At some point, we may have to consider the possibility that certain media fact-checkers are not so dispassionate and free from partisan biases as they’d like us to believe.
PolitiFact has already stepped in it twice this week, publishing two false stories favoring Democratic candidates, and I suspect this number isn’t going to decline the closer we get to the November midterm elections.
The first bogus PolitiFact ruling, which gives a “mostly false” ruling to an absolutely true claim made in an ad by Arizona Republican Senate Candidate Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., still stands. The second bogus PolitiFact story, which originally gave a “false” ruling to a GOP ad claiming Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., once said “normal people” can afford to fly on private planes, has already been retracted and reissued with a new, still bogus ruling. It’s not even the weekend.
The GOP’s Senate Leadership Fund released an ad this week, titled "‘Normal' MO," focusing on McCaskill’s not particularly inexpensive love for traveling by private plane. Naturally, the ad sought to portray the senator as out-of-touch with her constituents.
"Claire even said this about private planes," the ad says before cutting to a video of McCaskill saying, "That ordinary people can afford it."
After the ad went live, PolitiFact was on the case, issuing a “false” ruling that concluded confidently, “Did Claire McCaskill say normal people can afford a private plane? No."
The video highlighted in the GOP ad comes from an August 2017 town hall event in Kennett, Missouri. That evening, a constituent asked of the senator, "You know, that’s one thing the United States has that nobody else has, is the freedom to fly around and be affordable where a normal person can afford it."
McCaskill responded, "Will you remind them when they come after me about my husband’s plane that normal people can afford it?"
The National Republican Senatorial Committee clipped the roughly 18-second interaction and posted it online. The brief video is the only thing PolitiFact reviewed before issuing its ruling, writing that "the audience member never said anything about private planes in the clip; he appears to be referencing the freedom and low cost of the overall U.S. commercial aviation system."
The only problem is: McCaskill herself confirmed the constituent was asking about traveling by private plane.
"He was just a regular guy and he has a small airplane," the senator told the Washington Free Beacon’s Brent Scher last year after the town hall event. "I was speaking to his concern that … it was going to be way too expensive for some folks to be able to use their small airplanes."
The Free Beacon article was published on Aug. 24, 2017. McCaskill’s remarks were readily available and easily accessible. Yet, PolitiFact missed them somehow.
On Wednesday, just hours after publishing its “false” ruling, PolitiFact unpublished its McCaskill story, claiming it would “re-evaluate” its original ruling in light of “new evidence.” And by “new evidence,” PolitiFact means they decided to watch a longer version of the Kennett town hall interaction. Why they didn’t do that in the first place is anyone's guess.
"[A]fter publication,” the group said in the re-evaluated version of its story, “we received more complete video of the question-and-answer session between McCaskill and a constituent that showed she was in fact responding to a question about private planes, as well as a report describing the meeting … We apologize for the error."
Amazingly enough, even after getting the full context and confirmation of McCaskill’s remarks, PolitiFact still only gives the GOP ad a “half true” rating, arguing the ad “exaggerated” the full meaning of what the senator was saying. In context, PolitiFact argues, McCaskill's comments “seem to refer to ‘normal' users of private planes, not to ‘normal' Americans more generally."
I ask again: With fact-checkers like this, who needs political spin doctors?