Carly Fiorino and the Factless Fact-Checkers

Carly Fiorina had a good night on Wednesday. One way we can tell this is that the honest evaluations in the media of her good performance are being accompanied by (rather snide) ‘take down’ pieces in mainstream and liberal (but I repeat myself) ‘news’ outlets. Like mushrooms after the rain, these pieces seem to spring up in the wake of any significant movement in the GOP field. The tact they seem to have agreed on is that, yes, Fiorina did a fine job, but her rhetoric is a trick, designed to persuade the rubes of the GOP.

The reality is that many of the pieces follow the tact of this article on the Rachel Maddow blog (written by Steve Bennen), which is not so much a refutation as a disagreement. That is, as seems to be the habit on the left these days, Mr. Bennen labels opinions and interpretations of the facts that she does not share as ‘wrong’ and ‘false’, rather then simply differences of opinion. Consider the paragraph that is the meat of the article’s condemnation;

Her rhetoric about Planned Parenthood was plainly at odds with reality. She said it takes “two-thirds of the states” to ratify a constitutional amendment, but it actually takes three-fourths. Her comments about the criminal justice system were simply untrue. She insisted that Democrats, who’ve been pleading with Republicans for years to pass immigration reform, “don’t want” to pass immigration reform. Her defense of her failed tenure at HP was hard to take seriously. Her rhetoric about foreign policy was “bizarre.”

The only one of these things that Mr. Bennen cites that seems genuinely wrong is also the one thing that is almost certainly a slip of the tongue; that Constitutional ratification is 3/4 instead of 2/3.

Other then that, everything Mr. Bennen cites as “false” is either actually a difference of opinion, or actually true but something the left cannot acknowledge. Consider the statement that “Her rhetoric about Planned Parenthood was plainly at odds with reality”. To support this Mr. Bennen references… an opinion piece by Amanda Marcott in Slate. Ms. Marcott in turn relies and links to other leftist opinion sources. The problem, of course, is that other sources of differing politics claim exactly the opposite: “Watch the full video for yourself. It does, in fact, show a fully formed fetus, heart beating and legs kicking.” writes Mollie Hemmingway at the Federalists. Given that Hemingway provides what she claims to be the video where the scene in question occurs, I am inclined to credit her accounting.

The other points are all variations of debatable, and often bad faith debates: for example, Mr. Benen baldly states “[Fiorina’s] comments about the criminal justice system were simply untrue”, but then links to a Slate piece by Leon Neyfalk that points out (emphasis mine);

She is far from alone in perpetuating this idea—President Obama has done it too, along with just about every other mainstream politician who has expressed support for criminal justice reform in recent years.

Have Mr. Benen or his headliner Ms. Maddow similarly dismissed President Obama’s stance on Criminal Justice Reform as “simply untrue”? Moreover, given that her position is apparently shared by “just about every other mainstream politician”, is it not more likely, perhaps, that what Mr. Benen claims as “simply untrue” are

Mr. Benen seems to regard his denunciation on immigration as so self-evident as to require no source at all. I treat his dismissal in the same fashion, save to point out that if we take as gospel fact “pleading” from Washington, then Obama is Israel’s best friend, Iran is ready to join the community of nations and Global Warming is responsible for the refugee crisis in Europe.

Mr. Benen’s dismissal of Fiorina’s business leadership links to an analysis by Neil Irwin at the New York Times (hosted at the Boston Globe), which is scarcely the complete dismissal Benen presents it as. Rather it is a piece that points out that “Fiorina emphasized metrics of success that captured less of her success at leading Hewlett-Packard and more of the fact that she acquired a much larger competitor”, and that “many analysts view the merger, her defining action as chief executive, as ill-advised”. That many analysts disagree with her actions and the Fiorina chooses to emphasize what she sees as her strengths (and presumably gives greater credence to those analysis that do not disagree with her actions) is scarcely an open and shut case of dissimulation.

Mr. Benen’s dismissal of Fiorina’s “bizarre” foreign policy prescriptions links to (again) an opinion piece at Vox, where Ezra Klein pronounces himself puzzled that Fiorina thinks conventional strength would persuade Putin when “America has enough nuclear weapons pointed at Russia to level the country thousands of times over”.

Not to needlessly belittle Mr. Klein but his befuddlement seems rather more an indictment of his own tactical depth (or lack thereof) then an rebuttal of Fiorina’s ideas. After all, if we are to credit his statement as his actual beliefs, he would seem to be almost hopelessly naive in matters of the military. By contrast, serious military thinkers, such as Professor Victor Davis Hanson, have a rather less sanguine view of America’s tactical doctrines under Obama.

As I mentioned, this is all of a style: the left disagrees with a policy proposal and labels it ‘wrong’ for being a position other then their own. What makes this particular article such a case of bad faith is that in the instance of criminal justice reform, the position isn’t even one that the left disagrees with. Mr. Benen simply found a piece that labeled Fiorina wrong on the issue and linked to it, without pointing out that Fiorina’s position is shared by Barack Obama and a broad coalition of criminal justice reformers on both the left and right.

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