When criticizing the use of "selective facts," The Note should have some facts of its own


ABCNews.com's The Note criticized New York Times columnist Paul Krugman for using "selective facts" to say that John McCain "is not a maverick, a moderate, nor a straight talker." However, The Note offered no facts to counter Krugman's argument.

The March 13 edition of ABCNews.com's The Note attacked New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's column (subscription required) of the same day, claiming simply: "Paul Krugman writes with selective facts that [Sen.] John McCain [R-AZ] is not a maverick, a moderate, nor a straight talker." The Note offered no facts to rebut Krugman's "selective facts."

ABCNews.com describes The Note as "a morning news summary that will tell you what you need to know about politics at that critical moment in the news cycle."

In his March 13 Times column, Krugman wrote of McCain: "He isn't a moderate. He's much less of a maverick than you'd think. And he isn't the straight talker he claims to be." Here are some of the examples Krugman offered:

  • McCain's recent vote to extend President Bush's 2003 tax cuts on dividends and capital gains after years of opposing them
  • The "rogue state rollback" policy McCain offered during his 2000 presidential campaign, which Krugman argued "anticipat[ed] the 'Bush doctrine' of pre-emptive war unveiled two years later
  • McCain's hawkish stance on the Iraq war
  • McCain's spokesman's recent statement that McCain "would have signed" a South Dakota law banning all abortions except when the life of the woman is threatened. The spokesman explained that McCain "would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." As Krugman noted: "But that attempt at qualification makes no sense: the South Dakota law has produced national shockwaves precisely because it prohibits abortions even for victims of rape or incest."

The Note labeled these examples "selective facts": McCain's changing position on the central facet of the Bush administration's economic policy; the foreign policy initiatives he espoused during his last presidential bid; his stance on the defining foreign policy issue of this administration; and his muddled stance on one of the most divisive social issues of the past 40 years. But The Note offered no counter-examples to rebut Krugman's argument that McCain "is not a maverick, a moderate, nor a straight talker."

Rather than "selective facts," some might consider Krugman's examples "salient" -- The Wall Street Journal editorial page, for one. No one's source for "liberal" commentary, the Journal noted on February 18: "And speaking of that election, the most intriguing vote on behalf of the tax cut this week was cast by Arizona's John McCain. He and two other Republicans opposed these same tax-rate cuts in 2003 on grounds that they added to the budget deficit. His opposition meant that Vice President Dick Cheney had to break a 50-50 tie to pass the lower rates. ... Our guess is that Mr. McCain may also be looking ahead to the 2008 GOP Presidential primaries, which won't be kind to candidates who've voted for tax increases."

While The Note complained about Krugman's use of "selective facts" to contest the notion that McCain is a straight-talking maverick, it has demonstrated no similar concern about the use of selective facts to promote that notion.

The Note did not criticize ABC News chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos when he asked McCain "[t]wo straight talk questions right at the top" of the February 6, 2005, edition of ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos. Nor did The Note challenge Stephanopoulos when he introduced McCain as "the maverick Senator with his eye on the White House" on the May 15, 2005, edition of This Week. The Note itself had no problem quoting Los Angeles Times columnist Ronald Brownstein on April 25, 2005, describing the hypothetical pairing of McCain and former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-NE) as the "all-maverick independent ticket" for the 2008 presidential campaign. Nor did it take issue with Brownstein's statement on January 17, 2005: "Until recently, complaints about the Pentagon's personnel strategy came from Democrats and a few maverick Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona." It appears that The Note has a problem with "selective facts" only when it disagrees with the conclusion.

Posted In
Government, The Senate
The Note
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