I am sometimes troubled by the growing popularity of “fact checkers.” I think fact checking is great. The problem is the fact checkers becoming more and more popular don’t seem to be checking facts. For instance, Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler recently published an article “fact checking” statements by former president George W. Bush, including this one:
The man, Saddam Hussein, would have a lot of revenue as a result of high prices of oil. And even though there wasn’t, you know, a – we found a dirty bomb, for example – he had the capacity to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. And so there’s – you know, it’s all very hypothetical. But yeah, I could argue that we’re much safer without Saddam. And I would argue that the people of Iraq have a better shot at living in a peaceful – a peaceful state.
The article begins on a troubling note:
The Fact Checker was puzzled by Bush’s reference to finding a dirty bomb in Iraq. It certainly sounded like he said that such a weapon was found in Iraq. But after listening to the tape a few times, we concluded that the former president, in an offhand manner, was giving that as an example of something that was not found after the United States invaded Iraq.
I find it puzzling anyone would think Bush’s statement was meant to indicate the United States found a dirty bomb. Taking out a few superfluous words in the sentence gives us the obvious meaning, “And even though there wasn’t a dirty bomb, for example, he had the capacity to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.”
The meaning is clear. I don’t know why someone would have to listen to a tape multiple times to realize the words “you know, a – we found” were little more than verbal ticks. It’s obviously nothing more than someone saying, “Uh, you know” to fill some space while they’re trying to think of how to express their idea.
It gets worse though. The next paragraph of this “fact check” says:
Who knew that the United States invaded Iraq because of a potential dirty-bomb threat? That’s certainly not what the administration suggested before the war.
This is incredibly misleading. The transcript shows Bush was asked a specific question:
You talk about the current situation in Iraq and the growth of ISIS. And you look at that country today, there are atrocities. There’s violence. There’s chaos. Can you argue today that that country is a safer place and a better place than it was when Saddam Hussein was in power?
This question clearly asks if Iraq is a safer and better place due to the invasion. That has nothing to do with the stated reasons for the invasion. Those reasons could have been wrong, false or even intentionally dishonest. That still wouldn’t tell us whether or not Iraq is a safer and better place.
Bush answered the question he was asked. Kessler’s “fact check” calls Bush’s answer misleading because if he had given it in response to an entirely different question, it’d be misleading. That’s ridiculous. You can’t strip a statement of all context in order to pretend it was given in response to an entirely different question then call it misleading like Kessler does when he says:
the former president misleadingly twists the initial rationale behind the invasion
The former president did not discuss “the initial rationale behind the invasion” in this interview. A “fact checker” simply made that up. I have no idea how that is supposed to be “fact checking.”