Joan McCarter joked yesterday, “The Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity should be renamed Americans for Full Employment of Fact Checkers.”
That would certainly make sense given recent developments. Just a week after the latest AFP attack ad featured an “Obamacare victim” who’s paying less for better insurance that covers her preferred doctor, the group is back with yet another ad on the Affordable Care Act, this one in support of Rep. Justin Amash’s (R) re-election campaign in Michigan.
The spot features an older man at a town-hall meeting telling Amash, “This Affordable Care Act, I am going to have bureaucrats telling me what kind of services I am going to qualify for. To be honest with you, I’m scared to death.”
Glenn Kessler, to his credit, found several problems with this. First, AFP edited the quote in a misleading way. Second, the man in the video is on Medicare, so his concerns about the Affordable Care Act aren’t well grounded. And third, in context, the man was expressing concern about Medicare cost-savings, but they won’t hurt beneficiaries and Republicans support the “cuts.”
In other words, the latest AFP ad is struggling under scrutiny, as has happened with plenty of previous AFP ads on health care.
But for much of the right, this scrutiny is itself offensive – the latest conservative argument is that we’re simply not supposed to fact-check these ads at all.
We talked yesterday about this new rhetorical gambit. As the strategy goes, many on the right now believe the problem isn’t with misleading commercials, but rather, with scrutiny of the people featured in the misleading commercials.
Indeed, after I published that post, the Washington Examiner made the argument quite explicitly.
It’s time for journalists – especially those in Washington and New York – to remember that they are supposed to be serving the public interest, not the partisan preferences of a president most admit they admire. Their first priority should be fact-checking politicians, not private citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.
Hmm, let me see if I have this straight. If billionaires finance a political operation, and that operation airs misleading attack ads that provide the public with deceptive information, the “first priority” for “journalists” should be to look the other way.
Note, this wasn’t intended as humor. The Washington Examiner was entirely serious.
National Review, meanwhile, added in a piece of its own, “In what is rapidly becoming the latest liberal trope, left-wing news outlets and commentators have begun telling the world that there actually are no victims of Obamacare.” The piece called out, among others, me.
For what it’s worth, I’ve said on multiple occasions that the Affordable Care Act has no doubt adversely affected some U.S. consumers. In a nation of 314 million people, it’s awfully tough to pass a sweeping reform bill that doesn’t leave someone worse off than before.
What I’ve also said, however, is that conservative efforts to find these people and include them in attack ads hasn’t turned out well. It’s why the debunking of these ACA “horror stories” has become something of a running joke.
It’s also why it’s rather amusing to see the right take on a new posture. Instead of finding legitimate examples of “Obamacare victims” and/or defending the attack ads, we’re now told fact-checking the commercials is, well, rude, and something the media should do less. Journalists who scrutinize dubious claims should expect to be called callous, or worse. Greg Sargent has begun calling it the right’s “human shield” strategy, which has an accurate ring to it.
Jon Chait added, “[T]he new rule in conservative media is that, if you have a terrible enough disease, your claims can be used in attack ads and any reporter who tries to verify them is insensitive to their illness. Too bad conservatives hadn’t discovered this principle in 2012, because it would have been fun to watch them defending that ad featuring a man blaming Mitt Romney for his wife’s death.”