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Posted at 01:13 PM ET, 09/06/2012

Frontiers in fact checking

A lot of folks are having fun with a bizarre Associated Press fact check of Bill Clinton’s speech that has been making the rounds this morning. Clinton’s speech included a verbatim quote from a Romney adviser who had claimed the Romney campaign would not be constrained by fact checking.

The AP, oddly, called Clinton’s use of the quote into question by citing...the Monica Lewinsky affair:

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.”

Steve Benen, Brian Beutler, Ben Smith, Media Matters and others have been scratching their heads about this. As Steve notes, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse really did say, “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” and the invocation of the Lewinsky affair seems like a “puzzling non-sequitur. “

But I think I’ve figured out what the AP is getting at with this. The AP is not fact checking Clinton’s quotation of Romney’s pollster, which is indeed accurate. Rather, it is fact checking the part of Clinton’s quote where he said: “Now that is true — I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

In this context, in reminding readers of Clinton’s mendacity during the Lewinsky affair, the AP is fact checking Clinton’s implication that he holds any moral high ground when it comes to criticizing anyone else for dishonesty. Clinton, in effect, is claiming: “The Romney campaign has tacitly admitted it is willing to depart from the truth, if necessary, in order to advance Romney’s presidential ambitions. I couldn’t have said it better myself!” But, see, Clinton himself told falsehoods during the Lewinsky affair — so his passing of judgment on the Romney campaign for dishonesty is questionable.

And so, if you look closely, it’s clear what the AP is trying to do here. But it’s highly innovative to call it “fact checking,” and it perhaps says more about the AP’s desire to appear to be fact checking Clinton aggressively than it does about what he actually said.

By  |  01:13 PM ET, 09/06/2012

 
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