Politics & Policy

Reality Check vs. Fact Check

The media advance an agenda in the name of fact-checking.

We hear the claim every day from folks in the media: Voter-ID laws are designed to suppress voter turnout. Never bothering to explain how asking a citizen to get a free ID might impede his ability to vote, they blithely advance the claims of “independent” groups such as Common Cause.

We know why. The voter-ID suppression narrative is one the media agree with.

Last week, the Associated Press, a news organization with a decidedly liberal bias, decided to engage in some suppression of its own. It attempted to suppress turnout to Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary 2016: Obama’s America, with the ultimate goal of protecting the presidential candidate they agree with — a liberal — from legitimate criticism.

Talk about a twofer. They get to hurt D’Souza’s movie and, at the same time, to help President Obama get reelected.

How can I prove that assertion? It’s quite easy. And it’s quite a story. One that the AP won’t tell.

#ad#On August 28, AP published a “fact check” of the documentary and pronounced the movie not accurate. An entire book could be written on the facts that AP’s writer, Beth Fouhy, called into question. And another on her conclusions about those facts.

But let me start by telling you a bit about 2016.

The film is based on President Obama’s own words, and I mean his own words literally, because it features the president’s own voice from the audio-book version of his first bestselling book. And not just little snippets taken out of context.

D’Souza in this movie does not question the president’s talents or his place of birth. Indeed, like so many of us who have studied Obama’s intellectual history, D’Souza believes that Obama set out to accomplish the very things that he is accomplishing.

Charges that he’s an amateur or that he’s incompetent miss the larger point. Worse, they are ad hominem attacks, the kind that the best debaters on either side of the aisle deplore.

D’Souza asserts a simple but profound point: that President Obama wants to downsize America. He wants America to have a smaller footprint in the world, because he believes that a smaller America would make for a safer, better planet. If only we consumed less, if only we reduced our military and economic strength, the world would be better off. That doesn’t make Obama a bad man, and he is not alone. Many smart, well-meaning liberals agree with him.

D’Souza based his conclusion on a series of facts that he culled from the president’s 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father.

What were his father’s dreams? Obama’s dad left Hawaii to do graduate work at Harvard University and then took his book learning back to Africa. In 1963 he wrote an article for the East Africa Journal called “Problems Facing Our Socialism,” where he made the case that high taxes are morally and practically good if the government uses them to provide for the people.

And how high could tax rates rise? “Theoretically,” he wrote, “there is nothing that can stop the government from taxing 100 percent of income so long as the people get benefits from the government commensurate with their income which is taxed.”

That is not a typographical error. President Obama’s father, whose dreams he adopted, argued in a scholarly journal that a 100 percent tax rate could actually work. 

You’d think the AP would be interested in that fact.

Barack Obama’s father learned some pretty interesting economic theory at Harvard. Just as Barack Obama himself learned some interesting things about America and the world from professors such as Edward Said at Columbia and Derrick Bell at Harvard Law School.

If only the AP and other news outlets would cover that story.

Obama’s father had serious objections not only to colonialism but also to capitalism. D’Souza explains in his movie that Obama shares his father’s ideological antipathy to free enterprise, which explains why the president makes the decisions he makes. And why he says things like “You didn’t build that.”

#page#The AP could legitimately have expressed disagreement with the premise of D’Souza’s argument, but it didn’t. Why? Because that would have required it to do an opinion piece, and it wants to hold onto what little shred of neutrality it thinks it enjoys in the eyes of the consuming public.

Better for it to peddle its opinions through a reporter’s “fact check” piece than to reveal its true political predisposition.

#ad#Fouhy claims that the evidence D’Souza provided for his argument was “a logical stretch at best” given that President Obama had such little contact with his father. But D’Souza didn’t write Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama did. Fouhy’s beef should be with that book, not this documentary.

As for specific facts that Fouhy called into question, here is one: “D’Souza rightly argues that the national debt has risen to $16 trillion under Obama. But he never mentions the explosion of debt that occurred under Obama’s predecessor, Republican George W. Bush, nor the 2008 global financial crisis that provoked a shock to the U.S. economy.”

In fact, D’Souza did mention President Bush’s spending habits — with a graph, no less. And in any case, he was not making a documentary about George W. Bush. Maybe Fouhy and the AP will make that movie, but this one is about President Obama and the real reason he’s running up the national debt to unprecedented levels.

The rest of Fouhy’s so-called fact checks were just as absurd. And so I ask, after witnessing a good old-fashioned smear of an opinion piece masquerading as a fact-check piece, who fact-checks the fact-checkers?

How do we know that they are not advancing an agenda of their own by distorting facts in the name of fact-checking? Or fact-checking one side but not the other?

If the AP is fact-checking D’Souza’s documentary, did it also fact-check Al Gore’s? Or any of Michael Moore’s?

My colleague Tom Tradup, vice president of programming for Salem Radio Network, questioned the AP’s selective use of “fact checks” in its treatment of 2016. “I don’t know specifically if we did ‘Fact Checks’ per se on the other documentaries mentioned,” Sally Busbee, the AP’s Washington-bureau chief, said in response.

She doesn’t know? Can’t she do a quick Google search and find out?

This is I what I do know: D’Souza worked hard to make his movie, and attempts by a large news organization to deter people from seeing it are outrageous.

Just as bad is the willfully blind eye that most of the news media turned to the documentary until just recently. Because the success of 2016 is actually quite a story.

The film opened many weeks ago in one theater in Houston. As the distribution of 2016 expanded, its revenue per screen grew, a correlation that tends not to happen in movieland. It was shown in nearly 1,800 theaters over the Labor Day weekend and was among the top five box-office draws.

It also became the highest-grossing conservative documentary ever, something you’d think might have been worthy of some headlines. But it didn’t get many.

If the AP and the rest of the media had an ounce of common sense, they would at least pretend to care about a movie that conservatives are flocking to see. Especially given that 42 percent of Americans self-identify as conservatives, while only 20 percent self-identify as liberals.

And those aren’t my facts. They’re Gallup’s, from 2010.

So if I could give the AP some advice: Forget the fact checks. Perhaps it’s time for a reality check.

Try putting aside your bias, and try treating liberals and conservatives equally, be it political candidates or documentarians.

And now and then, do some fact-checking on your own reporter’s fact-checking.

— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan.

Lee Habeeb — Lee Habeeb is an American talk-radio executive and producer. He has written columns for USA Today and the Washington Examiner, and is a columnist for Townhall.com and National Review.

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