Fraudulent ‘Fact Checks’ and Preemptive Narratives
Today's press would make the Soviet-era Pravda and Izvestia proud.
October 2, 2012 - 12:00 am
On the morning before the Media Research Center’s 25th Anniversary Gala, which yours truly was privileged to attend, it occurred to me that the news-originating press has added a second new tactic — preemptive narratives — to its “reelect Barack Obama at all costs” playbook.
The first new tactic is cited in an unprecedented and badly needed letter that MRC head Brent Bozell and over 20 other conservative leaders, commentators, and media personalities sent to ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC — the four Obama-worshipping alphabet networks — on September 25. The signers accurately accused the recipients of “rigging this election and taking sides in order to pre-determine the outcome.”
Those who dismiss the letter signers’ complaints could not be more wrong.
To be sure, the first seven of the eight establishment press tactics cited in the letter, a few of which include “painting conservative ideas as extreme,” “submerging the truly horrendous economic conditions” (but only in Democratic administrations), and double standards in reporting on candidates’ mistakes and gaffes, have been around virtually since the dawn of television. One would have thought that things couldn’t get any worse with these and the rest of the letter’s first seven identified offenses than they were in 2008; but the press, particularly the named TV networks and their cable cousins, have ramped them up to new levels in 2012.
The letter’s eighth identified tactic — the wide-ranging employment of “journalist”-authored, truth-challenged, narrative-driving, Democrat candidate campaign-assisting “fact checks” — is new with this presidential election cycle. The abuse of “fact checks” has become so rampant that it’s reasonable to believe that their creations are coordinated with Democrats in key campaigns to, well, rig the game.
To cite just one example, several sources with intimate knowledge of the pioneering welfare reform law of 1996 and its sixteen subsequent years of implementation have consistently expressed alarm at the administration’s recent and likely illegal policy directive allowing the use of waivers to ease the clear work requirements contained in the law:
- On the afternoon it was released, the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector, who crafted the original legislation, asserted that the July 12 directive issued by the Department of Health and Human Services “guts” and “is the end of” welfare reform.
- In early September, Mickey Kaus, a Democrat who has championed welfare reform and its results for years, reacted to more detailed analysis by Rector and others by writing that the HHS directive’s pretensive support of the work requirement is “not as big a scam as I’d thought it was. It’s a much bigger scam.”
- On September 19, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote that “[t]he Administration has made welfare’s work requirements far weaker, and for ideological reasons that the press corps has failed to report.”
The press has done a lot more than merely fail to report it.
Despite the overwhelming consensus of subject matter experts on the left and right, PolitiFact gave a Mitt Romney ad objecting to HHS’s move a “Pants on Fire” rating, even though the Journal insists that “it’s worse than Romney says.” PoltiFact’s Molly Moorhead, who wrote the “Pants on Fire” dispatch, cannot possibly still believe that what she wrote is true.
But that isn’t what really matters in the land of leftist “journalism.” What matters is that the Obama campaign and the Pavlovian press now have carte blanche to routinely and gleefully cite her supposedly authoritative but in reality bogus “fact check” to frustrate efforts to expose what HHS has done. More generally, the real reason for the creation and proliferation of fraudulent “fact checks” is to drown out any attempt to expose serious flaws in Democratic candidates’ records and statements, while dishonestly discrediting legitimate Republican and conservative actions and contentions.
Like “fact checks,” preemptive narratives predate this presidential cycle to a limited extent, but have been given heavy doses of steroids this time around while seriously smacking of Democratic campaign coordination. This second new tactic wasn’t in and arguably didn’t belong in the MRC letter, because while the TV networks are its willing beneficiaries, its originators usually toil at the wire services. Two specific examples will illustrate its use.
On September 22, as I noted in my most recent PJ Media column, Thomas Beaumont and Charles Babington at the Associated Press (aka the Administration’s Press), despite the absence of proof and the presence of significant contradictory evidence, declared that “the advantage has shifted toward President Barack Obama” in the presidential race. During the next five days, a poll in Pennsylvania showed Romney within two points of Obama in a state the president supposedly has locked up, within one point in Ohio in a poll which sampled Democrats over Republicans by 10.3 percentage points, and still tied nationally with Rasmussen. But reality isn’t what matters.
The AP pair’s narrative claiming that Obama is close to putting Romney away, which might as well have been drafted by an Obama campaign spinmeister (who knows? Maybe it was) has driven TV and other press coverage all week long.
The Thursday morning trigger I mentioned in my opening paragraph was the arrival of two pieces of absolutely awful economic news demonstrating that the “recovery,” such as it is, has slowed from its already snail-like pace and, as James Pethokoukis wrote, entered “the recession red zone.”
In a rare third-estimate writedown, the government said that second-quarter economic growth was an annualized 1.3% instead of the already anemic 1.7% reported a month ago. After its issuance, Reuters noted: ”Data in hand for the third quarter suggest little improvement.” Even more troubling, durable goods orders in August fell by 13.3% to a raw level over 30% below their April 2010 value.
That’s funny, because the previous morning, AP White House Correspondent (note: not business or economics writer) Jim Kuhnhenn incoherently claimed in another piece – which appears to have Obama administration spin all over it — that economic results “are merging into a straighter line which, while below optimum performance, is moving in a positive direction for the country and for the president in his contest with Republican rival Mitt Romney.” Again, Thursday’s truth didn’t seem to matter. An AP dispatch from Christopher Rugaber that afternoon which surely drove TV news coverage that evening incorporated a relatively unimportant unemployment claims report showing decent week-to-week improvement and “suggested” that “the economy is sturdier than it might appear.” Nothing can be allowed to disturb the pre-determined, election-rigging narrative.
The Soviet Union’s old Pravda and Izvestia would be impressed at the media’s determination to have fake “fact checks” and preemptive narratives control the borders of what can be discussed between now and Election Day, all in the name of advancing the current regime’s reelection efforts. The country’s “journalists,” now serving as willing administration truth-twisting apparatchiks and campaign assistants, should be ashamed.