Et Tu, Real Clear Politics? You're Breaking My Heart with the Fact-Checking

Real Clear Politics (RCP) soothes me. Just clicking over to their homepage, which I do a few times a day, isn’t just about getting an information fix on the latest polls and headlines, it’s about reaffirming my belief that objective journalism isn’t dead.

The RCP front page epitomizes what the front page of any objective news outlet should look like. There’s no narrative, no code that can be cracked. There’s only information and facts, and the original reporting they do is some of the best you’ll find on the Web.

Yes, Virginia, there is a journalistic ideal and it lives here.

Unfortunately, if this article was voice-over for a film, you would insert the record scratch here.

My opinion about this new wave of fact-checking we’re seeing in the MSM is clearly on record, and it would be hypocritical of me not to point it out everywhere, even when the outlet doing the fact-checking is one I respect. Yes, some things are simply black and white, but in the world of partisan politics, especially with respect to the politics surrounding what will be a bitterly fought presidential election, the nuance and shadings and contextual challenges are too murky and vast for anyone to get their arms around. Good faith, and I have no doubt RCP has plenty of that, just isn’t enough to overcome the insurmountable.

Proof of that, unfortunately, can be found in a piece published at RCP yesterday, titled “The True State of the Union.” It’s a fact-check analysis of the state of our union under President Obama, which is broken up into five chapters. The introduction into those chapters ends with this claim: “Here is a nonpartisan snapshot of where the nation is in five areas.”

Regardless of RCP’s intent (which I’m not questioning), what’s been labeled “non-partisan” and “true” is, instead, analysis and opinion — much of it I disagree with. One example can be found in the section titled, “Military, Alliances and U.S. Image Abroad“:

Poll after poll indicates that the United States is not only viewed favorably abroad, but the country’s image has been enhanced under President Obama in comparison with his predecessor, George W. Bush. Investors outside the United States, who do not know Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich in depth, say they want Obama to be re-elected, according to a quarterly Bloomberg Global Poll of worldwide investors, traders and analysts released Thursday.

And Obama’s reputation for leadership on the world stage remains on solid footing in most countries, according to polls, even as international assessments of the president have grown more equivocal around the world since his historic 2008 election.

To declaratively state that our country’s image has been “enhanced under President Obama” is not a fact, nor is it even a “nonpartisan snapshot.” The author of the piece is Alexis Simendinger, and his position is, at best, arguable.

If our image is “enhanced”–and there is plenty of evidence to the contrary— the question is why and whether or not that enhanced image is due to moral and just policies that represent what’s best for our country and allies. Bowing to foreign leaders and leading an Arab Spring from behind that’s turned into a Sharia Winter, might make you popular, but it’s with all the wrong people. Chastising Israel over apartments built on their own land while ignoring Palestinian rockets being fired into Israel, might make you popular, but it’s for all the wrong reasons.

It might be real easy for me to become the most popular guy in my neighborhood if I gave away everything I owned, including my self respect. But those increased poll numbers wouldn’t mean that what I’m doing is good or right or what’s best for my family.

Simendinger might think those increased poll numbers are a good thing, but that’s his OPINION, and far from a nonpartisan one. What his analysis most certainly is not is objective fact.

When it comes to America’s reputation in the world, what I care about — and I don’t think I’m alone — is who trusts us and who respects us and who fears us. If it’s the right countries and leaders falling into the correct one of those three categories, only then is the President doing something right. “Favorability,” on the other hand, means nothing and tells us nothing. We could dismantle our military tomorrow and increase our favorability ten-fold.

There’s plenty more to deconstruct in this RCP opinion piece, but I don’t want to pile on over a single mistake. I don’t want to fact-check their fact-checking–only to point out the pitfalls of the media’s fact-checking meme, which often offers partisan opinion under the guise of nonpartisan analysis.