It's ironic that an organization tasked with monitoring the truthfulness of the campaigns spews analysis that is so lacking in that very quality. The latest example can be found in a Newsweek article about an Obama ad criticizing the McCain involvement in the Ohio DHL deal. The ad is entitled, Distorting the DHL Deal . Now the title is pretty damning, the problem is the contents of the article do not justify the title. And that is the real distortion.
Academic organizations should not be releasing articles entitled: Distorting the DHL Deal. Unless an ad is obviously and deliberately ignoring the facts i.e., Obama is a Muslim or McCain set a fire on an aircraft carrier, which are ads that would deserve and require any and every form of condemnation, academic organizations should be releasing articles entitled: An analysis of the Obama ad claiming McCain involvement in DHL Deal. There should be no value judgements in the body of the analysis, only the relevant facts. At the end of the analysis, if it is supported, there might be a section for conclusions. Although I would argue that if the facts are clear and properly presented the reader should be able to draw his own conclusions. If the reader cannot draw their own conclusions, then perhaps no conclusion is warranted.
In this case the article in question violates everyone of these principles. The title is inflammatory and the body of the article does not justify it. And the article itself is filled with value judgments in an attempt to justify the title.
The first hint that this article is questionable is the number of times it says there is truth in the ads. This is stated throughout the article. This is an attempt by the author to prove his evenhandedness and preempt anyone of accusing him of bias, or a lack of thoroughness in his analysis. Of course that he finds it necessary to do so really indicates how flimsy the article is. The title of the article only involves distortions, not truths, so that is what the article should be about. The problem is that there are no factual distortions. The so called distortions are basically twofold. First the ad cannot prove that McCain's actions caused the job losses and second the ad cannot prove that John McCain intended for the jobs to be lost or opposed legislation that would have prevented the job loss because of lobbying ties.
Well I cannot prove a causal relationship between smoking and cancer either, but there is a pretty good correlation. John McCain opposed legislation that would have prevented the merger. That is a fact. Rick Davis was paid $185,000 by DHL. That is a fact. Do I, or the ad, think John McCain's opposition to the legislation was for the purpose of causing 8200 people to lose their jobs? No. The point of the ad is that John McCain just didn't care or thought something else was more important. And it is a perfectly legitimate point to make. Do I think Rick Davis had an influence? Yes. In any case, the claims in the ad are perfectly legitimate and backed up by more facts than most. The article on the other hand requires four pages and much handwringing to come to the conclusion it does. It is full of words and phrase such as: cannot be substantiated, imply, argue, judge and misleading. It is not an analysis, it is an opinion piece.
The article properly should have laid out the facts next to the ad and let people make their own judgments. People would have had a very difficult time condemning the ad. In fact, this probably would have enhanced the ad's stature. I'm not sure whether Factcheck.org is just trying to demonstrate its neutrality by criticizing an equal number of ads from each candidate or they are taking sides. I just know it is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, an organization of which I have a very low regard. Every time I hear Kathleen Hall Jamieson I look for earplugs. She is one of the least insightful and most patronizing commentators I have ever heard. She is a master of the obvious. This is an institution which is suffering because it is getting too much attention. It needs to confine its activities to academia. Because if this is an example of its attempt at celebrity, I can say it is both poor journalism and poor scholarship.