December 9, 2011

Taranto on Bogus AP ‘Fact Check’: They ‘Literally Doesn’t Know the Meaning of the Word ‘Fact”

Yesterday, Anne Gearan at the Associated Press, aka the Administration’s Press, wrote what she called a “Fact Check” piece about a political promise. Really.

Two Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann, are both promising to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem if they should become the nation’s next president. There’s literally no way to “fact check” something that is only a promise, but Gearan wasted over 500 words pretending to do just that. She couldn’t even buy a clue that her item’s title (“FACT CHECK: Israel embassy promise may be empty”) gives away the, uh, fact that it wasn’t a “fact check” at all. Jim Taranto at the Wall Street Journal’s Best of the Web minced no words in critiquing AP’s and Gearan’s cluelessness (bolds are mine):

Newt Year in Jerusalem
The Associated Press literally doesn’t know the meaning of the word “fact.”

… The trouble here is that there isn’t a fact to check. Gingrich’s statement is one of intent, not fact. To the extent that the headline is true, it is because it is trivial. Any promise by any politician “may be empty.”

Here is the most persuasive part of Gearan’s rebuttal:

THE FACTS: A promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has become a standard part of pro-Israel political rhetoric. Similar pledges were made during their campaigns by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. But no administration has ever acted on such a promise once in office. . . .

A 1995 U.S. law recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordered the U.S. embassy to move to Jerusalem from a neutral site in nearby Tel Aviv. Using their presidential power, Clinton, Bush and Obama have routinely suspended the relocation of the embassy while saying the U.S. is still committed to doing it.
Apart from the bizarre reference to Tel Aviv as “a neutral site”–most Arab and Muslim countries refuse to recognize Israeli sovereignty at all, not just in Jerusalem and the West Bank–these paragraphs are factual.

the idea that Gingrich’s pledge is contrary to fact because other politicians have failed to keep the same promise is beyond ludicrous. Did the AP in 2008 run a “fact check” rebutting Barack Obama’s promise to enact “heath-care reform” because so many previous presidents have futilely done so?

It gets worse. Here’s another paragraph Gearan offers in support of the claim that Gingrich’s promise is empty:

If the United States were to move its embassy in the absence of a peace deal, the act would be a symbolically explosive step. It would be seen as a prejudgment of those negotiations and spark anger throughout the Arab world. It also would destroy any appearance that the U.S. can be a credible and neutral mediator in peace talks.

The factual content of this paragraph is zero; it is pure speculation and opinion. It may be realistic speculation and informed opinion, but the language of certitude does not turn a statement about what may happen under a hypothetical circumstance into a fact.

the AP published what is essentially an opinion piece, and a rather lazy one at that. … to label that a “fact check”–as if it had some greater authority than actual reporting–is fundamentally dishonest.

That AP’s labeling of the two candidates’ promises as “facts” is incorrect is indeed a fact. Whether the action was dishonest, insufferably dumb, or blindly agenda-driven would be a matter of opinion.

Cross-posted at


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