Friday, October 22, 2004

In Praise of FactCheck.Org

It is often said that "truth is the first casualty of war." Political parties today look quite a bit like warring factions and very little like a constructive part of informed debate and policy making today. I think we would all prefer that elections be a celebration of democratic principles, regardless of who wins, rather than the melees they currently resemble. But most of us sit by and do very little to clean up this mess.

If you are Internet savvy enough to have found this blog (and I thank you for doing so), then you are almost certain to have come across FactCheck.Org. I have to admire any organization willing to insert itself into this process and try to separate fact from fiction. Here's the most recent (from October 21) post:

$8 Million Worth Of Distortions
Two Bush ads full of misleading and false statements ran more than 9,000 times in 45 cities last week.

You can watch the two ads. You get a summary. You get an analysis, in which FactCheck.Org assesses each assertion made in the ads. You even get sources and related articles. FactCheck.Org is trying to walk a very difficult path: it tries to be politically neutral when it can and politically balanced when it cannot be neutral. In the spirit of a good Internet entity, it updates its work if new information comes to light. Some of its posts are actually correcting facts, sometimes it goes a little further to "complete the picture." I thought it got this one on Social Security right (and I'll blog more on Social Security later):

Kerry Falsely Claims Bush Plans To Cut Social Security Benefits
It's not Bush's plan, and it wouldn't cut benefits.

So kudos to FactCheck.Org for holding politicians a bit more accountable in an open and non-partisan way. Now who wants to do the same thing for newspapers?

2 comments:

Computer Bruce said...

factcheck.org doesn't deserve kudos for this particular call. Yes, Kerry's ad is out of bounds, for implying that Bush plans will result in an immediate benefit cut.

But, factcheck.org does not do much to improve the quality of debate. In factcheck.org's second paragraph, they assert:
"Unless taxes are increased, the system's trustees say currently scheduled benefits would have to be cut 32%."

Only at the tail end of the article, do they clarify:
"Social Security's finances are unstable, and its trustees stated in the most recent annual report that by the year 2078 it will require a payroll tax increase of nearly 50% to maintain the currently scheduled rise in benefit levels. If taxes are not increased and no other changes are made, benefits would have to be cut 32% that year."

2078 !!!! 2078 ??!!

factcheck.org has done one of the things they criticize Kerry for: implying a cut affecting current retirees (by using the misleading phrase, "currently scheduled benefits"), when referring to something, which will be critical only in the distant future.

factcheck.org needs to work harder, to achieve clarity on these kinds of economic issues.

Jake said...

I think factcheck.org is splitting hairs on the tax ad. To vote against a tax cut or to vote for a tax increase has the same effect. Kerry wants me to pay more taxes than the Republicans do.

factcheck.org also quotes what Kerry said in July 2003 about taxes. What Kerry said in 2003 and 2004 has nothing to do with how Kerry voted and spoke from 1971 to 2002.

In 2003, Kerry changed from the most liberal Senator in the Senate to a Reagan Republican. Factcheck.org believes that transformation, no one else does. If the left believed it, they would vote for Nader.

Andrew, you need to find a web site that fact checks factcheck.org.