In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton told the American people that he hadn’t lied to a grand jury about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky because, on the day he said “there’s nothing going on between us,” nothing was going on.
While that line has been a joke among the American people ever since, it looks like PolitiFact took the lesson to heart in two recent fact-checks that include some Olympic-level rhetorical gymnastics.
In September, PolitiFact gave Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) a rating of “Half True” for saying that the executive producer of “Saturday Night Live” could be jailed if a Democratic constitutional amendment to prevent political speech became the law of the land. According to PolitiFact’s analysis, Cruz was literally correct — but its rating claimed that his statement was half-wrong, anyway (emphasis added):
Cruz said that “Lorne Michaels could be put in jail under this amendment for making fun of any politician.”
Most experts we talked to agreed that the proposed amendment’s language left open the door to that possibility. But many of those same experts emphasized that prosecuting, much less imprisoning, a comedian for purely political speech would run counter to centuries of American tradition, and would face many obstacles at a variety of government levels and run headlong into popular sentiment.
In the big picture, Cruz makes a persuasive case that it’s not a good idea to mess with the First Amendment. Still, his SNL scenario is far-fetched. The claim is partially accurate but leaves out important details, so we rate it Half True.
According to Dictionary.com, the word “could” means “to express possibility” and “conditional possibility or ability.” In other words, Cruz was literally correct — and should have been given a rating of “True,” which is something PolitiFact admitted even as it gave a different rating.
More recently, PolitiFact looked at a statement by Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who is in a tightening race with former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown. In an ad, Shaheen said that Brown — when he was a politician in Massachusetts — “pushed for a law to force women considering abortion — force them — to look at color photographs of developing fetuses.”
PolitiFact ranked this statement as “accurate but [needing] clarification,” and gave it a “Mostly True” rating.
However, like its Cruz rating, PolitiFact ignored its own analysis and a basic dictionary definition in giving this ranking. From its so-called “fact-check,” with emphasis added:
The measure backed by Brown nine years ago made sure that women were provided photos of developing fetuses, along with a lot more information. It certainly forced doctors and their representatives to provide this information to women seeking abortions — except in cases of emergency — and it ensured women received the information both through verbal questions and a signed consent form.
Brown has a point that the bill wouldn’t have “forced” them to look at color photographs — but it did just about everything else it could possibly do up to that line.
This statement is accurate but needs clarification, so we rate it Mostly True.
Back to our trusty Dictionary.com, we see that the word “forced” means “enforced or compulsory.” As its analysis shows, PolitiFact found that the failed measure backed by Brown would have forced women to receive information, and forced medical professionals to give the information, and would have forced women to affirm they received the information. But nowhere was it compulsory for women to look at what they were given, as PolitiFact noted in the bolded section of its analysis.
To be clear: This is not a defense of Brown’s reprehensible position on abortion. But as it has done many times before, PolitiFact’s rating shows that its biases lie not with reality, but with the promotion of liberal narratives to the public.