Greg Marx at the Columbia Journalism Review takes another look at the FactCheck.org dust up and gets very close to what’s going on:
But I think the situation also reflects exactly what critics like Hemingway and Greenwald allege: fact-checking, as practiced, is in part an effort to shape the public political discourse; the fact-checkers have set their sights on identifying not only which statements are true, but which are legitimate.
This impulse is reflected in the consensus among fact-checkers that the “end Medicare” attack was one of the worst offenses of the year. (In addition to Politifact’s designation, both Factcheck.org and the Post’s Kessler included it on a list of year-end lowlights.) The claim is, at most, semantically untrue. It was more plausibly unfair and, in some contexts, potentially deceptive. But some of the ways in which the Medicare attack was presented were indisputably uncivil, and arguably demagogic.
And that seems to be a big part of what bothers the fact-checkers. In their year-end write-ups, both Politifact and Factcheck.org point to an inflammatory ad produced by a liberal advocacy group that shows an elderly senior citizen being dislodged from her wheelchair and dumped over the side of a cliff. It was something of an odd choice, as an earlier Politifact item on the ad itself found its claim that the GOP plan would “privatize Medicare” to be “mostly true.” (A separate item found the ad’s assertion that the plan would leave the country “without Medicare” to be “false.”) But the ad’s outrageous imagery buttresses a larger point the fact-checkers want to make: the “end Medicare” line was a bit of Democratic demagoguery designed to scare seniors, which has no place in responsible political debate.
Add “for Democrats” to the end of that last sentence, and this is spot-on.
Factcheckers have set themselves up to be arbiters of what can be said and how it can be said, and since they’re part of the MSM, they adopt the rules of the MSM: Democrats must be civil and reasonable at all times, because the status quo is that Democrats are expected to play the role of the adults in the room. The “end Medicare” ads colored outside those lines, so Democrats got their hands slapped.
I think most of us have decided to stop paying close attention to Polifact after the Medicare incident, and I don’t consider that much of a loss. The right was only going to pay attention to factcheckers insofar as they could cherry-pick the pinocchios or pants-on-fires to stick it to the left. Since the left was the only group paying close attention to Polifact, there’s no huge loss in the irrelevance that faces that group and its factchecking brethren — they weren’t going to change the political discourse anyway.