The Tennessean “fact check” skimps on context

Our fact check of Paul Ryan’s charge that the Obama administration called Syrian ruler Bashar Assad a “reformer” nearly carried a bonus critique of PolitiFact’s reporting of the context.

The problem?  The mainstream press appears to downplay the force of the Syrian crackdown prior to Clinton’s infamous statement on “Meet the Press.”  The Tennessean provides perhaps the best example so far with its fact check:


Demonstrations had been happening in Syria for about two weeks when she made those remarks.

As the conflict evolved into a civil war and Assad turned his military against his own people, Clinton and the White House have called on the Syrian ruler to step down.


It’s true that Syrian demonstrations had been going on in Syria for about two weeks.  But it’s also true that government forces had been shooting at the demonstrators for about that long:


President Bashar al-Assad made a rare public pledge to look into granting Syrians greater freedom on Thursday as anger mounted following attacks by security forces on protesters that left at least 37 dead.


That was reported on March 24, 2011.  Clinton appeared on “Meet the Press” on March 27, 2011.  So the historical context included more than “demonstrations.”  It included bloody repression of the demonstrations.

A report missing that detail counts as incomplete.  And it tends to do Secretary of State Clinton a favor.

Here’s the PolitiFact version:


On March 18, security forces opened fire on protesters in Deraa, killing at least four, according to Human Rights Watch. “Within days, the protests grew into rallies that gathered thousands of people,” according to Human Rights Watch.

The comment Ryan referenced came just over a week after the killings in Deraa, on the March 27, 2012, edition of CBS’ Face the Nation, which included an appearance by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Schieffer asked Clinton how the situation in Syria was different than in Libya, where the U.S. took action against a repressive government.


At least four dead versus at least 37 dead.  Does it make a difference?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.