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Reid Called Liar By Fact-Checkers Who Have No Actual Information to Assess Romney Tax Returns

The rise of the dedicated “fact-check” organization in a time of contested facts could have been, in theory, a welcome addition to the political landscape, a way to impose order on chaos, to force a common set of facts onto the process. Unfortunately, all we have are Politifact and Glenn Kessler. Today, both of them decide to unilaterally call Harry Reid’s claim about Mitt Romney and taxes a lie. Not that they think it’s a lie, not that they’ve done a non-partisan scan of Romney’s tax returns going back ten years and found them to contradict Reid’s claims, but that Reid hasn’t backed up his statements with any evidence and that therefore they are lies. I’ll outsource this to Scott Lemieux:

This does not, in fact, constitute a “lie.” If it is, than Romney has told “pants on fire” lies about what he’s paid in taxes as well. And PolitiFact is double-pants-on-fire-with-an-additional-Pinocchio lying, since they haven’t provided the slightest evidence that Reid wasn’t told by someone that Romney hasn’t paid taxes. As always, PolitiFact simply doesn’t understand what facts and lies are, which is kind of a problem when you purport to be a fact-checker.

Kessler stands guilty of the same problem, delivering “four Pinocchios” to Reid today, even while acknowledging that “this whole exchange poses a fact-checking conundrum,” that “without seeing Romney’s taxes, we cannot definitively prove Reid incorrect,” and that the only fact available to check is whether Reid did receive a communication from some investor at Bain Capital with knowledge of Romney’s taxes. Nevertheless, Kessler examines the 2010 and 2011 (partial) tax returns Romney has provided, and extrapolates from that into calling Reid a liar.

I don’t think Reid will really care about what self-styled fact checkers have to say about him. First of all, they have discredited themselves by fact-checking something where they have no facts to handle. Second, Reid has no monopoly on what you might describe as dishonorable tactics designed to raise conversation about a topic the opponent would rather keep quiet about. It’s pretty much how politics works. And third, building on the second, it actually is working on a political level.

Republican sources say they’re in a Catch-22 situation on how to reply to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s claims that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney went 10 years without paying taxes.

They understand that they’re taking Reid’s bait and that responding to his unsubstantiated claims against Romney to keeps alive the issue of Romney’s refusing to release his tax returns.

Still, these GOP sources say they feel that if they do not respond to such a serious charge from such a high-ranking Democrat, it will look like a tacit admission Reid is right.

It is to laugh. Never let it be said that Democrats don’t know how to play politics. They can play the game when they want.

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David Dayen

David Dayen