One of the bigger developments in the progressive blogosphere in the past year is the dismantling of the factchecking website, PolitiFact and their alleged right-wing tilt.
The criticisms of the website has ranged from their naming the claim by Democrats of Paul Ryan “killing Medicare as we know it” as the “Lie of the Year” in 2011 and the recent debacle of giving Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a “pants on fire” over his claims of hearing from an unknown source that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes in ten years.
In their recent “pants on fire” rating of Harry Reid, the website claimed that Reid’s acts were unfounded and:
Reid has produced no evidence to back up his claim other than attribution to a shadowy anonymous source. Romney has denied the claim, and tax experts back him up, saying that the nature of Romney’s investments in Bain make it highly unlikely he would have been able to avoid paying taxes altogether — especially for 10 years.
Reid has made an extreme claim with nothing solid to back it up. Pants on Fire!
Now, of course Reid’s claim over Romney’s tax returns is unfounded. All Harry Reid has said is that a “source” told him that over the phone which is more on the lines of rumor-mongering and mudslinging as opposed to outright lying. Unfortunately, PolitiFact has taken Romney’s side in saying that anything that can’t be proven is a lie.
Fact-checking websites are an aspiring politico’s greatest thing. While I feel that the mainstream voting public could care less as I believe most EXPECT politicians to lie, political junkies love them. Factcheckers can bolster your points in arguments, debunk half-truths that your crazy uncle throws out at the dinner table and even give you something new to complain about as you pull your hair out when another dastardly lie becomes repeated numerous times. So yes, factcheckers are a beautiful thing.
But what PolitiFact is doing is using the phrase “fact” and giving it a conservative tilt. A fact is now anything that won’t be addressed and a lie is anything that can’t be proven right away. An example of a PolitiFact “fact” is if I refuse to acknowledge that I am a resident of New Jersey. A “lie” would be if I was told that someone heard a rumor about me going to college in Pennsylvania and me immediately saying “NO”.
Both for the record are facts.
Yet we are continuing to let the word “fact” evolve into mainstream opinions. I’m not saying that all conspiracy theories have any potential to be true, but rather our definition of fact is a lot more broad than it has been.
The Mitt Romney taxers are not akin to the Barack Obama birthers. As I’ve stated before in another article, Barack Obama has released both his long-form and short-form birth certificates while Mitt Romney has refused to release anything other than 1 and a half years of tax returns As long as Mitt Romney neglects to release any of his tax returns, there is still an aura of “reasonable doubt” that will surround him until he actually does.
A more proper definition of Reid’s claims would be for them to be classified as rumors, unproven hearsay or even disputed claims. But a lie? Harry Reid’s nose wouldn’t grow if he were a wooden boy for saying this.
How many times do we hear a journalist refuse to divulge a source it earned in a big expose? If no source reveals itself, shouldn’t we say that everything in Game Change was a lie or that every conviction that existed because of “circumstantial evidence” must be overturned because “hey, I didn’t see who said anything”.
Facts are a great thing, they truly are. We need to know more truth and hear less partisan bickering, yet we are constantly being told what is “fact” and what is not with emphasis on the air quotes that surround it.
The only way this debacle will truly be solved is if Mitt Romney puts up or shuts up about his tax returns or if Harry Reid divulges his source. But from the looks of things, each one would be devastating to the Romney camp if they came to fruition.
I guess we are going to have to wait and see.