Fact-Checking: Finding The Truth In Politics
TOM GJELTEN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Tom Gjelten in Washington. Harry Reid says Mitt Romney doesn't pay taxes. Romney supporters are furious. The VP speculation builds, and the debate on welfare reform is back on center stage. It's Wednesday and time for an...
MITT ROMNEY: Obamaloney...
GJELTEN: Edition of the Political Junkie.
(MONTAGE OF ARCHIVAL RECORDINGS)
PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: There you go again.
VICE PRESIDENT WALTER MONDALE: When I hear your new ideas, I'm reminded of that ad: Where's the beef?
SENATOR BARRY GOLDWATER: Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.
SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN: Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.
PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.
SARAH PALIN: Lipstick.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Oops.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But I'm the decider.
(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAM)
GJELTEN: Every Wednesday, political junkie Ken Rudin joins us to recap the week in politics. Mitt Romney is gearing up for a bus tour in swing states. He's getting ready to pick the winner of his veepstakes. Yesterday's Missouri primary gave incumbent Senate Democrat Claire McCaskill the opponent she prefers, Representative Todd Akin.
In convention news, Jimmy Carter will address Dems by video. The GOP picks John McCain, Condi Rice and Mike Huckabee to speak. And the presidential candidates come up with some catchy new words to describe each other's policy positions.
Later in the program, we discuss sexual harassment experienced by video gamers, but first political junkie Ken Rudin joins us here in Studio 3A. And our routine here is we begin with a trivia question. Ken, you've got an especially tough one for us today.
KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: I do, it's impossible to answer. Hi, Tom. People want to know where Neal Conan is. He's out making T-shirts for TALK OF THE NATION.
GJELTEN: Perhaps we'll give one away.
RUDIN: So anyway, so both President Obama and Mitt Romney have parents who were born in other countries. Obama's dad was born in Kenya, and Romney's dad, former Governor George Romney of Michigan, was born in Mexico. So here's a ridiculous question for you: When was the last time the two major-party presidential candidates had a parent who was born in another country, and who were the candidates?
GJELTEN: So either one - no, both of the candidates had to have a parent born in another country.
RUDIN: That's correct. They didn't do it on purpose, I mean, it just so happened their parent was born there, but when was the last time?
GJELTEN: Well, when was the last time? If you think you know the answer, give us a call. Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is email@example.com. And of course that winner gets the fabulous no-prize T-shirt in exchange for a promise to send us a digital image for our Wall of Shame.
But Ken, before we get to that, let's begin, as we always do, with actual votes. The votes this week were cast in primaries in four states. Give us a rundown.
RUDIN: Well, the big one was Missouri, and of course that's - the reason that's so important is that Claire McCaskill, the one-term Democratic senator, is seen as extremely vulnerable, especially in a state where Mitt Romney is thought to have a huge lead over Barack Obama in November, Claire McCaskill in big trouble.
Now as you said earlier, perhaps the Republican she would have liked to have seen won the primary did win the primary. Todd Akin, perhaps the most conservative of the three did win the - the three-way nomination. There was a guy named John Brunner, who was a multimillionaire businessman, spent $8 million on his own. And Sarah Steelman, the former state treasurer, backed by Sarah Palin. But again, they fell well in the back. Todd Akin will be the Republican nominee.
GJELTEN: So in this case, Sarah Palin did not prefer the most conservative candidate, she preferred the woman, the fellow grizzly mom.
RUDIN: The grizzly - well, all three were certainly conservative, and Claire McCaskill tried to make the case in some ads that Todd Akin was so conservative from Missouri, basically she was trying to tell conservatives that that would be a great choice for them. But of course in polls, in matchups between - among the three candidates, Claire McCaskill seemed to run better against Todd Akin than all three.
But, you know, it's always be careful what you wish for. Democrats were so excited that Ronald Reagan was going to be the nominee in 1980, and as I recall, he won that one.
GJELTEN: Now, you know, a lot of people are looking at these primary races and wondering - trying to answer whether the Tea Party is on the ascendancy or whether it is declining in popularity. Across some of these other primaries, how did Tea Party candidates do?
RUDIN: Well, they did - you know, I don't buy the argument that they're on the descendency because I don't know what that word means, but I do make the case that, you know, while they don't always get their candidate, we've seen in Utah for example Orrin Hatch may not have been the choice of the Tea Party, but because of a threat from a challenge from the Tea Party, he moved further and further to the right in 2012. And so in some sense, they got a win there.
But yesterday in Kansas, in state legislative contests, there's been a longtime battle between the so-called moderate wing of the Republican Party and the very conservative wing of the Republican Party, and the conservatives seemed to clean up.
One more thing about Missouri that we should also talk about, in the race for Congress in St. Louis, one of these cases where Missouri loses a congressional seat, so two Democrats, because of a Republican redistricting plan, two Democrat incumbents were thrown together in the same district. William Lacy Clay, who is African-American, handily defeated Russ Carnahan, the congressman from suburban St. Louis, in the primary, a black-versus-white primary.
Carnahan accused Clay of conspiring with Republicans to make the seat safer for him, but both Carnahan and Clay come from, you know, prominent families in Missouri.
GJELTEN: And is that a safe Democratic...
RUDIN: Absolutely safe Democratic district. There was also a member-versus-member primary yesterday in Michigan, in this case also white versus black, not that race was the only issue, but it was an important issue in Detroit. Gary Peters, a white incumbent backed by organized labor, defeated Hansen Clarke, African-American congressman for just one term.
GJELTEN: And an interesting primary in Washington, very quickly.
RUDIN: In Washington, yes, because all the candidates in Washington run on the same ballot. The gubernatorial race is the big one there. Republicans haven't won the governorship there since 1980. But in the - when all - it's a primary where all the candidates are on the same ballot. The Democrat, Jay Inslee, out-polled the Republican, Rob McKenna, and of course the two of them will square off again in November.
GJELTEN: And what are the next primaries coming up?
RUDIN: Saturday in Hawaii. This is the seat that Daniel Akaka is giving up, the only palindrome senator I could think of. And then of course next Tuesday the big one in Wisconsin where conservatives would love to defeat Tommy Thompson running for the Republican Senate nomination, although yesterday Newt Gingrich endorsed Tommy Thompson. It'll be a tough one.
GJELTEN: OK, let's talk about the broader political campaign, and one of the big things in the news this week was Harry Reid made, you know, some interesting comments about Mitt Romney's record of paying taxes. Let's listen.
SENATOR HARRY REID: The word's out that he hasn't paid any taxes for 10 years. Let him prove that he has paid taxes because he hasn't.
GJELTEN: Well, is Harry Reid going to make Mitt Romney's taxpaying record an issue in this campaign?
RUDIN: Well, Republicans are furious because Harry Reid got up on the floor of the U.S. Senate and said that I understand, it's my understanding that Mitt Romney hasn't paid taxes for 10 years. And then when everybody was screaming at Harry Reid to say, you know, where do you come up with this stuff - and it is a good question, where'd he come up with this stuff - but Harry Reid says look, it's not up to me, it's up to Mitt Romney to disprove my statement.
And so this is typical Harry Reid, but in a sense, the Democrats got what they wanted because once again, the conversation is about Mitt Romney and taxes, and that's one thing that Mitt Romney does not want to talk about.
GJELTEN: And let's listen now to what President Obama says about Mitt Romney. They have been - the Obama campaign has been hitting Romney very hard, of course, for his record at Bain Capital and also about his views on taxes and who should pay taxes, who shouldn't. Here's the latest charge from President Obama on Mitt Romney's tax policy proposals.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's like Robin Hood in reverse.
OBAMA: It's Romney Hood.
GJELTEN: Romney Hood, not a bad line.
RUDIN: No, it's not a bad - and of course as you heard in the beginning of the show, Romney came back with calling it Obamaloney. So, you know, it's very, very adult-like campaigning. It's a shame that this is pretty important stuff, but we seem to focus on the silly stuff, and of course it is a lot of name-calling, and we've seen a lot of that.
GJELTEN: Who comes up with these words? I mean, these are really pretty clever words, Obamaloney, Romney Hood. I mean, are these the candidates themselves that think up these terms?
RUDIN: Well, look, there's a - the fact that they have more money than ever, they hire better...
GJELTEN: They can hire good writers.
RUDIN: They hire very good writers, and of course part of their task is to be as negative and as caustic as possible, and you're sure getting a lot of that this year.
GJELTEN: Yeah. All right, let's look ahead at the conventions. Remind us when they're coming up.
RUDIN: Well, the Republicans will be the last week of August, starting August 27th in Tampa, Florida. The Democrats come a week later, although the Democrats will only be three days, it'll be Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as opposed to Monday through Thursday, September 3rd through the 6th, I guess, or 4th through the 6th in Charlotte, North Carolina.
GJELTEN: OK, Ken, we're going to break here and take some - we have a number of callers that think that they know the answer to your trivia question, and the trivia question, of course, was: When was the last time a president had both parents born outside the country...
RUDIN: No, no, that wasn't the question. I'm sorry, what the question was: What's the last time a presidential race between two...
GJELTEN: Both candidates.
RUDIN: Both candidates had a parent...
GJELTEN: Sorry, you're right. See, the question is so difficult I can't even repeat it.
RUDIN: I don't mean to be anti-semantic; I'm just trying to help out.
GJELTEN: Jason(ph), you're on the line. What's your answer?
JASON: I'm going to go all the way back to Washington and Adams.
GJELTEN: George Washington, John Adams.
RUDIN: Well, that - well, it's hard to say. They weren't born overseas. I mean, they weren't born overseas or in another country. They were certainly born before there was the United States of America, but I'm looking for something much more current, recent than that.
GJELTEN: And I'll remind you, Jason, we're looking for the last time, the last time.
RUDIN: Not the first, yeah.
GJELTEN: Not the first time, the last time. OK, Matthew(ph), Matthew you're on the line.
MATTHEW: (Unintelligible) and Barack Obama.
GJELTEN: Say that again; I didn't catch the first part.
MATTHEW: I'm going to go with John McCain and Barack Obama.
RUDIN: Well, John McCain's father, of course, was born in the U.S. John McCain himself was born in the Panama Canal Zone, but his father was born in the U.S. So that wouldn't be the case.
MATTHEW: OK, thanks.
GJELTEN: OK, one more.
RUDIN: Somewhere in between George Washington and John McCain.
GJELTEN: Well, this one is sort of in between those two. Chuck(ph), you're on the line from Medford, Massachusetts. What's your answer?
CHUCK: I don't know if it counts, but I was going to say John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.
RUDIN: Well, Andrew Jackson's parents were born in Ireland, but again, I'm looking for something more recent than that, not much more recent but I'm just saying more recent than Andrew Jackson.
GJELTEN: OK, one more, we're going to go to Martin(ph), Martin I'm trying to bring you up here, in Arlington, Massachusetts.
MARTIN: Hey, Herbert Hoover, Al Smith, 1928.
RUDIN: That is the correct answer.
GJELTEN: My goodness.
RUDIN: I didn't expect anybody to get the right answer. Herbert Hoover, as everybody knows, his mother was born way overseas in Ontario, Canada, that's not really overseas. But Al Smith, his Democratic opponent, the governor of New York, his parents were born in Ireland. Hoover-Smith is the correct answer.
GJELTEN: Well, Martin, you're either really smart or really good on Google.
MARTIN: In all fairness, I knew it was Hoover, and I knew it was the guy who ran against Hoover, but I had to use (unintelligible) Google to remind me who it was.
GJELTEN: OK, Ken, remind Martin what he gets as a prize.
RUDIN: Two years in Philadelphia. No, no, he gets a TALK OF THE NATION Political Junkie T-shirt as soon as they're made, and they will be made. It's my understanding that...
MARTIN: And I want to remind Ken: I have been exchanging emails with him for weeks that Paul Ryan is going to be the VP choice.
GJELTEN: Well, there you go.
RUDIN: There you have it.
GJELTEN: OK, we're going to - now we know. He can be the Political Junkie next week. All right, well, Ken Rudin, our real Political Junkie, will be back next week for another edition of the Political Junkie. In the meantime, his latest column and ScuttleButton puzzle are at npr.org/junkie. And Glenn Kessler is coming up, our fact checker. Stay with us.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GJELTEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Tom Gjelten. It's Wednesday, which means Ken Rudin joins us for Political Junkie. We'll talk about fact-checking with the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler in just a moment, but first, before we do your ScuttleButton winner, Ken.
RUDIN: Which is very important, yes.
GJELTEN: Which is very important, there's another issue almost as important, and that's where do things stand in the veep stakes now. Who are the leading candidates?
RUDIN: Well, everybody's been saying Rob Portman, Tim Pawlenty. The guy who called before said Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan's name has been mentioned a lot. The Drudge Report was passing out - they should be passing out, but...
RUDIN: General Petraeus, yesterday, which of course is not going to happen. But it's interesting - Mark Memmott, of NPR's Two-Way, notices that in - made a point of saying that in the past, when Sarah Palin was named, when Joe Biden was named, their Wikipedia pages had drastic revisions in the days or the hours leading up to their choice, and Mark Memmott points out that Rob Portman, who is my personal pick, Rob Portman has had major changes to his Wikipedia page in the last couple days.
So Romney's bus tour ends Tuesday in Ohio. I still think it's Rob Portman.
GJELTEN: And not just because he's got all this Wikipedia activity?
RUDIN: Well, that's part of it, it's interesting, too, but, of course, there's a lot of reasons why he may pick him. But it's interesting that in the past, we saw that when Wikipedia changes were dramatic, those were the nominees.
GJELTEN: Well, we're going to see, aren't we? All right, do we have a ScuttleButton winner?
RUDIN: We do, we absolutely do, and actually the winner is Erik Johannessen of Bedford, Massachusetts. Last week there were three buttons that said - there was a picture of a donkey, it said don't be a blank, could be a jackass or an ass, don't be a blank, vote Republican. The second one is a picture button of Ho Chi Minh. The third button says I love Mr. T. So when you have the donkey, you have Ho Chi Minh, and you have Mr. T., you have Don Quixote.
GJELTEN: Don Quixote.
RUDIN: Yes, there's some Cervantes - anyway, so Erik Johannessen gets the nonexistent T-shirt.
GJELTEN: And if you want to go see the new ScuttleButton puzzle or the new Political Junkie column, you can go to...
RUDIN: Or both.
GJELTEN: Or both, you can go to npr.org/junkie. And we're joined now by Glenn Kessler. He writes the Fact Checker column for The Washington Post, and we want to hear from you: Was there some political story that made you wonder about the facts behind it? And where did you check? 800-989-8255 is our phone number, or you can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. Hello, Glenn, thanks for coming in.
GLENN KESSLER: Glad to be with you.
GJELTEN: So your column today addresses this new controversy over whether changes the Obama administration made to welfare rules are significant and why. There are some questions about the truthfulness of an ad by the Romney campaign on those changes. Before we get to your analysis of it, let's listen to the ad.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements. Under Obama's plan, you wouldn't have to work and wouldn't have to train for a job: They just send you your welfare check.
GJELTEN: Well, what did you have to say about that one, Glenn?
KESSLER: Well, I gave that ad four Pinocchios, which is the worst rating you can get in terms of being truthful. There are legitimate questions that could be raised about how the Obama administration implemented this rule change and what it might actually mean in the future. But...
GJELTEN: Go ahead.
KESSLER: But I was saying, but what that ad said was there's an Obama plan to do such and such, and that's really not the case.
GJELTEN: Now when you take an ad like this, when you hear this ad and decide you're going to write a column about it, how do you go about it? How do you go about checking the facts behind that?
KESSLER: Well, it - well, for instance, in this particular case, with the welfare issue, this is an issue I had been tracking for a while. It had bubbled up a few weeks ago when the Obama administration had made its rule change. And the way they did that, you know, certainly could raise some questions in people's minds as to what they were up to.
And that's why the conservatives got very upset about it. And then, you know, I take what I - I take a look at the statements that the one side makes, you know, this is Romney's claim as to what it means, and then I kind of work backwards and try to figure out what the facts are.
It often involves looking at a lot of documents, you know, primary source documents. Sometimes it involves talking to experts that kind of gets your way through the spin of what the spin of what the two sides are saying. And one of the things I did in today's column is not only did I give four Pinocchios to Romney for his ad, but I gave three Pinocchios to the Obama campaign for their comeback, where they claimed that Romney himself had signed a letter, you know, a number of years ago asking for something similar, which was also not the case.
GJELTEN: So all right, what does that say about the state of this campaign that both the ad and the response to it are not all that factual?
KESSLER: Well, this has been, I think - I've covered a lot of political campaigns. This is the nastiest, most brutish campaign I have ever seen. And the level of debate has really gotten down to what you were saying before, you know, talking about Romney Hood versus Obamaloney.
There are actually very serious issues that are at stake and serious choices that this nation faces, and those issues are not really being discussed in a substantive way.
GJELTEN: And you are fact checking for the Washington Post. There are a number of websites that are devoted to fact checking, as well. Other news organizations have fact checkers. Is this sort of the new rage in political reporting, in a sense?
KESSLER: Well, it is definitely - I think we're filling a need. I think there's so much rhetoric out there, and particularly with the superPAC ads, so many negative images and assertions made that I think people are hungry for information and want to know is what I'm hearing on the radio or on the TV correct.
GJELTEN: And Glenn, do you - sort of the premise of fact checking and of the work of people like you is that you are able to rise above partisan politics and establish yourself as a trustworthy voice. Now, we are - we have heard over and over again how little trust there is in the media from either the right or the left and the disappearing center. How hard is it to maintain the trustworthiness that fact checking really depends on?
KESSLER: Well, if you read some of the comments I get on a daily basis - and some of my columns break the comment meter; we only go up to 5,000, and we just stop counting after that - there are people that feel I am completely not living up to that level of impartiality.
If I bashed a Republican, I'm denounced as a liberal weenie; if I bashed a Democrat, I'm considered a conservative, right-wing whatever. I mean, I really look at this as non-partisan as possible. I have been in Washington for three decades. I have covered just about every building in Washington, and, you know, I - both sides will spin the truth if they think it will advance their political interests.
So I really try to look at it holistically as best I can.
GJELTEN: And you do - and you really do make an effort to examine both sides, sort of, with equal vigor. In fact, you have done some serious fact checking on an ad by Priorities USA Action, which is a pro-Obama superPAC. This ad features a steelworker who used to be employed by GS Technologies Steel, and the plant where he worked was closed after it was taken over by Bain Capital. Is that correct?
RUDIN: Let's take a listen to part of that ad.
(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)
JOE SOPTIC: When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care, and my family lost their health care. And a short time after that, my wife became ill. I don't know how long she was sick, and I think maybe she didn't say anything because she knew that we couldn't afford the insurance...
GJELTEN: Couldn't afford the insurance because he wasn't working there anymore, and he goes on to say in that ad that his wife passed away less than a month later and that Mitt Romney does not realize what he has done. I think he also says he doesn't care, or it seems to him that he doesn't care what happened.
The Romney connection here - it's a very, very tough ad, isn't it?
KESSLER: Yes, extremely tough.
GJELTEN: In fact, I'm looking for the quote. You said this really stretches the limits of decency in political advertising.
KESSLER: That's correct, that's what I wrote.
GJELTEN: And why did you? What is the - you know, what is the, sort of, the problem with that ad? I mean, the factual problem and the tonal problem.
KESSLER: Right, well, that ad - this particular case, this Bain Capital transaction, you can make a case that Bain Capital took a lot of money out of this company and left it short and didn't live up to promises it had made when it took it over, including taking away people's health care.
It gets a little murky, because when a lot of stuff bad happened to that plant, Mitt Romney had already moved on to running the Winter Olympics. He was not really actively managing Bain Capital. And you could maybe make a case that because people with cancer, if they don't have health insurance, they're more likely to die of cancer.
But the ad doesn't really say that. It basically suggests that Mitt Romney, himself, was responsible for this woman's death, even though her death actually happened when he was governor of Massachusetts, had no - and Bain was no longer - hadn't been involved with that company for five years.
So it just - I wrote that it reminded me of that so-called butterfly effect, where the wings of the butterfly causes a storm, and that's what they seem to be suggesting here.
GJELTEN: And I've got the quote here. You say on just every level, this ad stretches the bounds of common sense and decency, and you give it four Pinocchios.
KESSLER: That's right.
GJELTEN: Did you hear that ad, Ken?
RUDIN: I did, and I also read Glenn's column. And a lot of people either said it's beyond indecent, and others say, well, you know, there's - the facts are the facts. But, Glenn, it's not only just ads you have to check. You also - there's also - there will be statements made at both the presidential political conventions a few weeks from now, both Democrats and Republicans, that you'll have to work on as well, as well as debates - stuff being charged in a debate. If you don't live in a swing state, you may not be seeing all these ads, but you certainly will be watching the presidential debates.
KESSLER: Right. And the debates actually - I think the debates will be relatively easy to check because a lot of the things they will say in the debates, they've already said before. They've been road-testing those things. It's like the equivalent of an off-Broadway play that suddenly gets to Broadway. They're going to be saving their best, toughest zingers for those debates, and I'll be ready for them...
KESSLER: ...saying two Pinocchios, three, four, whatever.
GJELTEN: Well, we want you, our listeners, to call with your thoughts about fact-checking. Edward is on the line right now. Edward from Ann Arbor, Michigan, or Ypsilanti, which? It says both here.
RUDIN: I think we should fact-check where he's from.
EDWARD: Well, a lot of people don't even know how to say Ypsilanti, so I'm glad you pronounced it.
GJELTEN: Well, I know they're about like 20 minutes apart, right?
EDWARD: Yeah, not far.
GJELTEN: Yeah. OK. Go ahead.
EDWARD: Great. I was hoping you could help me fact-check something. A week or two ago, Romney said that the unemployment rate - the current unemployment rate is longer than at any point during American history or something to that effect, and I was wondering - and maybe you can help me remember it right, and I know that during the Depression it was like 25 percent. So I just don't know where he got that from. Do you recall him saying something like that?
GJELTEN: OK. You got to fact-check off the top of your head.
KESSLER: Well, I don't recall seeing that statement, but, you know, right away - first of all, the unemployment rate wasn't really calculated on a regular consistent basis till after World War II. So right there, you have an issue there where they could be saying in American history but it only really goes back to World War II because that's when the unemployment statistics really started in earnest. You often hear statistics about the unemployment rate during the Depression, but those are guesstimates. They're not necessarily something that you can compare to today's unemployment rate.
GJELTEN: Edward, can I ask you, is fact-checking important to you, and is the, you know, the arrival of fact-checkers, like Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post, like a welcome development?
EDWARD: I think it is, but I also watch Rachel Maddow, and Rachel Maddow doesn't always speak very highly of fact-checking. So I think it's important, but I do take what Rachel says into consideration as well.
KESSLER: If I could just make a comment on that. She has a particular animus for my colleagues at PolitiFact...
KESSLER: ...but that's because PolitiFact once checked something she said and said it was not correct. And my understanding is before then, she was - liked to cite them a lot, but after they said she was wrong...
GJELTEN: I wonder...
KESSLER: ...that was it.
GJELTEN: OK. Edward, thank you very much for your call. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. So, Glenn, have you ever made a fact-check finding and then found that your own facts were wrong?
KESSLER: Oh, would I ever admit that?
KESSLER: Yes. Actually, you know, it's not a question of necessarily facts wrong, but sometimes, new information can come to light that will cause me to change a ruling or change a rating. There was an instance a few months ago where I had given Romney three Pinocchios for making a particular assertion about something that Obama had said, and I had written that he never said it. It was from a staff report written before he became president. And I - a reader sent me a very interesting email where he documented, well, actually, there were, you know, references of sort by the president - not direct - but references that would call into question my ruling. He said, I think, you should go back and give it maybe two Pinocchios, which is what I did.
GJELTEN: Ken Rudin, what do you think?
RUDIN: Glenn, what do you make of the - going back to the earlier controversy about Harry Reid and all the Republicans calling him a liar and dirty liar? I mean, the language is really getting ugly. But when you come out with a statement like that and Harry Reid, of course, says that, well, it's not up to me, it's up to Mitt Romney to disprove it. How do you rate a statement like that from Harry Reid?
KESSLER: Well, actually, I did rate it this week. I gave Harry Reid four Pinocchios, and that was somewhat controversial. There were a number of readers that got very angry at me and also at PolitiFact, which gave Reid Pants on Fire. My feeling is the burden really rest on the accuser. And I always call up people and say, all right, this is what you said, what's your evidence for that? Harry Reid has offered no evidence. It's - and it - and the face of it - and that's what I did in my column - it doesn't make a lot of sense.
It doesn't make a lot of sense based on the portfolio that Romney has and the tax returns that have been made public. It doesn't make a lot of sense in terms of looking at tax returns of the well-off, how many people actually pay zero taxes. It's very few. It certainly doesn't make sense to say it's 10 straight years, and it doesn't make sense to say that a Bain investor told Reid this, because why would a Bain investor know? So on all those facets, it doesn't make a lot of sense, and Harry Reid has offered no proof. So I gave him four Pinocchios.
GJELTEN: You know, Glenn, we are mentioning earlier that fact-checking is sort of all the rage right now, and yet, there's sort of another, alternative strain of political reporting which really doesn't pay any attention to the facts and instead focuses on what works in political analysis. And there was, I think, even a column in your own newspaper, The Washington Post, about it - maybe it's irrelevant whether these ads are accurate or not. It's just a question of what people can get away with, what works, and that's what's important to follow.
KESSLER: Right. And certainly, studies have shown that negative ads are effective. All I can hope to do is just, you know - I don't write these for the politicians. I don't expect to change the behavior of politicians. I write the columns for readers so that they can become more well-informed voters and at least understand the facts behind it.
RUDIN: And negative ads don't have to be wrong. I mean, they can be correct as well.
KESSLER: Yes, exactly. And, in fact, I recently gave the Obama campaign a Geppetto for an ad.
RUDIN: What does a Geppetto mean?
GJELTEN: What is a Geppetto again? I mean, Geppetto is the guy who made Pinocchio so...
KESSLER: Right. Geppetto means it's true.
RUDIN: Wait, I haven't read the book yet. Don't ruin the ending for me.
GJELTEN: All right. Well, Ken Rudin will be back next week for another edition of the Political Junkie here at NPR. And in the meantime, his latest column and that ScuttleButton puzzle are at npr.org/junkie. Glenn Kessler is a writer with The Washington Post, and his column is The Fact Checker. He joined us here in Studio 3A. Thanks for being here, Glenn. And after a short break, Amy O'Leary joins us. She dug deep into the world of online gaming and found some shocking sexual harassment. Stay with us. I'm Tom Gjelten.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.