Published for Foreign Policy Shadow Government, October 19, 2012
Independent fact checkers are in a tough business. Unlike their partisan counterparts, who merrily use double standards to excuse their own whoppers and slam their opponents for the slightest infractions, independent fact checkers are supposed to apply the same standard scrupulously, letting the chips fall where they may.
The biggest no-no for a fact checker who covets a reputation for independence and fairness is to strain at a gnat while swallowing a camel.
Which brings me to two posts by the Washington Post‘s Glenn Kessler, the dean of political fact checkers. Kessler takes his job seriously and, I believe, works hard to earn a reputation for fairness. He has earned the benefit of my doubt by virtue of his repeated efforts to patrol both sides and, on occasion, to engage with his critics.
Today, I am one of those critics, because I cannot see how he swallowed the camel of Obama’s claim that Romney “wants to spend $2 trillion on additional military programs even though the military’s not asking for them,” whilst straining at the gnat of Romney’s claim: “The size of our Navy is at levels not seen since 1916.”
Kessler awards one Pinnochio to Obama’s claim about what the military is seeking, which in his scale means “Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods.” He awards Romney’s claim about the Navy three Pinnochios, which means “Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”