Friday, December 23, 2011


I make no apologies for being a liberal. I also think it quite healthy and normal that in a democracy people disagree and have different philosophies about the way to solve our problems. Disagreement is good! Up with partisanship! So nothing irritates me quite as much as the faux-centrist, view-from-nowhere reporting of our current media (Fox News, god bless their little misleading souls, gets a pass for only pretending to be objective, a veneer that fools only those that wish to be fooled.) It obscures whatever viewpoint the conveyer of information actually has and leaves the consumer, almost without exception, with a set of differing opinions and no attempt to discern the truth that lies behind them. It is a fundamental failure of our media to treat all sides of a story equally and abandon their primary responsibility: discover and report the truth.

But perhaps nobody is quite as bad in this swamp of he-said / she-said reporting than Politifact. In a perfect world, a fact checking organization would not even be needed because that is actually what journalists should be doing. But in an imperfect world, Politifact and their brethren could serve a purpose, checking actual factual claims by politicians and reporters. Instead, they have a sliding scale of truth (from True to Pant on Fire with multiple stops in between) and they weigh in on matters that are matters of opinion and interpretation that cannot be rated as true or false. Their 2011 Lie of the Year is only the latest example of this.

But what I really want to highlight is this, from Bill Adair, editor of Politifact. In his piece, defending their choice for Lie of the Year from criticism he states:

Others portrayed it as a case of false balance where we put our thumb on the scale for a Democratic falsehood. This, too, is a sad byproduct of our polarized discourse, from people who are sure their side is always right.
The stunning lack of self-awareness of the second sentence tells you all you need to know about the product you will get from Politifact. They have assumed that any criticism of their work is because you "...are sure [your] side is always right." In one simple step, they have neutered all criticism of their work and revealed the attitude that in their mind, their side is always right.

"But," Politifact will claim, "we do not have a side. There is right and there is left and we are objective determiners of the truth." But, of course, this is bullshit. They have a side. It is the side of their importance and power in the political discourse. They have a viewpoint, and it is one they are desperate to prove: Partisanship is bad and both sides lie.

And if you question them, silly bloggers, well you just do not understand the important work they do and how much effort it takes to make these judgements of politi-fact or politi-lie.

It's patronizing, it's arrogant, and it's wrong.

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