Democracy Dies From Bad Fact-Checking

Democracy Dies From Bad Fact-Checking

The Washington Post has fallen into the habit of accusing Bernie Sanders of misleading the public even in cases where the evidence is strongly on the side of the Vermont senator. Back in July, Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler objected to a statement Sanders made in the first debates in the Democratic presidential primaries: “Three people in this country own more wealth than the bottom half of America.” Kessler acknowledged that “this snappy talking point is based on numbers that add up.” But then he added that “it's also a question of comparing apples to oranges.” According to Kessler, it makes no sense to compare rich apples like Jeff Bezos (who own real capital) with millions of poverty-stricken oranges (who possess only debt). In Kessler's words, “people in the bottom half have essentially no wealth, as debts cancel out whatever assets they might have.”

Kessler's puzzling rebuttal drew much criticism, including sharp words from John Nichols of The Nation. Simply on logical terms, it's hard to understand why one should exclude the poor from comparisons with the rich simply because the poor have debt rather than capital. Indebtedness combined with a lack of assets, after all, is a big part of the condition of being poor. By Kessler's reasoning, it's impossible to compare the rich with the poor at all.

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