The Fact Checking Fun House: Crossroads GPS vs. Team Obama

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Have you seen the latest Crossroads GPS fact check of the Obama Campaign fact check of a Crossroads GPS ad that relies on a fact check by Politifact, but fails to point out that Politifact called the same ad “mostly false”?

No? Well, then. You have come to the right place. Though we must caution: If you continue reading this post, you do so at significant risk your own faith in the American Democratic process.

It all began earlier this week, when Crossroads GPS, a giant non-profit that shields its donors from public disclosure while seeking the total destruction of the Democratic Party in a technically non-partisan (but completely partisan manner), put out this swing state ad with a $25 million buy:

Not the prettiest ad, but it gets its point across. (By the way, count me as one consumer who thinks ad creatives should be fired on the spot whenever they suggest making an old fashion product–like opposition research, or pain pill–compelling by using a tablet computer, or touch screen wall, in the ad. Respect your audience, people. We are not third graders.)

Once upon a time, an ad like this would run, and that was it. Then newspapers like the New York Times started running fact checks of campaign ads. Now everybody fact checks everybody, including other fact checks, which brings us to what happened next. Stephanie Cutter, the Obama Campaign’s deputy fact checker campaign manager, released this video:

Notice the potty mouth. This is a problem with the Chicago operation. Ever since Campaign Manager Jim Messina called rumors of a billion dollar fundraising haul “bullsh*t” in this video, there has been no holding back the various official pronouncements from Chicago evoking the livestock excrement. It appears to be a straight talk short cut.

Well, that would be that, except it’s not. Crossroads GPS’s Steven Law, who certainly looks like someone unlikely to swear in public, just had to respond with a video of his own, fact checking Cutter’s fact check. And so we get this:

Notice how they dropped in a reference to Politifact there. Kind of crafty, unless you go to the actual Politifact site, where you can find a page about the same ad that looks like this.

Kind of off message. Except it won’t matter. All these videos a niche products, designed to be consumed by people who like to get their information from ideologically filtered sources. The original Crossroads GPS ad was intended to distort Obama’s record negatively, and the Cutter response was intended to distort Obama’s record positively, and the sort of voter who has yet to make up their mind about the 2012 election is almost certainly not going to take a lot of time to sort through all of these distortions. In other words, these campaign “fact checks” should not be read as fact checks in the classic sense. They are persuasion efforts, first and foremost.

But for those few of you who are still reading at this point, there is some hope for finding a way out of the hall of mirrors that is the 2012 Fact Check campaign. Glenn Kessler, of the Washington Post, has done a fine close read of the Crossroads GPS spot, which he concludes “goes to far” and tars with a “Pinnochio” as punishment. The aforementioned FactCheck.org drills further down on the tax portion of the Crossroads attack, and finds it, um, “bogus.” Politifact, as previously mentioned, calls the same tax claims “mostly false.”

Reality exists. You just have to work to find it.

CORRECTION: In the original version of this post about fact checking, I got a key fact wrong. The Crossroads GPS correction of the Obama campaign correction of their ad cited Politifact, not FactCheck.org, as I originally wrote. To add to the irony here, I was alerted to this fact in an email from the people at Crossroads GPS, who are, it seems, ever vigilant. I apologize for my mistake, and have updated the post above at 8:45 p.m. on Friday. The correction doesn’t change my argument, since both Politifact and FactCheck.org took issue with the accuracy of the Crossroads GPS ad. But it does underscore my conclusion: You have to work to find reality. I initially did not work hard enough.

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