Today, the left-leaning fact checkers at Politifact let the mask slip a bit while attempting to weigh in on the Obama-ate-a-dog story.
In case you missed it, the DNC has spent months harping on a decades-old story about Romney putting his dog carrier on the roof of a station wagon. No one in the media seemed to think this was silly or beneath notice.
Then, earlier this week, we learned of an excerpt from Obama's award-winning memoir in which he describes eating dog during his time in Indonesia. Suddenly, the left became stunned and uncertain how to proceed. On the one hand, they couldn't say the story is frivolous and unworthy since they've let the Romney story fester for months. On the other hand, they really, really don't want this story getting traction.
Politifact decided to weigh in today with a story headlined "In context: Did Obama eat dog in Indonesia?" This title seems to suggest two things. One, it suggests there is some doubt about whether the incident happened. Two, it suggests that there is some context which will resolve the question. Only neither thing is true. The entire post is simply a long excerpt from Obama's book, concluding with the line about eating dog. And, curiously, the article has no ruling, i.e. Politifact never says whether the statement is true or not. They raise a question they never answer.
Ace of Spades began questioning what exactly Politifact was suggesting with their headline shortly after the story appeared. Is there some doubt about the dog-eating story? If so, why not offer a ruling? And if there's actually no doubt, why write a fact check piece at all? What does "context" actually add in this case? Either Obama ate dog or he didn't.
Friday afternoon, Politifact rewrote their headline. As you can see, it now reads "In context: Obama's comments on eating dog in Indonesia." No more question mark, which is presumably their way of saying the story is true. And yet, we still get no "true" ruling. And there is still no explanation of what the context adds to this discussion.
The sense you get from watching the progression from the misleading headline this morning to the more accurate one this afternoon is that Politifact was desperate to deflect this story. They've offered "context" that doesn't add anything to the discussion and raised doubt (with their original headline) that didn't exist. None of this has anything to do with fact-checking, but it does betray a knee-jerk protective instinct toward Barack Obama.
We're likely to see a lot more of this sort of thing from Politifact in the coming months. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen? We all do.