The Lying Game

A new analysis by George Mason University’s Center For Media and Public Affairs of 2013 findings from the fact-checking organization PolitiFact.com notes that it scalds Republicans for mendacity a lot more than Democrats:

PolitiFact rated 32% of Republican claims as “false” or “pants on fire,” compared to 11% of Democratic claims – a 3 to 1 margin. Conversely, Politifact rated 22% of Democratic claims as “entirely true” compared to 11% of Republican claims – a 2 to 1 margin.

A majority of Democratic statements (54%) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18% of Republican statements. Conversely, a majority of Republican statements (52%) were rated as mostly or entirely false, compared to only 24% of Democratic statements.

Despite controversies over Obama administration statements regarding Benghazi, the IRS and the Associated Press, Republicans have continued to fare worse than Democrats, with 60% of their claims rated as false so far this month (May 1 – May 22), compared to 29% of Democratic statements – a 2 to 1 margin.

This isn’t new; at Ten Miles Square, John Sides notes that he found the same pattern in PolitiFact.com’s findings during the health care reform debate.

Now conservatives, of course, will cite this pattern as proving the opposite of what it seems to indicate: it’s liberal media bias! But the tendency of Republicans to stretch the truth predates PolitiFact. Back in 2003, the Washington Monthly published a “Mendacity Index” wherein a distinguished panel compared famous utterances of the 40th, 41st, 42d and 43d presidents, and found George W. Bush to be the reigning champion of presidential fibbers.

Now the retirement of Michele Bachmann may reduce the “mendacity gap” between Rs and Ds; she has perpetually ranked up there with Sarah Palin in a sort of right-wing Sisterhood of the Fiery Pants. At some point even liberal-bias-criers might want to wonder why their political communion seems to produce so much smoke if there’s really no fire. But the thing about the habit of mendacity is that it tends to cover its own tracks.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.