Is it worth trying to improve on FactCheck.org?

I’m on record calling Annenberg Fact Check, perhaps better known as FactCheck.org, the gold standard for mainstream fact checking.  At the same time I’m trying to make the case that there’s ample room for competition.  There’s potential to supplant today’s gold standard with an improved standard.

A Nov. 14 story by former PolitiFact writer Robert Farley serves as an example.  Farley writes about John Boehner‘s citation of an Ernst & Young study of the long-run effects of eliminating the Bush tax cuts on higher income earners, thus effectively raising their tax rates.

Farley:

 

There’s an important caveat in there that some may miss; the projection assumes the revenue generated by raising taxes on those making over $250,000 would be “used to finance additional government spending.” The report did not examine what would happen if the additional revenue were used to reduce future federal deficits. As we noted when the report was raised during the vice presidential debate, Moody’s chief economist, Mark Zandi, called that omission “odd” and said, “It seems to me that is the more relevant scenario. And my sense is that if they did, the results would be very different.”

In its analysis of fiscal cliff alternatives, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office assumed that “a significant part of the decrease in taxes (relative to those under current law) would be saved rather than spent.”

 

In his first paragraph above, Farley starts to make a potentially valid point about the method used in the Ernst & Young study.  The second paragraph is completely irrelevant.

Farley appears to argue that the CBO study comes to a conclusion opposed to the one used in the Ernst & Young study, to the effect that tax revenue would go toward deficit reduction.  But the CBO study says nothing of the kind in that section.  Rather, it’s saying that taxpayers will save the money rather than spend it if the Bush tax cuts get extended.  It has nothing to do with what how the government would use the tax revenue.

It’s very difficult to see any way that information would contribute to Farley’s story in that section. Read as what it means in its original context, it makes Farley look like he’s inserting an irrelevant factoid in the middle of his otherwise substantive critique.  Farley’s next paragraph cements that impression, as it recounts Farley’s communications with Boehner’s office trying to address the potential methodological flaw in the Ernst & Young study.

It seems more likely that Farley misinterpreted the CBO report than to suppose he cluttered his fact check with information interrupting the train of thought.

Yes, FactCheck.org is a vulnerable frontrunner.  These cases occur more often than people think.

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