PolitiFact Ohio practices opinion journalism under the guise of fact-checking. They often get things wrong — particularly, we’ve noticed, in their coverage of U.S. Senate candidates Sherrod Brown (Democrat) and Josh Mandel (Republican). So we bring you PolitiFact or Fiction, a semi-regular review of pronouncements issued by PolitiFact Ohio, a blog run by staff at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and supported by Politifact.com.
By Jon Cassidy | Ohio Watchdog
To be held responsible for spreading damaging lies about a public figure, there has to be evidence that either you knew you were lying, or that you showed a reckless disregard for the truth.
With its latest unfounded attack on Republican senatorial candidate Josh Mandel’s honesty, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s PolitiFact Ohio operation is taking a flying leap past that standard and daring somebody to call them on it.
On Monday, the outfit hit Mandel with a sixth “Pants on Fire” ruling, not one of which stands up to scrutiny. That’s six accusations of dishonesty in the past year. Compare that to the number of Pants on Fire rulings the national PolitiFact operation has given to Democratic officeholders since the end of 2008: 10. That’s 10, total, for the past 3 1/2 years.
So, either Mandel lies at twice the rate of every single Democrat nationwide combined, or somebody at the Plain Dealer has it in for him.
The paper’s latest hatchet job on its own credibility was published Monday, and shows intrepid Occupy sympathizer Tom Feran revisiting a Mandel ad from May that PolitiFact had already evaluated. Surely, somebody who lies twice as much as every Democrat nationwide combined must have spewed out a few million lies since then. Why the retread?
The claim from the Mandel ad under evaluation: that U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sent billions of dollars overseas.
First, Mandel gets no points for originality. Anybody who votes for any number of appropriations or budget bills could be hit with the charge, which doesn’t mean much. The point has more to do with strategists’ perceptions of voter attitudes than it does with any policy questions. But it’s true, nonetheless.
Brown voted to approve the U.S. foreign aid budget, which should end the discussion. Feran rightly points out that foreign aid is a tiny part of the budget, and goes to many worthy programs, but what of it? It’s still billions going abroad.
As well, the federal government directly awarded $29 billion in contracts to foreign contractors in fiscal year 2011, according to a Bloomberg Government study. Brown voted for the budget and appropriations bills that permitted it, though he would surely be the first to argue for Buy American provisions.
That $29 billion isn’t some obscure number Feran couldn’t have found. It was all over the place during the recent Bain outsourcing discussions.
The specific point Mandel’s campaign was making is also entirely true: the 2009 stimulus bill sent billions of dollars to Chinese photovoltaic panel manufacturers. A little outfit called “World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer” had that that story. The kicker: Brown has gone so far as introducing legislation to stop it.
Feran tries to argue that Brown and Congress bear no responsibility for it because the program was administered by the administration, as government so often is. But even that all-purpose argument fails, as the stimulus bill included $92 billion specifically for green energy. Direct spending, tax breaks and research funding just for 2010 were $14.7 billion.
The results of solar subsidies were predictable. The U.S. should have used the subsidies for new technologies, not photovoltaic panels, which the Chinese crank out cheaply en masse, said Gary Hunt, president of Scalable Growth Strategy Advisors, an energy technology consultancy.
“If the U.S. and E.U. are going to use subsidies, at least subsidize the newest, best wind and solar technologies, not the oldest, least efficient, commoditized products like PV panels,” he said. “That makes no sense.”
The subsidies for installing solar created an immediate boom in Chinese photovoltaic imports, which went from $640 million in 2009 to $3.1 billion in 2011, according to the Commerce Department.
Brown introduced a bill with U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in May to “bar Chinese-made solar panels from qualifying for the 30 percent tax credit that U.S. individuals and businesses receive for purchasing and installing solar panels in their homes and businesses,” according to Brown’s news release.
Brown may play the populist, but he understands enough economics to know that those imports are paid for with dollars from the Treasury.
The problem is that his proposal would be illegal under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which regulates international trade, and the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade Related Investment Measures, according to international trade attorney Scott Lincicome.
The fact-checkers don’t hold Brown’s support for illegal, discriminatory subsidies against him. Rather, it’s their basis for calling reality false. Billions of American dollars may be flowing overseas thanks to a law Brown voted for, but the important thing here is that Brown has an opinion about it. Let’s all gather round and listen. He thinks it’s a shame! Somebody write a press release!
That’s actually the second time PolitiFact Ohio has used that exact train of illogic to launch an attack on Mandel.
In May — in the exact same ad we just reviewed — Mandel said Brown “gave bonuses to executives.” Now, that’s wrong. Brown didn’t pull out a few hundred million from his pocket and give it to AIG executives. He didn’t sit in on their annual performance reviews, either. What he did was vote to give them our money, which they then put in their own pockets.
But, PolitiFact hollers, he totally didn’t want to give the executives bonuses. He even voted to illegally ban the bonuses, so he shouldn’t be held responsible for them. The measure to ban bonuses was dropped from the final version of the TARP bailout, because the Constitution forbids “impairing the Obligation of Contracts.”
The $700 billion TARP bailout was approved with Brown’s support, and taxpayers are still owed more than $100 billion that may never be repaid. That includes some $25 billion the government now expects to lose on the General Motors bailout alone.
It’s becoming a rule with PolitiFact Ohio: Brown’s not responsible for any of the unintended consequences of his votes, so long as he speaks out against them, and anyone who holds him to account is a pants-on-fire liar. Conclusive facts are something to be brushed aside.
Consider this corollary of PolitiFact’s argument: Out of the trillions of dollars the government spends in a globalized economy, no more than a few hundred million go anywhere outside the boundaries of the states and territories. It’s ludicrous, but that’s the sort of water Feran is carrying for Brown.
Feran acknowledged reading several articles that listed billions going overseas. By refusing to acknowledge their plain meaning in order to further an obvious vendetta, he’s gone from bad opinion writing to the sort of knowing falsehood and reckless disregard for the truth that constitute actual malice, the standard in libel cases.
The other four “Pants on Fire” rulings he and his colleagues have concocted to slander Mandel aren’t quite as bad. They range from wrong to stupid. We’ve already refuted one. We’ll be back for the rest.
- OH: PolitiFact or Fiction No. 1: Does anyone at Cleveland Plain Dealer understand finance?
- OH: PolitiFact or Fiction No. 2: How Democrat Sherrod Brown would manage Major League Baseball
- OH: PolitiFactChecking PolitiFact No. 3: Rep. Sherrod Brown’s problem with numbers
- PolitiFact or Fiction No. 4: Grade inflation in Ohio’s U.S. Senate race
- PolitiFact or Fiction No. 5: Is the trade deficit $2 billion a day?
- PolitiFact or Fiction No. 6: PolitiFact struggles to count to two
- OH: PolitiFact or Fiction No. 7 — A double-standard for half-truths
- OH: PolitiFact slams GOP spokeswoman for ‘literally true’ statement
- OH: PolitiFact or Fiction No. 9: Obamacare is biggest tax hike in U.S. history
- OH: PolitiFact does hatchet job on its own credibility
- CASSIDY: PolitiFact lets Biden get away with distortion
- OH: PolitiFact claim in Brown ad refuted by PolitiFact
- FL: PolitFact or Fiction: Double standard on the Mack Penny Plan
- OH: Top 4 PolitiFact Fails of the year
- PolitiFact Fail No. 3: ‘There is no war on coal’
- PolitiFact Fail No. 2: OH senate candidate’s pants? Never on fire
- PolitiFact’s ‘Lie of the Year’ is the lie of the year