The Corner

The Media’s Lazy Fact-Checkers

The mainstream media quickly decided that the Romney campaign was being dishonest — and worse — in charging that the Obama administration has gutted welfare reform. Never mind that few journalists pushed harder for the original reform than Mickey Kaus, few academics harder than Doug Besharov, and few think tankers harder than Robert Rector — and all of them take the Romney campaign’s side of this dispute. In the Weekly Standard, Mark Hemingway establishes that the media established its conventional wisdom by talking only to lefties.

In order for “fact checkers” to swiftly, unanimously, and erroneously reach the wrong conclusion, they created a feedback loop, credulously taking at face value the statements of the Obama administration and liberal policy experts, while systematically ignoring critical sources—including the primary source for the allegation the Obama administration is gutting welfare reform.

Though they’ve selectively and dismissively quoted him, Rector says PolitiFact has spoken to him only once, and that was about a tangential matter involving Republican governors who have requested welfare waivers. He’s never been asked by any fact checking organizations “about the core argument, which is Obama gutting workfare,” he says. . . .

THE WEEKLY STANDARD also spoke to the leading Republican welfare policy expert in the House of Representatives, Matt Weidinger, staff director of the Ways and Means subcommittee on welfare. He said he had never been contacted by a fact checking organization. Becky Shipp, an adviser for the Senate Finance Committee, known as the premiere GOP welfare geek in the upper chamber, also reports she hasn’t been contacted by a media fact checker. Further, she tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD she went so far as to reach out to a fact checking organization to correct the record and never heard back.

Aside from their refusal to engage opposing arguments, fact checkers expressed no curiosity about why HHS felt the need to at least appear to toughen the requirements for welfare reform waivers after Rector’s initial criticisms, or whether a 20 percent increase in people exiting welfare programs is a meaningful measure of success. And they didn’t offer any historical context about the welfare reform debate or take so much as a cursory look at the people involved in welfare policy in the Obama administration, which would have cast serious doubt on the Obama administration’s motives.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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