Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

Debunking the bogus claims of the self-appointed truth keepers.

Early and often in Tuesday’s debate Barack Obama accused Mitt Romney of misrepresenting the facts. “Very little of what Governor Romney said is true,” the president declared in response to his opponent’s answer on a question on oil. Even the moderator got into the act of fact-checking the Republican nominee. CNN reporter Candy Crowley took Obama’s side on the administration’s immediate characterization of the attack on the Benghazi consulate—which the president connected to a YouTube video six times in a United Nations speech—as terrorism.

But on Libya, as on Obama’s seemingly benign fib “I was raised by a single mom,” the truth lost Tuesday’s debate.

Reality Check: Production of oil on federal lands is up under the Obama administration

When Mitt Romney charged that Barack Obama had slashed federal permits for oil exploration and that drilling on federal lands had declined, the president responded: “It’s just not true.” But according to the administration’s own figures, the amount of oil extracted from federal lands decreased 14 percent last year—just as the former Massachusetts governor claims. From year one of the Obama administration, oil recovered from federal lands has declined by 6 million barrels even as the nation’s appetite for oil has increased. Poliifact rated Romney’s air-tight claim a half-truth: “there’s nuance in the number. Production under Obama was hobbled due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.” But no matter the reason, oil production on federal lands is undeniably down.

Reality Check: Obama’s efforts have curtailed illegal immigration

“The flow of people across the border is the lowest it’s been in 40 years,” Obama proudly claimed Tuesday night. But with border apprehensions at one-sixth of its 2000 peak, this has less to do the president’s immigration policies than it does with his economic policies. “After four decades that brought 12 million current immigrants—most of whom came illegally—the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed,” the Pew Hispanic Center reported earlier this year. What changed? The U.S. has become a less attractive destination point for immigrants because of the struggling economy. In other words, for the first time in history, the U.S.-Mexican border experiences more southward than northward traffic.

Reality Check: Gas prices have increased because the economy has improved

Perhaps the most bizarre claim in Tuesday’s debate was Obama’s contention that Americans benefitted from low gas prices upon his ascension to the presidency “because the economy was on the verge of collapse, because we were about to go through the worst recession since the Great Depression.” Gas prices have more than doubled during Obama’s presidency. The president didn’t explain the correlation between high gas prices and a booming economy (doesn’t the gas-price juxtaposition of the struggling seventies with the booming eighties rebut this?). Neither FactCheck.com nor Politifact grappled with Obama’s weird claim. But the former organization remarkably took issue with Romney’s assertion that under Obama Americans have seen “incomes go down $4,300 a family, even as gasoline prices have gone up $2,000.” FactCheck.com noted that “Romney made the misleading claim that ‘gasoline prices have gone up $2,000.’ He’s making a claim about the average price of gasoline per year per household, not per vehicle.” Yes, Romney prefaced his remarks by referencing families, not vehicles. The watchdog/lapdog further stated that “the $2,000 figure is greatly inflated because gasoline prices were much higher during most of 2008 than they were at the moment Obama was sworn in.” USA Today’s “debate fact check” provided similar excuses, noting that gas prices were “going through a period of exceptional volatility when Obama took office” and that “prices are still 34 cents below their all-time high during the Bush administration.” What does any of this have to do with Romney’s solid claim that families have experienced a $2,000 boost at the pump under Obama?

Reality Check: President Obama immediately labeled the Benghazi attacks terrorism

Following the Benghazi attacks, the president vaguely declared in the Rose Garden: “No acts of terror will ever shake the great resolve of this nation.” That he did so immediately after a discussion of the 9/11 anniversary left observers to wonder if the word “terror” referenced the 9/11 attacks or to the attack on the Benghazi consulate. Perhaps the amorphousness of the statement is the point. The president wanted to claim that he had labeled the attacks terrorism without actually doing so. In fact, during that same Rose Garden speech, the president called the Benghazi attacks “senseless violence”—the very opposite of violence employed for a religious, political, or ideological purpose (i.e., terrorism).  “While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others,” the president said, “we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.”

Fact checkers, like candidates, have axes to grind. They are in the fray rather than above it. There is something fundamentally dishonest about a group of people awarding themselves fundamental honesty. The fact checkers need a reality check.

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