Jay Ambrose -The fact-checker threat


The GOP convention escaped a once-threatening hurricane, but can that gathering and the rest of the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan campaign escape fact-checkers who themselves sometimes need checking for fairness, common sense and honesty?

Every time you look up, some fact checker has managed to see the truth as if through the eyes of President Barack Obama, and meanwhile, the very identification of those in the trade as "fact checkers" is deceptive. That designation implies that all they do is verify the verifiable when what they really do is gather information that probably isn't the whole story, interpret it and arrive at an opinion about it.

There is nothing wrong with that last part. It's what I do. It's what all opinion columnists do. The only thing wrong with it is passing it off as something it is not, especially when liberal bias then hits you between the eyes. To be sure, some fact checkers are very, very good and bend over backwards to distinguish between what might be interpretation and what might be fact, although they still come to personal conclusions under a heading that's usually misleading.

The latest assault of fact checkers is the conclusion of some of them that the Romney campaign was way off base in saying the Obama administration ended the work requirement in what used to be Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The administration certainly moved in that direction. It illegally revised a reform statute to tell states they could come up with their own work requirement plans and did not have to stick to what the law says. It also gave them goals of continuing to get people off the welfare rolls through work rules.

So there you have it, some fact checkers say: goals that keep requirements in place, if with some differences. If they had probed more deeply, they would have noticed that there are a whole bunch of ways state bureaucrats can fudge on those goals and get by with it. And if they were not so politically naive, they might have figured out that it wasn't just an accident that someone like Peter Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University, was cheering the administration moves so loudly. Edelman resigned from the Clinton administration in protest of the reform measure, talking about children being thrown into poverty.

The reform, which had more to it than the work requirements, of course, did not throw children into poverty. It was a success. The old program led to an increase in fatherless homes that then led to more destitution, more crime, and less education. The work requirements applied to just a minority of recipients and allowed for activities such as job training if no jobs were available. But it did help get people into work and, by at least some testimony, left them more satisfied than living on what writer Star Parker has called "Uncle Sam's plantation."

The liberalism of much of the press is no question mark -- for the second time, a public editor of The New York Times has confirmed that paper's leftist urges -- and we see it in all kinds of ways besides fact checkers gone awry. I was recently struck by the enthusiastic, round-the-clock attention paid to one stupid remark about pregnancy and rape by a Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri. I do not recall anywhere near that kind of reaction to revelations in 2008 of how Obama, as an Illinois state senator, voted against efforts to save babies born after bungled abortion attempts.

In his book, Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, social scientist Tim Groseclose presents convincing evidence that media bias has a major impact on public opinion and even said Sen. John McCain would have beaten Obama in the presidential election in 2008 if coverage had been balanced. Romney is up against more than Obama this year. He is up against many of my fellow journalists, although I do not assert that as a fact. It's just my opinion.

(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.)

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