Facts and “Facts”

I’m somewhat ambivalent about fact-checking as a journalism genre…I’m sometimes concerned that there’s a inherent bias in favor of discussing those things that are most easily shown to literally untrue, regardless of how substantively important they might be.

However, the WaPo’s Glenn Kessler has a real doozy today: Speaker Boehner’s claim that there are 219 pending regulations which will each cost the economy at least $100M. It turns out this is wrong in one relatively minor way — the number of qualifying regulations is nowhere close to accurate — but that’s not the big deal. The real problem here is that while the government is required to identify all regulations that could have a $100M effect, it turns out that effect could be in either direction. In other words, they include those regulations that the government estimates will help the economy by at least $100M, in addition to those that are projected to hurt it. Indeed, if I understand this correctly, the procedure is to identify all effects of over $100M (in either direction), not all regulations that have a large net effect — so as Kessler says, many of these may have net effects that are small or positive.

My general feeling is that if a politician says he has a list of 219 of something it’s not going to surprise anyone if it turns out that there’s only 150 (or that there are 500). But it’s sort of a big deal if it turns out that a significant chunk of the 219 are examples of exactly the opposite of the point that the pol was trying to make. And this isn’t just an incidental point; it’s the big evidence Boehner has in support of the biggest initiative that his House Republicans are busy with this fall.

Now that Kessler has done such a good job of debunking it, you can be sure that Republicans will drop this in favor of more accurate figures and examples. Right?
Great catch.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.