By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Sanders called a liar over a difference of opinion

Glenn Kessler. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Glenn Kessler. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Glenn Kessler, The Washington Post‘s fact-checker, gives Bernie Sanders a rating of “Three Pinocchios” for claiming that partial repeal of the Glass-Steagall law helped cause the 2008 financial collapse. It’s complicated, as you’ll see. But my conclusion is that Kessler wrote a pretty good analysis and then undermined it by calling Sanders a liar when we’re really only talking about a difference of opinion.

Several years ago I wrote a commentary for The Huffington Post on the limits of fact-checking. As I said at the time:

The problem is that there are only a finite number of statements that can be subjected to thumbs-up/thumbs-down fact-checking…. The fact-checkers are shifting from judging facts to indulging in opinion, but they’re not necessarily doing it because they want to. They’re doing it because politicians don’t flat-out lie as frequently as we might suppose.

Sanders believes the erosion of Glass-Steagall protections helped create an environment that made the 2008 financial collapse more likely. Kessler disagrees, and he’s found several experts to support his viewpoint. That doesn’t make Sanders a liar. I suspect Kessler knows better, but he’s got Pinocchios to bestow, and today Bernie’s number came up.

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  1. Al Fiantaca

    Is sound to me that Kessler has a political ax to grind, hence his choice of “Liar” in this piece. As you said, have a difference of opinion, but a difference of opinion doesn’t equate with liar. Does Kessler have a history of using this kind of language with his political assessments? One thing for certain is that from here on, anything he has to say will be looked at through this lens, and taken for what it’s worth.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Al: His column is called “Fact Checker,” and the point of it is that he decides whether someone is telling the truth or lying. The nature of what he’s doing is that he has to render a judgment. Which I think is ludicrous.

  2. Bill Schweber

    Not a new situation: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” is a Latin phrase from Roman poet Juvenal from his Satires (Satire VI, lines 347–8). It is usually translated as “Who will guard the guards themselves?”,
    So-called “Fact checking” is a way for a journalist/columnist to claim superior knowledge and insight compared to everyone else out there–a laughable position if it weren’t portrayed so seriously.

  3. >> I suspect Kessler knows better, but he’s got Pinocchios to bestow, and today Bernie’s number came up.

    Man, cynical much? That is a serious suggestion about his his motive?
    Yet another:

    I actually thought this was better-substantiated and -modulated than Kessler often is (I often find his work wanting), more thoroughly vetted and by better people, none of whom came down on Sanders’s side. (There really is no question about the facts of the matter.) I would never write publicly that Kennedy has words to bestow and today Kessler’s number came up, though.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @David: As I replied to you on Facebook, I wrote that Kessler got the better of it. I thought he was pretty convincing. But then he turned around and said Sanders wasn’t just wrong, but was lying — deliberately spreading a falsehood. That is a huge flaw with the entire genre of fact-checking and handing out Pinocchios. Journalists normally don’t call out lies even when someone is clearly lying. Fact-checkers turn mistakes and differences of opinion into lies because that’s what’s in their job description. Kessler literally cannot label something as incorrect without also calling it a lie. It’s like badly designed software.

      I guarantee you that if you asked Sanders to write a response to Kessler’s column, he would go into some detail offering evidence that he is, in fact, right. And many would find it convincing. And you call me cynical?

      • And now guarantees. This must be overstatement day. Another thing about column journalism. I would like to see that evidence. No one else has been able to find it.

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