The speech contained “several false and misleading statements,” declared FactCheck.org, run by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. The speech was “not without inaccuracies,” asserted PolitiFact, the Pulitzer-winning project of the Tampa Bay Times.
But the push-back from the Romney campaign, and Republicans at large, was just as quick and just as self-assured. “Lemmings to their own death,” read the headline of a column by Erick Erickson on the conservative Web site RedState.com. “The fact checkers are not checking facts, they are spinning,” he wrote.
Jon Cassidy, writing on the Web site Human Events, said one fact-checking outfit declares conservatives inaccurate three times as often as it does liberals. “You might reasonably conclude that PolitiFact is biased,” he wrote.
The Ryan experience, which consumed the Republican National Convention and the broader political world Thursday, was a hyper-fast example of a pattern that has emerged again and again during this campaign, as fact-checking operations created and institutionalized during the 2004 and 2008 races have become key referees in the fight between Mitt Romney and President Obama.
Fact-checker findings, including those by The Washington Post’s project, figure prominently in campaign ads. The unique rating systems used by these organizations — including the trademarked Truth-O-Meter and Pinocchios — have become part of the political vernacular. In today’s rapidly evolving media environment, fact-check requests are a top priority for campaign media shops, which have designated specific advisers to deal with the questions.
Now, the fact checkers themselves are increasingly under fire, as the campaigns and their allies try to manage the fallout from their verdicts.
Campaigns push back
This week, Romney’s campaign faced questions about its repeated accusation that Obama ended welfare work requirements — even after fact checkers decreed that assertion false. Romney pollster Neil Newhouse turned the challenge back on the fact checkers, saying they bring their own “thoughts and beliefs” to the process.
“We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” Newhouse said.
The Obama campaign, too, has targeted the fact checkers. They sent a public letter of complaint to FactCheck.org after the group concluded that it was unfair to blame Romney for actions taken by his onetime company, Bain Capital, after his day-to-day involvement with it ended in 1998. The Post’s Fact Checker reached the same conclusion.
Last year, when PolitiFact awarded its “lie of the year” prize to the Democratic accusation that Republicans who supported the Ryan budget had voted to end Medicare, it triggered one of the fiercest waves of push-back to date. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman slammed the service in a piece headlined “PolitiFact, R.I.P.”