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Washington Post Fact Checker Won’t Fact-Check Post Stories

Glenn Kessler, aka The Washington Post Fact Checker, informed readers that even though the Obama campaign had misinterpreted a recent Washington Post story on Bain Capital and outsourcing, he would not award any Pinocchios (his rating system for accuracy) to the Post for the actual story, since it was the interpretation of the Post story, and not the story itself, that was wrong.

[1]The article in question first appeared on the Post website on June 21 with a headline that read, “Romney’s Bain Capital invested in companies that moved jobs overseas.” It was shortened in the subsequent print edition to, “Bain’s firms sent jobs overseas.”

The Obama campaign jumped all over the article by creating an ad that asked voters if they wanted an “outsourcer-in-chief” in the White House, or an “insourcer,” as the ad described Obama. It also included a statement from senior Obama adviser David Axelrod in which he accused Romney of making “a fortune advising companies on how to outsource jobs to China and India.”

Kessler pointed out, however, that the article says that Bain was prescient in identifying an emerging business trend of moving office operations back to third party companies that grew into major international players in the offshoring field, but it doesn’t say that American jobs went offshore while Romney was running Bain.

In summing up the ads, Kessler appeared to be ready to give the ads another four Pinocchios, but decided that since this was all based on a Post article, it would be better not to.

Yet the campaign clearly seized on this report because their interpretation fit with a long-term “outsourcing” attack they have waged against Romney. One of their outsourcing ads before the article ran, in fact, earned Four Pinocchios [2]. These new ads would not fare much better; there is little in the Post article that backs up the Obama campaign’s spin.

(Our colleagues at FactCheck.org have also offered their own analysis [3] of the Obama outsourcing ads and the issues raised in The Post’s article, saying “some of the claims in the ads are untrue, and others are thinly supported.” The Obama campaign did not dispute the details of their analysis, except to once again claim [4] that Romney had an active role in Bain after he left to run the Salt Lake City Olympics in 1999–a claim that FactCheck.org quickly debunked [5]. We came to the same conclusion [6] in January. There is no evidence that Romney played a role in Bain decisions after he left to run the Olympics.)

Given that this debate involves an interpretation of a Post article, we are not going to award any Pinocchios.

So the lesson is that the Obama campaign is free to twist the information from any future Post article however they like, and though Kessler may comment on it he won’t rate its level of dishonesty. That way he can protect both the paper and his relationships with other Post employees.

I call that fact checking with an asterisk.