O'Connor and David Souter, both of whom are no longer on the court) as opposed to acknowledged right-wing successes Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. He attempted to make this case by focusing solely on the health care decision, and downplaying the rest of Roberts' record as a justice.
That record is clear. Roberts is, to use Thiessen's expression, a "rock-ribbed conservative." In the just-completed 2011 Supreme Court term, he voted with the Thiessen-approved Justice Alito in 90.5 percent of cases, after voting with him 96.2 percent of the time in the 2010 term. Roberts also voted with Justice Thomas in 87.8 percent of cases and Justice Scalia in 86.5 percent of cases in the most recent term. In other words, in the overwhelming majority of cases, Roberts votes with the justices whom Thiessen acknowledges to be acceptably conservative.
Conservative media are downplaying the severity of public sector job cuts by trumpeting data showing that the unemployment rate among government workers in May was 4.2 percent. But that statistic doesn't change the fact that public sector job cuts in this recovery have been more severe compared with previous recoveries and experts contend these cuts not only threaten the recovering economy but also impact private sector job growth.
In his latest Washington Post column, Marc Thiessen of the American Enterprise Institute suggested that President Obama is being hypocritical when he points out Mitt Romney's jobs record at Bain Capital because some clean energy companies have struggled after receiving government loans or grants from the Obama administration. In fact, the failure rate for federal green energy investments is far lower than that of private venture capital investments in clean energy, and the majority of the loan guarantees are low-risk.
As evidence of President Obama's "massive public equity failures," Thiessen cherry-picked clean energy companies that have faced any sort of financial difficulty after receiving Department of Energy loan guarantees or other federal support. But these companies represent a small fraction of loan guarantee recipients, many of which are paying back the loans ahead of schedule.
An independent review of the loan guarantee program by a former Bush administration official concluded that the risk to taxpayers is far lower than the Department of Energy had planned for. The report echoed a Bloomberg Government analysis which found that 87 percent of the loans are low-risk, and that even if all 10 of the higher risk projects defaulted, DOE would still have nearly half a billion dollars left in the fund set aside by Congress to cover losses.
By contrast, CleanTechnica noted in October that private venture capitalists take far greater risks when investing in clean energy:
From the May 9 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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Right-wing media have responded to criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget plan by trying to reframe the plan as not actually calling for spending "cuts," but that it simply limits the rate of an increase in spending. But experts agree that Ryan's plan would indeed reduce funding to programs that assist millions of low- and middle-income Americans; as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has noted, Ryan's plan includes reductions in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding that alone would "necessitate ending assistance for millions of low-income families."
Fox responded with outrage after Obama renewed his case for the Buffett Rule, which would set a minimum effective tax rate for millionaires, accusing Obama of waging "class warfare."
From the July 29 edition of Fox News' America Live:
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From the May 8 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends Sunday:
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From the May 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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As I've frequently pointed out, the fact that columnist Richard Cohen is what passes for a "liberal" at the Washington Post pretty thoroughly undermines the idea that the paper's opinion pages lean to the left. In response, people have occasionally asked me "Who says Cohen is supposed to be a liberal?" Well, now, the Post has removed any doubt about the role it thinks Cohen plays at the paper, officially designating him a "left-leaning" columnist:
Dana Milbank is the kind of "left-leaning" columnist who voted for Republican presidential candidates in 2000 and 2004 and a Republican-turned-independent in 2008. And who referred to Hillary Clinton as a "mad bitch." Just try to imagine the Post identifying as "right-leaning" a columnist who voted for Democratic presidential candidates in 2000 and 2004 and called Sarah Palin a "mad bitch."
But it's Richard Cohen's presence on the "left-leaning" list that's really remarkable. Here's a refresher:
Conservative media figures have attacked Republicans for voting to repeal a provision of the health care reform bill that mandates the businesses file 1099 forms to the IRS when they purchase more than $600 worth of goods or services from a vendor. These media figures also warn Republicans not to support similar measures in the future. They say the 1099 provision hurts business, but argue that voting for such provision is a "trap" for Republicans who want to repeal the entire health care reform bill.
On February 2, 81 senators voted in favor of a repeal of the 1099 provision, which both Republicans and Democrats, including President Obama, have called overly burdensome. Since then conservative media figures have been attacking Republicans for their vote:
Erickson and Thiessen both state that the 1099 provision was harmful to businesses. So why do they argue against its repeal? In Erickson's words: "[D]oing this, instead of keeping the pain in place until Obamacare is repealed, makes the pain less and less. And as the pain becomes less and less because Republicans work with Democrats to 'fix' Obamacare, it becomes less and less likely that Obamacare will actually get repealed."
But are these conservative commentators really deluded enough to think that repeal of the Affordable Care Act is just around the corner? Perhaps. Or perhaps they are afraid that with a few fixes, calling for repeal of the health care reform law will become a real loser politically.