"He lies!", they commanded

This August, Halperin, now working at Time, made much the same point on MSNBC. The names of the candidates had changed, but not the relatively dishonest political party: “At this point I think the Romney campaign is besting them in making these distortions and untruths a bigger part of their message.” His remarks made less of a splash this time around, but in both cases he was speaking for many of his peers in that large portion of the press that professes no explicit ideological commitments — and for even more of his peers in the most influential portions of that portion.

Halperin may have gotten less attention this time because so many reporters were already acting on his conclusion — now aided by the “fact-checking” institutions that have proliferated in the media between the two election years. Twice this year, the fact-checkers have turned up the volume against a politician for lying too much. The first target was Paul Ryan in his convention speech, the second Mitt Romney in his first debate with Obama. In the second case, the media’s take coincided, to say no more, with that of the Democrats. Romney having pretty clearly bested Obama, the Democrats were left with little to say other than that the Republican had done it by lying.

The conceit of the fact-checkers is that their claims are objectively true: A politician has said X, the truth is Y, and the size of the difference is the magnitude of the lie. Every stage of the fact-checking process, however, involves the exercise of judgment.

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