Bending the Truth in Cicilline’s Favor
In an illustration of how its methods can serve the politicians that the editors like — covering their fundamental dishonesty with a focus on minutia — PolitiFact Rhode Island has given David Cicilline a “half true” for this:
“Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives — with the enthusiastic support of Sarah Palin, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and the Tea Partiers — once again turned their backs on the 14 million unemployed Americans in our country,” the letter says, “and instead chose to focus their efforts on expanding the rights of sex offenders, terrorists, child predators, and abusers to carry concealed weapons across state lines.”
Reporter Lynn Arditi admits that the part about “choosing to focus their efforts” on these outcomes is completely false. That means that the specifics — on whether the bill would incidentally expand the rights of suspect citizens — must be graded on a curve to split truth down the middle, because she finds that only in some of those cases is there any evidence that Cicilline might have a point.
But the whole exercise of searching for examples of people to whom Cicilline’s labels might apply is ridiculous. Under “domestic abusers,” for example, Arditi finds a Pennsylvania case in which a killer had a legal handgun after a restraining order had previously been imposed and then withdrawn. It may seem like splitting hairs, but inasmuch as that is precisely what Cicilline’s evidence does, one has to ask: Is it appropriate to say that the man was, in a legal sense, an “abuser” before he was a murderer? Ought every man against whom a woman requests and then withdraws a restraining order be considered a perpetrator of domestic abuse? (It’s funny, by the way, how liberals’ perspective would change were it a question of allowing voting rights.)
And so it goes. When it comes to abusers, predators, and sex offenders, Cicilline points out states with laws that don’t count a particular conviction as sufficiently criminal to deny a concealed carry permit. In New Hampshire, for example, “an adult who lures a child into engaging in sex for pornography” is charged with a misdemeanor, which doesn’t affect his or her gun rights. (That’s Arditi’s paraphrase of the law. I’m not sure what “luring” the child technically entails, although it’s sure to be despicable, whatever its limits.) For the purposes of the PolitiFact analysis, in other words, the person would be a child predator by Rhode Island standards, New Hampshire would still grant a concealed carry permit, so a federal law allowing such permits to apply across state lines would expand the rights of a child predator.
But when it comes to the “terrorist” label, Cicilline points to Kentucky, which brands a misdemeanor charge of “terroristic threatening” on somebody who (in Arditi’s words) “threaten[s] to seriously injure someone or to cause substantial property damage.” Cicilline’s logic, in this case, is that Kentucky might arguably call somebody a terrorist, whether or not the same definition would apply in Rhode Island, and still grant him or her a concealed carry permit. In other words, he’s tilted his logical table always to roll a point in his favor.
Whatever one thinks of the issue (or politician) in question, this “half true” shows precisely why the entire PolitiFact project ought to be dismissed and abandoned. By presenting heated political rhetoric as subject to methodical analysis, the writers gloss over the very thing that makes it insidious. Most unfair accusations have some kernels of truth underlying them; that’s what makes them harmful. It’s the dishonesty layered on top that causes the problems and deserves the moral objection, and in PolitiFact’s analysis that is a secondary consideration… at least when the editors want it to be.