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Who Will Check the "Fact Checkers?"

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

By Chris W. Cox, NRA-ILA Executive Director

Obama is anti-gun. That’s a fact.

Yet amazingly, a self-appointed crew of media “fact checkers” known as “PolitiFact” recently took the NRA to task for pointing that out. Because we’ll see more stories like this as the election gets closer, every NRA member needs to understand how these operations work.

PolitiFact began as a project of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times (now the Tampa Bay Times) and claims its mission is to help readers “find the truth in politics.” If you’re asking whether all reporters are supposed to do that, you’re onto something. Good reporters are supposed to report what is said on both sides of a debate, along with the reporter’s own research. Ultimately, it’s the reader’s choice whom to believe.

But as journalist Greg Marx wrote on the Columbia Journalism Review’s website, the “fact check” movement “implicitly exalts a certain class of ‘fact-finding’ journalists above workaday hacks.” In the world of the “fact checkers,” no one is entitled to offer his own opinion or interpretation without the risk of being branded a liar.

Let’s see how this plays out on Second Amendment issues:

In June, PolitiFact took on an NRA statement that President Obama is “coming for our guns.” To label our statement as false, PolitiFact did what it often accuses others of doing: cherry-picking sources.

The main source is a Washington Post article in which Sarah Brady herself recounted Obama’s comment, at a March 2011 meeting, that “We are working on [gun control] …We have to go through a few processes, but under the radar.” When PolitiFact tracked down Mrs. Brady, she denied that Obama made the statement.

Is the NRA entitled to believe Brady’s first version of the conversation, or the version she gave more than a year later, when the “right” answer might help get a “Pants on Fire” label pinned on the NRA? Unlike PolitiFact, I’ll leave that one up to you.

PolitiFact pulled the same trick on our statement that Obama’s regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, “wants to ban hunting and says animals should be represented in court.” PolitiFact rightly found that the statement about animals going to court was true, based on a clear statement by Sunstein in a 2004 book.

But PolitiFact disputed that Sunstein wanted to ban hunting, despite his words in a 2007 speech: “We ought to ban hunting, I suggest, if there isn’t a purpose other than sport or fun.” Instead, PolitiFact chose to believe Sunstein’s claim in 2009—in a letter he wrote to save his stalled nomination in the Senate—that he believes “the Second Amendment creates an individual right to possess and use guns for purposes of both hunting and self-defense.” Even if that were the same as saying that hunting should be legal, why can’t we be skeptical about a self-serving statement made by a person seeking his dream job?

Finally, PolitiFact went after our statement that Obama “supported Ted Kennedy’s ammo ban to outlaw all deer-hunting ammunition.” In the Senate, Obama voted for a 2005 amendment that would have banned any “projectile that may be used in a handgun and that the Attorney General determines … to be capable of penetrating body armor.” Because “any projectile that may be used in a handgun” can also be used in a rifle, and most body armor isn’t designed to stop bullets fired from rifles, deer rifle ammunition would clearly have been banned if the amendment had become law.

But PolitiFact again turned to its own “facts” to label the statement as “false.” Why? Because of more cherry-picking: In this case, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent speculated that a future attorney general might choose to avoid political controversy by interpreting the language differently.

Surprisingly, one of our statements did get by unscathed: our warning that Obama is “trying to slash funding for the armed pilots program designed to prevent terror attacks.” I guess it’s hard to argue with the hard numbers in the administration’s own budget.

The NRA hasn’t been the only victim of “fact checking.” Analysts from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs found that statements by Republican office holders were three times more likely to be rated “false” than statements by their Democratic counterparts. At the same time, the communications director of the Democratic Governors Association said “a lot of the fact checkers today play the ultimate political game of twisting the truth to suit their own ends.”

Let’s be clear. Your NRA puts a lot of effort into ensuring that our information is accurate. Only you can decide what source to believe: the NRA, or the same reporters who for so many years tried to write the Second Amendment into oblivion. And that is a fact.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.