Fact Check: It Depends!

The fact-checking industry has grown tremendously in recent years, and mostly for good reason. Half-truths, outrageous rumors, and outright fabrications are common enough without the Internet. They are ubiquitous online. When fact-checking is well done (by, for instance, Glenn Kessler at the Washington Post or The Scrapbook’s fave, our Weekly Standard colleague Holmes Lybrand), it aids the intelligent reader’s capacity to negotiate the sea of online confusion.

But it’s often done poorly—and, as Mark Hemingway has ably documented in these pages over the years, with absurdly obvious political bias. Among the worst offenders: PolitiFact, which in 2012 served as a de facto arm of the Obama reelection campaign. The trouble with fact-checking political claims is that politics is a highly rhetorical sphere: Participants make their cases with extravagant oratory, one-sided arguments, over-the-top exaggeration, and only occasionally outright lies. It’s a place where fact-checking can help, but a bit of flexibility doesn’t hurt.

All this came to mind this week when we read a PolitiFact entry on one of Donald Trump’s recent remarks. You might think this fact-checking watchdog would have an abundance of material to work with from the 45th president without resorting to tendentious hairsplitting. But you would be wrong. The Trumpian assertion that moved the PolitiFact’s scrutineers to action? This one: “In the second quarter of this year, the United States economy grew at the amazing rate of 4.1 percent.” PolitiFact’s objection wasn’t to the data—the economy really did grow at 4.1 percent in the second quarter—but to the adjective: amazing.

“This is a strong showing in the context of recent history,” PolitiFact’s Louis Jacobson writes, “and the highest since the third quarter of 2014. But most economists would not use the word ‘amazing’ to describe it.” Remarkable, maybe. Impressive, perhaps. But amazing? Come on,
Mr. President!

Jacobson’s final assessment on Trump’s statement: “Strong, but not amazing.” Our assessment of his fact check: amazingly dumb.

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