Fourth in a series of endless, tireless, exhaustive, hairsplitting, obsessive and resounding posts on the fact-checking industry.
Prior to Bill Clinton’s speech last night, much attention focused on whether he’d submitted his draft for vetting by Obama campaign officials. Whatever the case, the former president appears to have run the thing past his in-house fact-checking operation.
Because journalism’s fact-checkers are striking out on this one. One of them, FactCheck.org, is even admitting as much:
Former President Bill Clinton’s stem-winding nomination speech was a fact-checker’s nightmare: lots of effort required to run down his many statistics and factual claims, producing little for us to write about.
Republicans will find plenty of Clinton’s scorching opinions objectionable. But with few exceptions, we found his stats checked out.
AP, what have you got? Well, the wire service fronts its fact-checking expedition with something that looks more like editorializing:
CLINTON: “When times are tough, constant conflict may be good politics but in the real world, cooperation works better. ...Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is the enemy and compromise is weakness. One of the main reasons America should re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to cooperation.”
THE FACTS: From Clinton’s speech, voters would have no idea that the inflexibility of both parties is to blame for much of the gridlock. Right from the beginning Obama brought in as his first chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel, a man known for his getting his way, not for getting along.
AP finishes with a point that probably won’t crimp Clinton’s post-speech swagger: “The problem with compromising in Washington is that there are few true moderates left in either party. The notion that Republicans are the only ones standing in the way of compromise is inaccurate.”
AP also features this odd formulation:
CLINTON: “Their campaign pollster said, `We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.’ Now that is true. I couldn’t have said it better myself — I just hope you remember that every time you see the ad.”
THE FACTS: Clinton, who famously finger-wagged a denial on national television about his sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky and was subsequently impeached in the House on a perjury charge, has had his own uncomfortable moments over telling the truth. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” Clinton told television viewers. Later, after he was forced to testify to a grand jury, Clinton said his statements were “legally accurate” but also allowed that he “misled people, including even my wife.”
Not sure where AP is finding the sequitur in that one.
Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler takes a look at this Clinton claim:
“For the last two years, after going up at three times the rate of inflation for a decade, for the last two years, health care costs have been under 4 percent in both years for the first time in 50 years.”
And judges thusly: “Clinton tried to attribute this decline in health costs to the health-care law, but much of it has not yet been implemented. Most economists say the slowdown is more likely because of the lousy economy.”
PolitiFact finds a fair amount of material to verify in the Clinton address.
And to think: The guy went on for 48 minutes, 48 minutes packed with policies and specifics and numbers on health-care policy, debt, jobs, poverty and, well, a lot more. That’s why the fact-checking industry needs a new metric for convention speeches: The Truth-to-Detail ratio, so readers can get a quick-glimpse take on the proportion between factually questionable statements and factual contentions.
More from this series: