Friday, March 8, 2013

Rand Paul Filibuster: You Should Have Chosen a More Responsible Fact Checker

PolitiFact's partisan posturing is pretzel-like. In this case, Robert Gibbs said something, PolitiFact confirmed he said it, then gave Rand Paul a Half-True for claiming Gibbs said it.  

This so-called fact check illustrates PolitiFacter Louis Jacobson's ability to acknowledge facts, confirm them, then completely ignore them. We've commented that PolitiFact is often an opinion site masquerading as objective fact checkers, but this rating is the stuff of propaganda.

The dust up comes when Paul says he's offended by Gibbs' comments regarding the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, son of terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki. Both were American citizens, and both are dead. The government has confirmed killing one and is suspected of killing the other. Here's Rand Paul's claim (made during his marathon filibuster):
"When the president's spokesperson [Gibbs] was asked about al-Awlaki's son, you know what his response was? This I find particularly callous and particularly troubling. The president's response to the killing of al-Awlaki's son -- he said he should have chosen a more responsible father."
PolitiFact confirmed what Paul said about the incident, quoting Gibbs:
"I would suggest that you should have a far more responsible father if they are truly concerned about the well being of their children."
Most rational people with a functioning auditory system or basic reading comprehension would immediately recognize Paul's assertion as beyond dispute. PolitiFact, on the other hand, defines this as "some support for his claim."

So what are the dastardly details that made Paul so dishonest? PolitiFact explains:
Gibbs did not go out of his way to make this comment; it was elicited by an activist group...
A-HA! You see, Gibbs didn't say what he said because he said it after someone asked him a question! (They always get you that way, don't they?) And the people who asked him had some nefarious motivation behind the question! So, clearly, it's not fair to blame Robert Gibbs for the words that were forcibly extricated from his own mouth. After all, Gibbs is merely a professional spokesman, hand-selected by the president to present Obama's views to the public. How can we expect him to deal with things like "questions"? No True for you, Senator Paul!

PolitiFact goes on to weave a tale of woe for Gibbs, not to mention building a Strawqua Buddah in Paul's honor:
Gibbs did say essentially that. But Paul’s use of Gibbs’ comment leaves out some important context. It was not a carefully crafted statement of White House policy. Rather, it came at the tail end of a contentious exchange with representatives of an activist group, a line of questioning that Gibbs repeatedly tried to brush off.
When did Paul claim (or even suggest) it was a "carefully crafted statement of White House policy"? He didn't. It's fiction invented by PolitiFact. And since when does answering questions "at the end of a contentious exchange" absolve a speaker of his responses? That's hogwash.

But congrats are in order for at least one thing: PolitiFact's invention of the new standard that a speaker is not responsible for his own words if he "repeatedly tries to brush off" a question. Apparently, politicians or spokesmen are no longer accountable for their responses if they try to avoid the topic in the first place. This is what PolitiFact calls "sorting out the truth"?

The final paragraph takes the cake:
So while Paul is correct to say that Gibbs expressed that sentiment, the senator suggests that it’s more of an expression of White House policy...
Paul is correct, but SQUIRREL!

Paul never suggested it was "White House policy," and PolitiFact is being obscenely dishonest by claiming otherwise.

Additional reading: This isn't the first time PolitiFact has burned Paul on a perfectly accurate claim because of what they think he was suggesting. Remember this beauty?

Bryan adds:  

I have some sympathy with PolitiFact drawing a distinction between a statement from Gibbs and a statement from the president.  Paul's full statement equivocates a bit on that point, and Paul's concern about Gibbs' statement is expressed as a concern about the administration.

On the other hand, PolitiFact explains the distinction poorly and puts the "Half True" rating right next to a quotation of Paul that is perfectly accurate.  It's no excuse for Gibbs if he was hounded by journalists.  It isn't truly relevant.

Moreover, if Gibbs gets a break for dealing with hectoring journalists, why doesn't Paul get a break for speaking for hours on end with no prepared script?  Apparently PF didn't even care to investigate the conditions of Paul's speech, if we use its reporting as our gauge.

Jeff responds: Bryan and I went back and forth on this. I think he has a reasonable point that Paul didn't fully distinguish between Gibbs and Obama. I'd be more inclined to accept it if not for a few mitigating factors: 1) Gibbs' professional position as Obama's spokesman 2) The context immediately preceding the conflation ("When the president's spokesperson...") and 3) In the past, PolitiFact has held politicians responsible for claims made by their spokesmen. Why not now?

Regardless, conflating Gibbs and Obama hardly reaches the level of "suggesting" an "expression of White House policy." That's pure fantasy.


  1. "The president's response to the killing of al-Awlaki's son -- he said he should have chosen a more responsible father."

    So, he did actually suggest it was the White House's policy...or, at least the view of the President.

  2. Also, you're right. If the factcheck had been "Paul claims that yada yada is the President's policy," then they could have said, "False. Gibbs said it not the President."

    But, since the fact check was about whether Gibbs ever said it, it should've been true.

  3. With regards to your first comment: Paul flubbed the line ("The president's response"), which, as I understand it, is Bryan's reasoning for cutting PF some slack. As I noted however, in the context immediately prior, Paul was clear to identify the person as Gibbs ("When the president's spokesperson..."). That hardly qualifies as *suggesting it's official White House policy,* and that's on top of Gibbs' position of being Obama's official spokesperson. When Jay Carney gives a press conference, it's reasonably assumed that he's generally speaking for the president. Likewise, when Obama deems Kanye West a "Jackass," that's not construed as being official White House policy regarding the artist.

    And as Bryan pointed out, if PF is going to absolve Gibbs for his comment because he was speaking extemporaneously, why does Paul fail to receive the same charity?

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

  4. And thank you kindly for your second comment. Good point.

  5. Liked this part...
    "And since when does answering questions "at the end of a contentious exchange" absolve a speaker of his responses? That's hogwash."

    It didn't in the case of Palin. But they want to absolve this one. Receiving absolution depends on which side you're on. It's called bias.



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