This is how the media 'fact checks' Obama?
In an extraordinary move, the Washington Post is now 'fact checking' Barack Obama by interpreting what he might have meant to say, rather than what he actually said.
The Post's Monday Fact Checker column was actually little more than a pretext to rationalize Obama's statement last week "that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law (Obamacare) that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress."
According to the Post, "we don't know whether the president's factual error was a mere slip-up or a purposeful attempt to mislead." Further the Post went on to claim, "we generally don't beat people over the head for off-the-cuff remarks."
Yeah? Try telling that to Joe Wilson.
Then the Post took the unprecedented, extraordinary step of incorporating later comments by Obama into the statement they were supposed to be fact-checking:
We removed the word "unprecedented," since Obama walked that back, and we inserted the word "economic" before "law," since the president added that distinction in his follow-up. We kept the word "extraordinary" and the part about judicial activism, since Obama never backed away from any of that.
And I'd just remind conservative commentators that for years what we've heard is, the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint -- that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law. Well, this is a good example. And I'm pretty confident that this court will recognize that and not take that step.
Here's how the original comments would read in light of the president's clarifying remarks:
Ultimately, I'm confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning an [economic] law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.
This, then is apparently the media's new standard in fact-checking Obama: Check, not what he said, but what we think he probably meant to say. In other words, check what Obama said ... in the most positive way possible.
Even using that Orwellian standard, the Post admitted that Obama was just flat-out wrong when he said Obamacare passed Congress with a strong majority, and that:
It's worth noting that the White House keeps changing its tune on how the public should interpret Obama's comments. On Friday, a spokesman told us the president was referring to "major economic legislation." So now we've gone from altogether "unprecedented," to "economic issues" to just "major economic legislation."
And after twisting Obama's words into what could be argued is the best possible light, the Post had to conclude:
First of all, the president has a rather distorted view of what constitutes a "strong majority" if he thinks the Affordable Care Act vote makes the cut. Not only was the victory achieved by a margin of just a few votes in the House, but the supporters were from only one political party-his own.
Second, Obama's remarks implied that the Supreme Court would be acting in extreme fashion by overturning the health-care law. That isn't necessarily true. Some would say that invalidating an economic regulation isn't extraordinary at all.
Still, the Post's re-framing of Obama's statement somehow allowed them to only give Obama two Pinochios on their four Pinochio scale. And it kind of makes you wonder what the public would think if they read a fact-check of what Obama actually said, as compared to the Post's edited version of his remarks.
-William Tate is an award-winning journalist and author