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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

PolitiFact and PolitiFiction

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With unverified and intentionally confusing state jobs numbers magically surfacing in the closing weeks of Gov. Scott Walker's recall, it sure would be nice to have some reliable, objective source to separate truth from brazen political lies.

Unfortunately, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had already destroyed its credibility as an arbiter of truth even before the newspaper publicly endorsed Walker's re-election.

Ironically, a Journal Sentinel column called PolitiFact, originally set up to call out politicians for making fraudulent statements, turned out to be one of the newspaper's most openly biased features.

PolitiFact, a reporting project started by the St. Petersburg Times in 2007, won a Pulitzer Prize for nailing politicians for untruthful political rhetoric during the 2008 elections.

By the time the Journal Sentinel began its version of PolitiFact in 2010, ridiculous political lies had become official Tea Party Republican policy in Wisconsin and elsewhere.

That's when we started hearing about a foreign-born president with a forged birth certificate passing health care reform that secretly created death panels to exterminate senior citizens.

You might think the local PolitiFact would enjoy feasting on such a steady diet of Republican lies. However, Journal Sentinel management saw an opportunity to move the newspaper to the extreme right to build circulation among the right-wing-wacko demographic.

PolitiFact was only partly a reporting project. The other part was public relations. If column after column called Republicans liars because, well, they lied on a regular basis, editors knew they would be accused of liberal bias.

In fact, they're continually accused of that, anyway. The right wing learned a long time ago that publicly accusing the media of liberal bias was a sure-fire way to get weak-kneed editors to tilt even further toward the right.

That's why even after the Journal Sentinel has twice endorsed Walker for governor and belittled the recall sought by nearly a million Wisconsinites, right-wing radio still vilifies the newspaper for some sort of imaginary liberal bias.

The adoption of dishonesty as official Republican policy in the form of spreading known fabrications, passing laws disenfranchising legitimate voters and running "fake" Democrats who perjure themselves on sworn state documents is an extreme development embarrassing to honest Republicans.

Any legitimate newspaper would cover that as big news. Instead, the Journal Sentinel downplays it as just ordinary politics. Everybody does it.

PolitiFact, charged with upholding the truth, instead has become a vehicle to pretend that strong political rhetoric by Democrats is just as bad as blatant political lies by Republicans.

In order to falsely claim fairness and lack of bias, every time PolitiFact acknowledges one of the outrageous lies coming from Republicans or from Walker himself, it tries to call a Democrat a liar to even everything out.

The problem is, although they certainly aren't as pure as the driven snow, Democrats don't currently lie nearly as often as inflammatory Republican extremists.

So PolitiFact has to stretch the truth itself. You really have to feel for Congresswoman Gwen Moore, an outstanding congressional representative from Milwaukee, whom PolitiFact regularly calls a liar for saying things that are absolutely true.

PolitiFact called Moore a liar for "tweeting" about the state ending a four-county contract with Planned Parenthood to give poor women access to cancer screenings, which, in fact, the state did end.

Even more ridiculous, PolitiFact accused Moore of lying in an amusing song parody, "Hit the Road, Scott," she performed at a Democratic Party dinner. PolitiFact said Moore should have sung that Walker "cut" tax credits for the poor, not that he "gutted" those tax credits.

We Could Use the Truth

It's really too bad PolitiFact doesn't have any credibility because, boy, could we ever use a little more truth about the Walker administration going into this recall.

The only reason Wisconsin voters know about monthly jobs reports showing Walker's Wisconsin had the worst jobs record in the nation between March 2011 and March 2012 is that the federal government releases those numbers.

Walker knew last week's monthly jobs report coming out just before the recall would show Wisconsin continuing to lose 6,200 private sector jobs in April under his leadership, just the sort of thing Democrats and unemployed people make a big deal about.

So Walker intentionally released some very different, unverified, confusing numbers. Walker's dandy new numbers, which the feds won't check until after the recall, claim Wisconsin added more than 23,000 jobs in last year's fourth quarter, instead of losing 33,900 jobs.

Walker may not even expect anyone to believe such unbelievable numbers no one can verify or compare to any other state.

He'll settle for simply confusing voters, appearing in a TV ad bragging about positive new jobs numbers released by "the government" without mentioning he's talking about his government.

It sure would be nice to have some sort of media column that honestly tried to separate truth from political fiction.

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