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Who Will Check the Fact-Checkers?

Thursday, October 21, 2004
I watched the Lehrer News Hour last night, still the best news show on American TV. One of the segments was an interview with the prominent fact-checkers, who casually asserted that all politicians are liars. The guy from ABC claimed that there was a major imbalance in lies between the two candidates earlier in the campaign, but Kerry's recent statements about the draft, social security, and the flu have made him as gross a deceiver as Bush.

Part of me suspects that the reason ABC has said this is so they can cover their tracks. A week or so ago, Mark Halperin caught a lot of flak for stating the obvious: the political press should not create an artificial balance when there is in reality no such balance. What? The media should call a politician for distorting his opponent's record? What a concept! So the ABC reporter could have been trying to ease the right wing criticism by caving into their demands, i.e. asserting Kerry is as big a liar as Bush.

But let's just assume that the press isn't being a bunch of cowards (sure), but does in fact believe that Kerry is distorting Bush's positions and using scare tactics. Is this belief accurate? Let's tackle these accusations one at a time.

Social Security:

The Kerry campaign is claiming that Bush's Social Security Plan, which he will propose in January, will lead to a massive benefit cut. Now Bush has never said that he would cut benefits, so the press asserts that Kerry is distorting Bush's position. The Kerry explanation is that Bush has never mentioned how he intends to finance the transition of his plan, so there has to be big benefit cuts to pay for it. This looks suspiciously like the Republican claim that Democrats will have to raise taxes to pay for their programs, so I can see how the media could fall into a he-said/she-said scenario. However, there is an important difference between the Social Security and Tax Issues. There is now documented evidence that Bush is going to push privatization, and Kerry has said that if there isn't enough revenue for his policies, he will reduce the programs rather than raise taxes. So it appears that there is a difference between the two accusations, with the advantage clearly going to Kerry.

The Draft:

This is a very similar scenario to the that of Social Security. Bush has said over and over that he wants to preserve the all-volunteer force and doesn't want a draft. Kerry argues that Bush's policies will inevitably lead to a draft whatever the denials from the administration. So like with Social Security, Kerry is reading things into the Bush plan. However, Kerry has a concrete solution: to expand the current military by doubling the number of special forces, adding 2 new divisions He also wants to ease the burden on U.S. troops already deployed by bringing international troops into Iraq, accelerating the training of Iraqis, and closing the Iraqi border. The Bush strategy: keep doing what we are doing and hope for the best. Given the current Pentagon plans for a draft, and the patent overstretch of the military, there is certainly some evidence to believe a draft might be coming. Even if we take Bush on faith (always dangerous), his policy of pre-emption and targetting states that support terrorism certainly heightens the probability of more wars.

So is Kerry using scare tactics? Is he distorting Bush's record? Maybe a little bit, but there is certainly reason to doubt the administration's veracity on this issue.

Flu Vaccine:

The Kerry claim is that the irresponsibility of the President is threatening the health (and possibly lives) of the American people. The fact-checkers can say that the administration certainly wants to give more immunities, but there just isn't any vaccine available. So Kerry is just harping on this to make points, right? Wrong again. What Kerry is claiming is that Bush's lack of planning, fealty to drug companies, and resistance to real health care reform has led to an avoidable situation. So the press is clearly mistaken in saying Kerry is lying here.

So what is the score? One issue where there is a substantial justification for the Kerry attack (Social Security), one where there is a plausible reason with ambiguous evidence (Draft), and one where he is clearly in the right (Flu).

The Republicans? They have asserted that Kerry is the most liberal member of the Senate, is a flip-flopper, has voted against the troops, didn't deserve his medals, wanted to gut the defense and intelligence budgets, has no plan for Iraq or the War on Terror, will encourage terrorist attacks in the U.S., will give France a veto over our foreign policy, will raise middle class taxes, outed Mary Cheney, is sponsoring a government takeover of health care, etc. They have also said that Bush has not opposed importing drugs from Canada, is fully funding veteran's benefits & the No Child Left Behind Act, that the majority of his tax cuts were to the middle class, has not restricted civil liberties, among other things. All of these statements are indisputably lies.

So fact-checkers, get a spine and do your job.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 10:01 PM
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