Friday, January 14, 2011

Feedback Loop -- Another Small Example

When I was going through The Corner yesterday looking at reactions to the Tucson massacre, I was trying to skip items that weren't relevant, but I did notice one that's a great example of GOP resentment -- and how relying only on conservative-certified information sources winds up making them look silly. Even when they're right.

The post in question had Rich Lowry printing an email from a "GOP aide" who was complaining about the way that Politfact scores promises in their new "GOP Pledge-O-Meter." The anonymous aide complains that Politifact has an unreasonable standard, because Republicans will be judged to have broken promises if their legislation is defeated in the (Democratic) Senate or vetoed by the president. That's true!


This Republican frames it as a leftist plot: "cheerleaders at Poltifact are becoming more and more brazen in their attempts to defend the left and attack conservative spokesmen." As: "Poltifact has completely lost its bearings and is rapidly becoming a discredited, leftist mouth piece." But of course nothing of the sort has happened. Politifact has done exactly the same thing with Barack Obama's promises (on its "Obameter") for the last two years. Some of Obama's broken promises are clear flip-flops.  For example, he ran on drug reimportation, but bargained it away early in the process of building and passing ACA, and by all accounts the White House actively lobbied against drug reimportation when it was debated in Congress.  Other items, however, mark situations in which Obama fought for what he promised in the campaign, but just didn't have the votes to get it done. A prime example there is upper-level taxes.  Obama wanted higher taxes on those making 250K or more; he fought for it; he lost; he accepted a deal giving him other things he wanted; and he continues to speak out for higher taxes on the rich, and says he'll fight for it again in two years. 

I'm a fan of Politifact, including the Obameter.  I'm not sure whether there's a better way of categorizing these sorts of in-between "broken" promises; at the end of the day, I think we're all better off that someone is at least keeping track of them, and to their credit they do provide explanations for each case. It's a tough call as to what a best practice would be. All told, however, I agree with the complaint. I don't really like calling something a "broken promise," which sounds fairly important to me, when they tried and failed because the goal was beyond their control.

What I am sure about is that Politifact isn't applying different standards to Republicans than it has to Democrats.  Indeed, in the very post that the GOP aide complained about, Robert Farley explained that Politifact was using the Republican's interpretation of the promise in question (cutting $100B in spending), explicitly taking their side against the Democratic interpretation. 

Now, I have no idea whether the GOP aide who wrote the item, or Rich Lowry who printed it, actually believe that conservatives are poor oppressed victims of the mean 'ole liberal establishment, or if they just pretend to be so because their readers eat it up, or if they're just, in this case, working the refs.  I do know the effects of it, however. Anyone reading that item who was inclined to believe that if leading conservatives say something it would ordinarily be true would, as a result, believe that Politifact is part of a vast left-wing conspiracy, or at least shouldn't be trusted. In other words, it's part of policing the feedback loop.

1 comment:

  1. Forgive my ignorance on the subject, but there must be some significant cognitive bias effecting the partisans in this country. I read both liberal and conservative blogs and I'm constantly amazed at how differently the commenters on opposing sides see the "consensus" view. To the extent that there is a consensus, this is an objective fact, but both sides seem to have a huge blind spot covering the reality of where most of the American public is on an issue. I'm sure this has been studied. I think it would be a huge advantage to be able to overcome partisan rose-colored glasses and be able to fairly assess the consensus.

    Similarly, both sides seem to be able to understand and process the nuances in their own thinking while being utterly perplexed (an outraged) by similarly nuanced positions taken by the other side.

    I don't know how this relates to your post, but it's something that's really been bothering me lately and this seems to be a good place to put my thoughts.


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