Paul Ryan has been the most prominent victim of the fact-check schtick. A particularly odd form of madness overtook the so-called mainstream media the night Ryan gave his acceptance speech in Tampa. From the outside, it looked like the establishment political press was receiving Obama campaign tweets straight through their fillings: Ryan was a liar! “The verdict,” reported the Washington Post, “rendered by a slew of media fact checkers, was immediate and unequivocal: In his first major speech before the American people, the Republican vice presidential nominee repeatedly left out key facts, ignored context and was blind to his own hypocrisy.” Really? The fact-checkers diagnosed Ryan with blindness to his own hypocrisy? That’s a neat trick.
The only problem: Everything Ryan said was true. Nearly every charge of lying boiled down to Ryan’s not raising counterarguments favorable to Obama — a standard not normally applied to politicians, and certainly never considered the litmus test for truth-telling. Notoriously, Ryan noted that in 2008 Obama suggested that an auto plant in Ryan’s district that was scheduled for closure would stay open for 100 years if he was elected. The fact-checkers and Obama campaign surrogates immediately cried foul: The plant, they said, actually closed under Bush! But the AP ignored its own (accurate) reporting on the plant’s closing in 2009 in order to make its “fact check” as damning as possible. The second problem: Ryan’s point was not that Obama’s prediction was factually wrong, but that Obama over-promised. That’s what Obama does: Fish gotta swim, bird gotta fly, Obama needs to promise the moon. The fact-checkers opted to twist Ryan’s point into something he wasn’t saying, and then charged him with lying for saying it.