Fact-Checking AP

by Ramesh Ponnuru

A friend sends me this AP story on Romney’s introduction of Ryan, perhaps thinking that it’s biased, sloppy, and deserving of criticism. If that was his idea, he’s right.

Let’s start with the first item “fact-checked”:


ROMNEY: “Unlike the current president, who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion, we will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security and keep them there for future generations.”

THE FACTS: You could fill an arena with all the details left out in this statement. . . .

That sentence should be a clue that we’re dealing with something other than the checking of facts for accuracy. Of course a statement like that is going to leave out a lot of details! It would be impossible for it not to exclude some details. And of course it will leave out truths that would cause political trouble for the candidate speaking, at least without further explanation and argument. It’s reasonable to criticize candidates for saying things that aren’t true. But for leaving out details?

AP continues:

Ryan’s reputation as a fiscal conservative is built on a budget plan that would overhaul the Medicare program and introduce a voucher-like plan that future retirees could use to buy private health insurance. Whether that results in a better or worse situation for Medicare recipients is a matter of debate. But under Ryan’s plan, traditional Medicare would no longer be the health insurance mainstay, just one of many competing options.

Notice that nothing in this explanation renders a single comment by Romney false.

The CBO said [Ryan's] plan grows spending for Medicare enrollees “at a much slower rate” than under current law or other policy scenarios. In Washington, a slower increase in spending is tantamount to a spending cut.

CBO was referring to the 2011 plan, not the 2012 plan Romney endorsed. Under that plan spending is capped at exactly the same level as it is under Obama’s plan. (And “in Washington” a slower increase in spending is not tantamount to a spending cut. It would be more accurate to say “many journalists and politicians treat slower increases in spending as tantamount to spending cuts, and this writer is going to follow that convention without giving any good reason.”)

Romney’s assertion that the team would preserve Social Security left out the fact that he proposes significant change. He would protect the status quo for people 55 and over but, for the next generations of retirees, raise the retirement age for full benefits by one or two years and reduce inflation increases in benefits for wealthier recipients.

And why would Romney do these things? Maybe to “protect and preserve” the program’s ability to pay for its benefits, just as he said.

Later on, AP presents as incontestable fact the opinion that the stimulus helped the economy. It isn’t, and it doesn’t matter how many times ”fact checkers” say that all intelligent people who look at the evidence fairly are obligated to believe it.


ROMNEY on Ryan- “And throughout his legislative career he’s shown the ability to work with members of both parties to find common ground on some of the hardest issues confronting the American people.”

THE FACTS: Not exactly. . . . [P]articularly since Obama’s election, Ryan’s been something of a no-compromise-congressman. . . . Ryan did work with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon in 2011, on a proposal for changes to Medicare that would allow private plans to compete with Medicare. But Wyden was the only prominent Democrat to support that plan and, in the end, Wyden himself did not support Ryan’s larger budget plans, which included the Medicare component, when they were released later in 2012.

So how would we rephrase Romney’s comment to meet AP’s objection? I have an idea: We could say that “throughout his legislative career Ryan has shown an ability to work with members of both parties to find common ground on some of the hardest issues confronting the American people.” We could add, though, that he hasn’t done it enough to suit the tastes of AP’s “fact-checker.”’

As I’ve said before, the self-description of “fact checkers” is, by standards much more fair than the ones they apply, simply a lie.

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