Fact-checkers tackle Mitt Romney's RNC speech; fact-checker-checkers caution readers

Published: Friday, Aug. 31 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Other instances that have been cited as "apologies" include the "reset button" Secretary of State Hilary Clinton gave to Russia and scrapping the missile defense agreements with Poland and the Czech Republic. President Obama has also been criticized for bowing to foreign leaders.

The Washington Post gave the "apology tour" claim a false rating in 2011 because "in none of these cases does Obama actually use a word at all similar to 'apologize.'"

"In the early months of his presidency, Obama had a way of backing into his answers, starting off with a humble tone (just as I suspect the Brits . . . ) that some supporters of American power may have found grating. But snippets of his answers do not do justice to his complete remarks," Glenn Kessler wrote. "The claim that Obama repeatedly has apologized for the United States is not borne out by the facts, especially if his full quotes are viewed in context. Obama often was trying to draw a rhetorical distinction between his policies and that of President Bush, a common practice when the presidency changed parties."

Kessler repeated his "four Pinocchios" rating after Romney's speech Thursday.

The Washington Post uses a Pinocchio rating, from one to four. It also includes the "Geppetto checkmark" for statements ranked as "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," an upside-down Pinocchio for "a statement that represents a clear but unacknowledged 'flip-flop' from a previously-held position" and the "withholding judgment" evaluation.

In 2010, PolitiFact rated a chapter in Romney's book as "false" for saying, "In his first nine months in office, President Obama has issued apologies and criticisms of America in speeches in France, England, Turkey, and Cairo; at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and the United Nations in New York City. He has apologized for what he deems to be American arrogance, dismissiveness, and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally, and for acting without regard for others; for treating other countries as mere proxies, for unjustly interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, and for feeding anti-Muslim sentiments; for committing torture, for dragging our feet on global warming and for selectively promoting democracy."

PolitiFact uses a grading system of true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false and "pants on fire."

PolitiFact re-rated the "apology tour" claim after Romney's speech Thursday, saying the same claim was even more false than before and giving it a "pants on fire" rating.

After Romney accused Obama of "gutting" welfare reform — a claim The Washington Post gave four Pinocchios and welfare expert Robert Rector said is true — Romney told The Hill that fact-checkers on both sides of the aisle will look at issues in a way they think is most consistent with their own views.

While fact-checkers have been hitting Romney, others have been hitting the fact-checkers.

Investor's Business Daily accused the "mainstream press" of abusing the fact-check label, saying it was being used to "more aggressively push a liberal agenda without feeling the need to provide any balance whatsoever."

"The new journalistic subgenre of 'fact-checking' and the criticism it engenders are a microcosm of a decades-long trend in journalism away from objectivity and back to the historic trend of opinion journalism," economic sociologist Gabriel Rossman wrote for National Review.

Gabriel Malor at the New York Daily News wrote that he understands why media fact-checking is so popular now, but that fact-checking organizations are "merely writing op-eds by another name."

"Assigning truth values to the silly things elected officials say is entertaining and, often, enlightening," Malor wrote. "But as fact-checking becomes less about checking fact and more about checking opinions, attention will fade."

Bryan White, who co-founded PolitiFactBias, compiled a tally showing PolitiFact had assigned 119 "pants on fire" ratings for Republicans and conservatives, as opposed to only 13 for liberal or Democratic claims.

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