Newspapers and other media sources insist that their mission is to keep Americans well-informed and cognizant of the facts. Those tasks fall to editors, who are supposed to exercise discretion and judgment on articles that appear in their publication. The Washington Post even employs a well-read fact checker, Glenn Kessler, who receives both praise and scorn from both sides depending on whose ox he’s goring at the moment, but one in whom the editors apparently have confidence.
That brings us to today’s column from Eugene Robinson. Robinson picks up on a MarketWatch report to accuse Mitt Romney of “lies” in his campaigning and of distorting the truth:
There are those who tell the truth. There are those who distort the truth. And then there’s Mitt Romney.
Every political campaign exaggerates and dissembles. This practice may not be admirable — it’s surely one reason so many Americans are disenchanted with politics — but it’s something we’ve all come to expect. Candidates claim the right to make any boast or accusation as long as there’s a kernel of veracity in there somewhere.
Even by this lax standard, Romney too often fails. Not to put too fine a point on it, he lies. Quite a bit.
“Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history,” Romney claims on his campaign Web site. This is utterly false. The truth is that spending has slowed markedly under Obama.
An analysis published last week by MarketWatch, a financial news Web site owned by Dow Jones & Co., compared the yearly growth of federal spending under presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. Citing figures from the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, MarketWatch concluded that “there has been no huge increase in spending under the current president, despite what you hear.”
Now, this statement sounds pretty strong, only … the same newspaper that published it today debunked that claim last week. Glenn Kessler gave the Obama campaign three Pinocchios for adopting MarketWatch’s flawed analysis:
Under these figures, and using this calculator, with 2008 as the base year and ending with 2012, the compound annual growth rate for Obama’s spending starting in 2009 is 5.2 percent. Starting in 2010 — Nutting’s first year — and ending with 2013, the annual growth rate is 3.3 percent. (Nutting had calculated the result as 1.4 percent.)
Of course, it takes two to tangle — a president and a Congress. Obama’s numbers get even higher if you look at what he proposed to spend, using CBO’s estimates of his budgets:
2012: $3.71 trillion (versus $3.65 trillion enacted)
2011: $3.80 trillion (versus $3.60 trillion enacted)
2010: $3.67 trillion (versus $3.46 trillion enacted)
So in every case, the president wanted to spend more money than he ended up getting. Nutting suggests that federal spending flattened under Obama, but another way to look at it is that it flattened at a much higher, post-emergency level — thanks in part to the efforts of lawmakers, not Obama. …
In the post-war era, federal spending as a percentage of the U.S. economy has hovered around 20 percent, give or take a couple of percentage points. Under Obama, it has hit highs not seen since the end of World War II — completely the opposite of the point asserted by Carney.
Kessler wasn’t alone, either. The Associated Press ripped claims from the Obama White House on spending a couple of days later. So did Jake Tapper of ABC News. But it’s the complete disregard for the Post’s own analysis that is so stunning in the decision to publish Robinson’s column. Robinson does mention one fact checker, but it’s not Kessler, who dismantled MarketWatch’s analysis; it’s from PolitiFact, which has been roundly criticized for its “Mostly True” score on this point. It’s as if Kessler doesn’t exist at all at the Washington Post, which Kessler himself must find either amusing or somewhat disturbing this morning.
In that light, Robinson’s column looks like an exercise in projection. Robinson calls Romney a liar, and then offers this amusing accusation as well:
[Romney] seems to believe voters are too dumb to discover what the facts really are — or too jaded to care.
On both counts, I disagree.
Maybe Romney thinks that certain columnists are too dumb to discover what the facts really are on their own, or are too partisan to care. On both counts, at least in regard to Robinson, Romney would be correct in thinking so. It’s at least the most glaring example of projection in the media in quite some time.
The larger question remains, though: do Washington Post editors read their own newspaper? If so, how did they approve a column with claims which their own analyst had already proven false?