Wednesday, August 15, 2012

PFB Smackdown: Tommy Christopher and Maddow's abortion critique of Romney

We use the PFB Smackdown feature to critique the worst of the left's best critiques of PolitiFact.

Perhaps inspired by my assertion earlier this week that the criticism of PolitiFact from the political Left lack punch, Mediaite's Tommy Christopher jumps in the ring again, trying to float like Rachel Maddow and punch like, well, Rachel Maddow.

On Monday night’s The Rachel Maddow Show, host Rachel Maddow accused Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney of supporting a law that would outlaw abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, while also tying freshly-crowned VP nominee Rep. Paul  Ryan to extreme measures related to reproductive freedom. What’s curious is that Pulitzer Prize-winning Politifact just got done incinerating President Obama‘s trousers over the same claim. Who’s right?
Good question.  Which one is right?
Politifact rated the claim “Pants on Fire,” based on the “logic” that some personhood amendments contain exceptions for rape and incest, and the life of the mother, and since Romney didn’t mention such exceptions when he expressed support for personhood, that must mean he supports such exceptions. It’s an idiotic bit of logic, like concluding that if I say I like Pepsi, I must really be saying I like Diet Pepsi.
Christopher is wrong about PolitiFact's logic.  Rather than using Romney's ambiguity to insist that Romney was specific about allowing for exceptions, PolitiFact criticized the Obama ad for assuming that Romney's ambiguity meant that he specifically favored no exceptions in his opposition to abortion.

(T)he Obama campaign has a problem in extrapolating Romney's position from that comment. Support for the amendment does not necessarily equate to opposing abortion when pregnancy is due to rape or incest.
So the Obama campaign, to use Christopher's illustration, was saying that if Romney says he likes Pepsi then he's really saying he likes Diet Pepsi.  PolitiFact and Christopher criticize forms of the same error, but PolitiFact does so accurately in this case.

Was the "Pants on Fire" rating harsh?  Sure.  As we argue, all of PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" ratings are ultimately subjective and amount to an opinion.  But the basic criticism of the Obama campaign ad was on target.

Weak attacks like Christopher's Maddowesque flailing don't amount to much, however.  If Christopher was interested in the truth of the matter we could expect to see him refrain from blatantly misrepresenting PolitiFact's logic.  Complaints like Christopher's tend to look like attempts to work the referee.

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