I think that's it.
Once again, we offer no explanation for having read Slate. Still, we weren't going to let our slight discomfort at the trashy surroundings prevent us from sampling the wares, especially when we read this:
PolitiFact, headed by St. Pete Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair, draws on two dozen editors, researchers, and writers from the St. Pete Times and CQ to focus on presidential candidates. Many PolitiFact investigations end up in the St. Pete Times and CQ. The Truth-O-Meter at PolitiFact runs from True to Mostly True to Half-True to Barely True to False to Pants on Fire! So far in the presidential campaign, Bill Richardson, Mike Gravel, and Joe Biden have earned Pants on Fire! grades.
Two dozen professionals from the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, and so far they've nailed...three also-rans, all Democrats? So I click on over and find:
Bill Richardson's pants are ablaze because he said something about The Lord wanting Iowa to be the first caucus in the country. He said this to Iowans who came out to hear Bill Richardson, and who--one suspects--have a different sense of humor than your average Washington Bureau chief. The folks in "St. Pete" consulted a batch of Biblical and legal scholars, thus pointing us in the direction of a leg pull (we were already looking), though we're not sure all the scholars were in on the joke. But, y'know, if you can't get the thing off the ground without sniggering in-jokes about the concept, maybe it belonged in the trash.
Biden gets the hook for saying "The president is brain-dead", which violates the long-standing rule of comedy that you do not riff on taking something literally when no one obviously would, unless the target is yourself. They might have at least called in a doctor for a comment, but instead it's a used-teabag "we don't think Biden performed the necessary tests," which reinforces the idea that you imagine that we can be persuaded to imagine that he imagined he was being literally true.
Finally there's Mike Gravel. Mike Gravel you fact-check, the Bush administration invades Iraq without you noticing. Gravel is stomped for saying that 70% of the prison population is African-American. It's forty! Damn you, it's forty!
It seems this lifetime will not be enough to escape the peculiar American compulsion to hand out numerical rankings to Everything (Best Fascist Dictator, Aldoph Hitler! Woody's most durable joke), and journalist judging panels seem unable to avoid the TV Guide™ Top 50 Sitcoms of All-Time approach, where a group of people get together and never establish criteria for the thing they're ranking. The distinction between the merely Totally False and Pants on Fire! is, let us say, less than clear. Guiliani's statement that the Clinton health plan is "socialized medicine", for example, registers Complete Falseness, but his trousers fail to ignite. Gravel's Liar! status draws this explanation:
We're giving Gravel our harshest ruling because he botched this fact so badly and because it's such an important one to get right. It's something of a popular myth that most of the people in jail or prison are black, so to hear a presidential candidate make the false claim with such authority should not be overlooked.
Are other candidates' misstatements made with less authority? Is the racial makeup of the prison population more important than global warming, where Tom Tancredo gets a simple False, sans Trouser Combustion, for claiming there's no scientific consensus? Was it "really important" the nation realize that Joe Biden did not personally perform a neurological examination of the President, too, lest he (under Totally False pretenses) begin to pick up the There's A Guy I'd Like To Have a Beer and Discuss My Subarachnoid Haematoma With vote?
And another thing: it's not unreasonable to suggest that Gravel may have misspoken (he had the other two facts he mentioned correct, which in every other instance at the St. Pete Times gets you partial credit). There's no mention made of them contacting the Senator to see if he'd admit to or explain his error. On the other hand, Tancredo's comments leave no room for wriggle; the false statement is his entire point. And while we're at it, let's consider the possible consequences of a) a President or b) his audience believing these falsehoods. Tancredo could, and presumably would, veto legislation aimed at ameliorating a problem which is in fact, scientifically conceded. He could refuse to enforce existing laws, scuttle international cooperation, and continue appointing members of the dog family to the Henhouse Guards. For that matter he could devote his Presidency to endless coast-to-coast trips in Air Force One just for the shear joy of creating greenhouse gasses. What, on the other hand, is President Gravel going to do about his erroneous belief? Issue wholesale pardons to African-Americans until the ratio is to his liking? Vow to appoint strict-constructivist judges who believe Killing Whitey is only 3/5 of a crime?
It's wrong that one come away from a presidential debate with the idea that 70% of the prison population is African-American or that there's an even split among climatologists about the reality of global climate change. But the former (Gravel being correct about the explosive growth of the prison population in the past thirty-five years) leads us to think about the causes of a perceived social ill, while the latter suggests we get back to our naps while a vital Republican constituency enriches itself some more at our expense. Who's the liar, again?
We're all for people tracking down the truthfulness of politician's public utterances. In fact we remember quite fondly when that fell under the rubric of "Journalism", and didn't require smarmy little attention-grabbers taken half in jest. Still, it's good to see some small step in that direction, and the sheepish, or tacit, admission that grading Presidential debates on the color palates of the candidates is a noble experiment whose object--a two-term Bush presidency--has been somewhat less successful than imagined.
UPDATE: Rudy's pants catch fire, in the interim, for saying he imagines himself to be "one of the four or five best-known Americans in the world". This is disproved using Google search results, as Joe Biden was apparently unavailable to perform an examination of Hizzoner's imagination.
READER ASSIST: Hogan notes in the comments that the Bureau of Justice Statistics figures--the ones the St. Peterers admonished Gravel for not reading deeply enough, have it that 70% of our prison population is non-white. Who's the liar? indeed.
* Incidentally, we admit our description is approximate, not adequate, as, for example, Ronald Wilson Reagan could snooze through two terms in the White House with disapproval numbers frequently far exceeding those of Abortion on Demand, and yet be so thoroughly, even reverently, portrayed as the Savior of Western Civilization that "Wildly Popular" might as well have appended itself to his Christian name.