Bill Adair | Media Matters for America

Bill Adair

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  • Memo To Politifact: Conservatives Lie About The Stimulus All The Time

    Conservatives Also Falsely Claim That Obama Apologizes For America All The Time

    Blog ››› ››› MARCUS FELDMAN

    Politifact, the St.Petersburg Times fact-checking organization, has unveiled its annual "lie of the year" for 2011: the statement that "Republicans voted to end Medicare." This designation is deeply flawed, given that the assertion that "Republicans voted to end Medicare" is arguably a true statement.

    But that isn't all that was wrong with Politifact's decision. Politifact's Editor Bill Adair wrote an editor's note trying to explain why Politifact's editors did not choose something else as their "lie of the year." And the explanation rings hollow.

    Regarding the false claim that the stimulus created "zero jobs" (the winner in Politifact's reader poll), Politifact stated that "it was more a falsehood from last year." Similarly, regarding the false claim that Obama has traveled the world and "apologized for America," Adair noted that Romney says this repeatedly but claimed that "it wasn't picked up much by other candidates and didn't reach critical mass."

    When asked about his explanation about the "zero jobs" lie by Media Matters' Joe Strupp, Adair said that the Lie of the Year "is a subjective decision of Politifact editors. ... [I]t's not based on data points."

    Given how often the lies about the stimulus and the Obama apology tour were repeated by conservatives, it may have been helpful for Politifact to look at "data points" rather than just their editors' "subjective" sense of how widespread the lie was.

  • Politifact's Flawed "Lie of The Year" Selection Only Encourages More Lying

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    In naming as its 2011 "Lie of the Year" a statement that is, at worst, arguably true, Politifact has inadvertently said more about itself and the media's failure to adequately combat the lies and deception that act as a cancer on American democracy.

    Politifact's assertion that it is a lie to say "Republicans voted to end Medicare" -- and that this is the most important lie of the year -- suffers from some basic flaws: Republicans did, in fact, vote to end Medicare; and Politifact overlooked actual lies that have had and continue to have a profound and debilitating effect on the nation's attempts to come out of lingering economic troubles.

    Politifact's "Lie of the Year" announcement provides little in the way of actual evidence that the claim is a lie, instead referring readers to previous efforts for its substantive case, such as it is. The weakness of Politifact's ruling that the House GOP budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) did not "end Medicare" can be seen in its April 20, 2011, explanation:

    One of the its major features is dramatically restructuring Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for those 65 and older. Right now, Medicare pays doctors and hospitals set fees for the care beneficiaries receive. [...] In 2022 [under the GOP plan] new beneficiaries would receive "premium support," which means they would buy plans from private insurance companies with financial assistance from the government. [...]the Republican plan would be a huge change to the current program, and seniors would have to pay more for their health plans if it becomes law. [...] Both Republicans and Democrats would no doubt agree that Ryan's plan for Medicare is a dramatic change of course. But we don't agree with the ad's contention that the proposal ends Medicare.

    So, according to Politifact, the House Republican plan constitutes a "dramatic restructuring" of Medicare, a "huge change to the current program," and a "dramatic change of course" by ending the direct payment of fees for service and replacing it with a voucher program. In its "Lie of the Year" write-up, Politifact again concedes the GOP plan "dramatically changed the program [for people currently under age 55] by privatizing it and providing government subsidies." That's ending Medicare, just as replacing the armed services with government vouchers for private bodyguards would be ending the U.S. military. As Igor Volsky wrote earlier this month, "closing the traditional fee-for-service program, and forcing seniors to enroll in new private coverage, ends Medicare by eliminating everything that has defined the program for the last 46 years."

    But Politifact concluded in April that "we don't agree [...] that the proposal ends Medicare." That should set off some alarm bells: As fact-checks go, "we don't agree" is remarkably weak tea. As justification for naming something the "Lie of the Year," it's an embarrassment.

    Paul Krugman and Dan Kennedy and Steve Benen and Jonathan Cohn and Jonathan Chait and Matthew Yglesias and David Weigel, among countless others, have debunked Politifact's ruling, which holds that as long as something called "Medicare" has something to do with health care for the elderly, it's a lie to say the program has ended, no matter how "dramatic" the "change of course" has been. Even Robert VerBruggen of the conservative National Review has written that Politifact "does not make a good case" and that the Democratic claim does not "rise to the level of 'lie,' much less 'Lie of the Year.'"

    The incoherence of Politifact's ruling is driven home by its repeated statements that the claim "end Medicare as we know it" is significantly different from -- and more justifiable than -- the statement "end Medicare." This is nonsensical hair-splitting. Medicare isn't a broad concept; it's a specific, concrete program. Ending it "as we know it" is ending it. Otherwise, ending it would require ending it as we don't know it, which would be a neat trick. (Revealingly, Politifact has been confused by their own hair-splitting: After having declared "as we know it" a crucial qualifier on multiple occasions, they shifted course and claimed "the GOP proposal does not 'end Medicare as we know it.'")

  • Good Sign? Amanpour continues This Week's relationship with

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    As much as novelty fact-checking (news outlets creating fact-check gimmicks when it should be a normal part of reporting) may be trivializing an important issue, it's good to see Christiane Amanpour continuing the practice on ABC's This Week which she helmed for the first time as its new host this weekend.

    Back in April, This Week guest-host Jack Tapper partnered with to offer fact-checks each week of ABC's important Sunday show.

    PolitiFact editor Bill Adair told Media Matters, "I met with This Week's executive producer Ian Cameron a few weeks ago and we decided that we really liked how it was going and that it was a valuable service for This Week's viewers and PolitiFact readers." Adding, "so, we decided to keep it going."

    Thus far, This Week remains the only Sunday morning network political talk show to offer an independent fact-check. Media Matters' partner organization Political Correction has been providing fact-checks of the Sunday shows for seven months.


  • Stephen Colbert on fact-checking the Sunday shows

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    Last week, we noted that ABC's This Week would begin working with to provide a weekly fact-check of the Sunday show. Said's Bill Adair in making the announcement:

    Jake Tapper, the interim host of This Week, liked the suggestion and asked us to fact-check the show on a trial basis. So starting this Sunday, we'll be fact-checking the newsmakers who appear on the program. We'll post the items on our home page and on the show's Web site. The items will also be archived on PolitiFact's This Week page, so you'll be able to check back periodically and see how the newsmakers are doing.

    Stephen Colbert, host of Comedy Central's Colbert Report, isn't pleased. As he puts it:

    I don't care about facts. I gut-check my show. I say, "gut, does that feel true to you," and gut says, "yes it does Stephen, let's get a grilled cheese sandwich."

    Colbert also ribbed David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet the Press, for this disappointing statement:

    People can fact-check Meet the Press every Sunday on their own terms.

    I hope Gregory will come to his senses. It would do all Sunday show viewers a great deal of good if Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday (and the cable/syndicated ones too) followed This Week's lead rather than Colbert's, which is how they seem to do it now.

  • Pssst... Sunday rivals of ABC's This Week, the ball is in your court

    Blog ››› ››› KARL FRISCH

    For a while now Media Matters Action Network, our partner organization, has been offering up fact-checks of the vaunted Sunday morning network political talk shows. Media Matters president Eric Burns announced the endeavor in January:

    Every Sunday morning, some of the country's most powerful and influential legislators, government officials, journalists, and newsmakers appear as guests on network talk shows. The programs -- ABC's This Week, CBS' Face the Nation, NBC's Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday -- occupy a unique place in our media landscape. As the agenda-setters for the next week's worth of political news, they shape conventional wisdom and determine the terms of debate on crucial issues.

    These shows also present a critical opportunity to educate the public and correct damaging misinformation -- a responsibility that too often fails to be met. As New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen has explained, the Sunday show format is broken. Shows like Meet the Press and Face the Nation routinely serve largely as hyper-partisan forums that provide little in the way of fact-checking.

    To begin addressing these problems, Rosen offered a simple and valuable suggestion: in order to hold politicians and media figures accountable, the networks should produce mid-week fact-checks of the statements made on their Sunday shows. It was an idea that quickly received the support of CNN's Howard Kurtz.

    We're not holding our breath while the network heads decide whether or not to act. Instead, we're announcing the creation of a new Media Matters product. Every Monday morning, the Media Matters Action Network will publish a memo correcting the conservative misinformation that was left unchallenged the day before. Over time, we hope that our work will help contribute to a culture of accountability that is currently lacking on Sunday morning.

    Good thing we didn't hold our breath because it took nearly four months for one of the shows to move on the idea.

    ABC's This Week, which announced last month that CNN's Christiane Amanpour will be taking over as host, is set to make another major change. Writing about Rosen's suggested fact-checking of the Sunday shows,'s Bill Adair makes the announcement:

    Jake Tapper, the interim host of This Week, liked the suggestion and asked us to fact-check the show on a trial basis. So starting this Sunday, we'll be fact-checking the newsmakers who appear on the program. We'll post the items on our home page and on the show's Web site. The items will also be archived on PolitiFact's This Week page, so you'll be able to check back periodically and see how the newsmakers are doing.

    It's great to see Tapper -- who regularly seeks input for the show on Twitter as well -- take this great advice, even if it is only on a "trial basis" thus far. Perhaps Amanpour will follow Tapper's lead and make the partnership permanent when she takes over hosting duties.

    So, to the other Sunday shows -- NBC's Meet the Press, CBS' Face the Nation, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday (and the cable/syndicated ones too, you know who you are) -- the ball is officially in your court.

  • MSNBC's Brewer and PolitiFact's Adair did not note that McCain falsely claimed Palin "sold" jet on eBay and "made a profit"

    ››› ››› MEREDITH ADAMS

    On MSNBC,'s Bill Adair said that Gov. Sarah Palin's claim to have put a jet airplane owned by the state of Alaska on the Internet auction site eBay was true and noted that "[t]he state was unsuccessful selling it on eBay, and they had to hire an aircraft broker to sell it, ended up selling it for considerably less than the state had paid for it." However, neither Adair nor Contessa Brewer noted that Sen. John McCain falsely claimed that Palin "took the luxury jet that was acquired by her predecessor and sold it on eBay. And made a profit."

  • PolitiFact's Adair falsely suggested his site found equal lack of truth this summer from Obama and McCain camps

    ››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN editor Bill Adair falsely suggested that Sen. Barack Obama's and Sen. John McCain's campaigns have been equally guilty of making what PolitiFact has characterized as inaccurate claims in public statements and political ads this summer. In fact, since June 7, 57 percent of Obama's claims assessed by PolitiFact were rated "mostly true" or better, while 62 percent of McCain's statements assessed by PolitiFact were described as "half true" or worse. Further, McCain has twice received PolitiFact's sharpest critique, "pants on fire," a designation not given to any Obama statement.

  • falsely claimed McCain opposed 2001 Bush tax cuts because they should be "balanced by spending cuts"

    ››› ››› MATT GERTZ asserted that "[i]n 2001, [Sen. John] McCain voted against a $1.35-trillion tax cut package, arguing that the tax cuts should be balanced by spending cuts." This assertion is false. While McCain now claims that was his reason for voting against the tax cuts in 2001, that was not the reason he gave at the time of the vote itself. In a floor statement, McCain did not mention the absence of offsetting spending cuts; rather, he stated: "I cannot in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief."