Earlier this year, most news stories about the Ohio U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown and Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, his Republican opponent, included a reference to Mandel’s supposed troubles with honesty or his specific troubles with PolitiFact, the national fact-checking news organization.
Since Ohio Watchdog and other publications have started pointing out the endless flaws in PolitiFact Ohio’s journalism, we’ve noticed those references have dropped off.
That hasn’t stopped Sherrod Brown. Like the Mitt Romney campaign that Democrats love to hate, Brown’s campaign, apparently, will not be dictated by fact-checkers.
On Friday, Brown put out another ad attacking Mandel, this time asserting that PolitiFact has given Mandel the dubious honor of the lyingist liar in Ohio politics.
The ad is seriously flawed. For example, it’s strange that a 30-second commercial meant to call Mandel a liar doesn’t cite any actual lies.
The ad says “the rating of Ohio’s investment fund has not improved,” but Mandel never said it did. Then it moves on to complaints about board meetings and travel that have nothing to do with honesty.
The whole Mandel’s-a-liar narrative traces directly back to the insidious work of PolitiFact Ohio — the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s franchise of the national fact-checking operation — and in particular to the Plain Dealer’s reporter Tom Feran.
Feran doesn’t hide his anti-Republican bias, calling Republicans “wingnuts” and “yahoos” on Twitter, cheering President Obama, and sending out a link to an article on “the Cancer of Conservatism.”
It’s Feran’s work that supplies the central point of this latest TV attack ad on Mandel: “Campaign Attacks Give Josh Mandel Pants on Fire Crown,” Feran’s July 29 Cleveland Plain Dealer article in which Feran reports on rulings Feran himself made for PolitiFact Ohio.
The ostensible point of the ad is that Mandel had been slapped with PolitiFact’s worst rating — Pants on Fire — more frequently than any other politician. Three other articles mentioned in the ad make the same point, that PolitiFact Ohio has often found fault with Mandel.
The idea that PolitiFact can tell you that somebody “told the most lies” has been called “meaningless” by PolitiFact’s national editor.
Yet Feran, working at a PolitiFact affiliate, does it anyway.
Any kind of comparison of that sort would require a large selection of random samples, as any pollster or scientist could tell you. Adair knows that.
“We are not social scientists and are not using any kind of random sample to select statements to check,” he’s said.
But Feran never got the memo, apparently.
One of Feran’s biggest screw-ups was calling Mandel a Pants on Fire liar for the claim that Brown was responsible for billions of federal dollars going overseas. Brown’s office could have told him it was true.
We’ve reviewed the many ways the claim is true, but one unmistakable case is a few billion dollars a year in stimulus money going to Chinese solar panel manufacturers. Brown voted for the stimulus, and when he realized what was happening, he introduced a bill to stop aiding foreign solar panel companies.
That didn’t stop his employee, Justin Baransky, from taking advantage of Feran’s ignorance, and repeatedly tweeting about the ruling, accusing Mandel of lying when he knew it wasn’t so. We gave Baransky a chance to respond, but he sent back a canned attack on Mandel – dishonest, board meetings, cronies, etc.
We’re not going to wade through the remaining claims to prove the obvious. People who are paying attention already know the truth. But let’s knock one more down, for old time’s sake.
PolitiFact Ohio gave a Pants on Fire ruling to this Mandel statement it transcribed from a radio interview: Brown is “out there egging on a lot of these protesters who are spitting on policemen and going to the bathroom on policemen’s cars at these protests on Wall Street and other places.”
PolitiFact decided Brown never literally “encouraged protesters to attack police officers with their spit or stool,” so it called the claim false.
But read Mandel’s statement again, this time with a comma after protesters. Then it’s entirely correct.
Grammatically, it’s the difference between a restrictive and a non-restrictive clause, a distinction lost on most folks, but something a professional writer should know. Without a comma, the object of the sentence is “protesters who are spitting,” etc. But if the final clause is set off by a comma, then it’s “protesters,” and the rest of the sentence just adds information about them.
Without a comma, you have Brown encouraging specific bad behavior at multiple locations. With a comma, you have Brown encouraging a group that had some members behaving badly.
Mandel’s comments were spoken on the radio, and spoken English doesn’t have commas. So it was PolitiFact’s editorial decision to omit the comma that made Mandel’s comments ridiculous.
Any sane person understands Mandel was criticizing Brown for supporting a group with a destructive element, not accusing a U.S. Senator of inciting a riot.
Then there’s the time PolitiFact thought it had disproven the existence of “Washington bureaucrats” because some federal officials are actually based in Ohio. It took Jason Hart of Media Trackers Ohio all of two sentences to refute PolitiFact.
“In December, Mandel hit Brown for ‘siding with Washington bureaucrats and fringe extremists’ on environmental issues,” Hart wrote. “PolitiFact Ohio leapt to Brown’s defense, poring over the background of each person involved in one specific fracking decision while completely ignoring coal or the EPA – even though Mandel specifically mentioned coal in the quote cited by our friendly neighborhood fact-checkers.”
The idea that PolitiFact has proven anything with its pathetic and tendentious reasoning is sad enough. That it would hand out “crowns” on a basis it knows to be worthless is the purest hypocrisy. It’s the sort of bald-faced lie you don’t need a Truth-O-Meter to understand.
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