Aug 11, 2009

PolitiFact is full of shit (Krugman-bashing edition)

It looks like in this country you can't tell the truth without being called a liar by the so-called fact-checkers. Here PolitiFact blasts Paul Krugman. The quote they put in the title is
During the 2005 fight over Social Security, "there were noisy demonstrations — but they were outside the events,” and opponents were “not disruptive — crowds booed lines they didn’t like, but that was about it."

Paul Krugman on Wednesday, August 5th, 2009 in a blog posting.
This is already a bit of a straw man. It would appear, from that quote alone, that Krugman denied that Social Security reform protesters ever behaved in a disorderly manner. When they expand the quote in the main text of the article, it becomes considerably more nuanced:
In an Aug. 5 blog posting, liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote:

“Indeed, activists made trouble in 2005 by asking congressmen tough questions about policy. Activists are making trouble now by shouting congressmen down so they can’t be heard. It’s exactly the same thing, right?”

He continued, “Seriously, I’ve been searching through news reports on the Social Security town halls, and I can’t find any examples of the kind of behavior we’re seeing now. Yes, there were noisy demonstrations — but they were outside the events. That was even true during the first month or two, when Republicans actually tried having open town halls. Congressmen were very upset by the reception they received, but not, at least according to any of the reports I can find, because opponents were disruptive — crowds booed lines they didn’t like, but that was about it.

“After that, the events were open only to demonstrated loyalists; you may recall the people arrested at a Bush Social Security event in Denver for the crime of … not being Bush supporters.

“So please, no false equivalences. The campaign against Social Security privatization was energetic and no doubt rude, but did not involve intimidation and disruption.
(Emphasis mine.) So Krugman readily acknowledges that the 2005 campaign was "rude". His main point, though, is comparison between the 2005 and 2009 protests, and he claims they are not similar. He says he couldn't find, in 2005, "any examples of the kind of behavior we’re seeing now." And what kind of behavior is that? "Intimidation and disruption", Krugman says. For the examples of such behavior now, see here and here and here and here and here. (All of those are events that happened, and were reported, before Krugman wrote his blog post.)

Well, PolitiFact's verdict is that Krugman's statements are FALSE:
We conclude that while some of the recent conservative protests — such as ones at town halls in Tampa, Little Rock, Ark., Houston, Philadelphia, and Green Bay, Wis.— may have been angrier and more widespread than the ones in 2005, it would be incorrect to suggest, as Krugman does, that the noisy demonstrations against Bush's policies were only taking place outside the events or that disruptions were limited to the occasional boo.
Is this even arguably grounds for the "False" verdict? PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" has a total of six readings: True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True, False, and Pants On Fire. The last one is reserved for stuff like this, but even some quite nutty claims are merely deemed False. So "False" is supposed to mean really, you know, false.

For Krugman's post to be False by those same standards, it would seem necessary to find that the protesters' behavior in 2005 was indeed similar to what we see now - that the Social Security protesters also intimidated speakers and disrupted meetings. But look what PolitiFact says:
It is true that there’s nothing in the clips from 2005 about burning members of Congress in effigy or the use of devils’ horns. But Woodhouse’s group employed 28-foot gorillas, duck suits, plates of hot waffles and sheet cakes as props, according to an Aug. 13, 2005, report in the Albuquerque Tribune.
They "forgot" to mention Nazi symbols, but they appear to agree with Krugman about intimidation - unless duck suits are considered equivalent to imagery of lynching and Nazis.

And let's see what evidence PolitiFact cites in support of the verdict. Among their examples, I could find only one journalistic report that amounts to out-of-control unruly behavior and disruption of a meeting, and it is not clear that it was solely the protesters' responsibility:
— A session sponsored by Rep. Chris Chocola, R-Ind., in South Bend, at the downtown branch of the St. Joseph County Public Library “was a raucous affair, with many of the 100 or so people who attended shouting questions and insults, talking over each other and still bubbling with questions when it was all over.

“One gentleman was so angry when Chocola indicated the hour-long session was coming to an end and wouldn't be extended that he walked out.”

(South Bend Tribune , Feb. 27, 2005)
But even here, the disruption was far from complete. People were "bubbling with questions" and the gentleman was angry because he didn't get his turn to ask a question. That indicates that, while the meeting was raucous, there was active conversation to the end. It's quite a stretch to compare that report with current demonstrations.

Other examples border on ridiculous. Someone was being smartalecky to Rick Santorum:
“Santorum asked the audience what would happen in 2008. The response he wanted was that the oldest baby boomers would turn 62 and be eligible for early retirement.

“What he got instead, shouted out by an unfriendly voice, was: ‘George Bush will leave office!’
Well, that surely made Baby Jesus cry. In other examples, John Shadegg "encountered scattered heckling, boos and hisses" (emphasis mine; I assume the folks at PolitiFact know the meaning of "scattered"), some guy wrote a letter to Enterprise-Record of Chico, Calif., complaining that he witnessed "rude, disrespectful behavior" (Wait! Isn't that what Krugman acknowledged anyway?), and, in PolitiFact's words, "some stories noted the meetings were civil." Wow. After reading all that, I'll have nightmares of people in duck suits chasing me down and killing me with waffles.

But, of course, in case you aren't convinced that Krugman is a liar,
in all likelihood, there were many, many events that did not result in news coverage we could find. So we can't say whether there were protests or shouting matches.
And, since we can't say, Krugman should shut up, too. Even if what he says is true, how dare he hurt the feelings of those frail little Republican politicians?
Still, the protests inside and outside town halls, even if they were not universal, clearly rattled Republican leaders. On March 17, 2005, USA Today reported:

“Shaken by raucous protests at open ‘town hall’-style meetings last month, House Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce of Ohio and other GOP leaders are urging lawmakers to hold lower-profile events this time.
Poor, unfortunate souls. And bad, bad Paul Krugman!

No comments: