Politifact’s 2014 “Lie of the Year” was proven last week not to have been a lie at all; or at least the portion attributed to conservative columnist George Will. Last September, Politifact “corrected” Will when he tweeted, “Some doctors say Ebola can be transmitted through the air by a ‘sneeze or some cough.’” His statement was later rolled up with other Ebola-related claims and deemed the biggest fib of 2014.
Not that Will’s statement was very definitive. “Some doctors” could mean only a handful, but even so, Jon Greenberg of Politifact couldn’t let it stand. His rebuttal to Will was rather hard to follow as it meandered quickly into the realm of irrelevancy. Greenberg also admitted that he was unsure which doctors Will was quoting. Nonetheless, the sleuths at Politifact think they have “a pretty good idea where he got his information”—two professors at the University of Illinois who urged healthcare workers to wear respirators, not just face masks, while treating Ebola patients. When contacted, the two professors, however, stressed that they weren’t addressing a generalized threat to the population from coughs or sneezes.
So, uh…Will’s claim is a lie?
Not so fast. A recently released study published in mBio, a journal for microbiologists, concluded that “it is very likely that at least some degree of Ebola virus transmission currently occurs via infectious aerosols generated from the gastrointestinal tract, the respiratory tract, or medical procedures…” This should surprise no one, as the public was routinely assured that it only needed to avoid an Ebola patient’s bodily fluids—and what is a sneeze, other than a shotgun blast of saliva and mucus?
Besides common sense, there’s another reason to believe that Ebola could in fact be transmitted by cough and sneezes—the fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) said in October that the Ebola virus could be transmitted exactly that way, provided that the person on the receiving end has an open cut or sore. So yes, “some doctors” do make that claim and they work at the WHO.
This isn’t the first time that Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” turned out not to be a lie at all. Its 2012 “Lie of the Year” was a claim made by candidate Mitt Romney that the bailed-out semi-American automaker Chrysler had plans to build a Jeep factory in China. Politifact rebuffed Romney, citing a statement from a Chrysler spokesman who declared, “Jeep has no intentions of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China.” Apparently, the whole thing was debunked because a corporate spokesman denied it, which is an interesting standard of proof that I’d wager Politifact employs selectively.
Then, in January of 2013, Chrysler and its parent company Fiat announced plans to open a new factory in Guangzhou, China. Which is exactly what Romney said.
Just don’t accuse Politifact of having a partisan agenda. They hate that. It’s not that they consistently side with the Democrats, it’s just that the Democrats are always right. Or at least most of the time. Since Politifact started giving out “Lie of the Year” awards in 2009, it has awarded it to conservative or Republican claims four times, often for inconsequential statements, and at least twice for statements that turned out to be true.
It awarded its “Lie of the Year” to liberal or Democratic claims only twice. Surprisingly, it even gave Obama’s “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” fib its “Lie of the Year” Award in 2013. The difference is that Obama’s lie really was a big fat whopper that everyone knew to be false but repeated endlessly in order to get Obamacare passed.
In any case, fact checking has gotten to be rather absurd. What was supposed to be a nonpartisan exercise in discerning the truth through a haze of competing claims has become nothing but partisan hackery.
It isn’t even honest partisan hackery. It’s liberals pretending not to be liberals, which I’ve noticed they do a lot. “Fact checking” is nothing more than reliably liberal mouthpieces going to bat for the Democrats while pretending to be umpires calling balls and strikes.
The American journalistic establishment, you see, claims to value objectivity. This was not always the case, as many newspapers in the nineteenth century were openly associated with political parties or labor unions, but in more recent years reporters have decided to pretend that they are beholden to no one. So instead of favoring Democratic politicians over their Republican counterparts, they favor Democratic facts over Republican ones.
But surely, facts have no party affiliation, right? I wholeheartedly agree, but counter that duplicitous political operatives can weave whatever narrative they like by distorting facts in a very partisan direction. Fact checkers then decide which of those sets of facts to certify as The Truth.
Unfortunately, the practice of fact checking, which is supposed to un-spin what the best paid spin doctors in Washington have attempted to pawn off on the public, has become a form of spinning in and of itself. Take, for example, the “claim” (or fact, really) that President Obama skips more than half of his daily intelligence briefs. Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post called it a “bogus claim” on his Fact Checker blog, then launched into a long, rambling history about presidential preferences for receiving intelligence. Nixon liked it one way, Ford another, etc. I think his point, and I’m not sure had one, was that plenty of other presidents—notably Bill Clinton, according to Kessler’s account—cancelled or did not attend Presidential Daily Briefings (PDB’s). Kessler might benefit from a gen-ed course in logic; the fact that Obama was not the first chief executive to skip PDB’s does not mean that the “claim” that Obama skips them is false. It just means that others did too. Sheesh.
Kessler also accepts without question the White House’ retort that the president reads all of his PDB’s in paper form even if he’s a no-show to the actual briefing. I wouldn’t expect the White House to say anything else. There is no proof that he reads them other than assurances made by the administration in the midst of damage control, but Kessler is nonetheless siding with the prez on this one, as you knew he would. The fact that Obama ditches his intelligence briefings is outweighed, in his mind, by another “fact”—which is actually just a predictable defensive retort—that that he reads them when he gets a chance.
Fact checking is arguably the most corrupt business in America, second perhaps only to personal injury lawyers. The little charade fact checkers play, in which they pretend to help readers navigate a sea of chicanery, is really getting quite tiresome.