“To the average person on the outside world, there might not be much of a difference with these things,” Sepp said.I wrote to Pete Sepp to express my concern that he may have been taken out of context and he graciously replied.
Indeed, we agree with Sepp that the narrow Washington definition of "earmark" is less important than the impression McCain has left. It appears he was seeking pork barrel projects for Arizona, which puts a few blemishes on an otherwise pure record against pork. And so while we find there is no question that McCain has been a leading congressional voice against pork, these three examples conflict with his bold claim. So we find that claim False.
I generally respect the work that PolitiFact does in trying to get to the root of controversial fiscal issues, though I do wish there were more room for appreciating the complexities of earmarking in the fact check piece. My point is that the average voter may or may not agree with Senator McCain's assertions on earmarking, depending upon what bothers that voter the most about the issue. If the voter's primary objection to this process is that lawmakers introduce too many spending bills that benefit only narrow local interests, then that voter may not be all that impressed with McCain's stance (even though there are many more prolific practitioners of this art in the Senate than McCain). If, on the other hand, the voter's primary objection is that earmarking circumvents public debate and other budget processes, then they would likely be quite satisfied with Senator McCain's philosophy.Sepp's reply fell considerably short of reaming PolitiFact for careless reporting, but his summary of his intent, I would venture, does suggest that PolitiFact bent his intent to their editorial purpose. Where Sepp allows that one's point of view and level of sophistication in applying an understanding of "earmark" and "pork barrel" will influence the interpretation of McCain's remark, PolitiFact makes the less nuanced interpretation the benchmark for truth.
My hope is that factcheck.org will compare and contrast the sudden conversion of Sens. Obama and Clinton to the recent one-year earmark moratorium proposal (which failed in the Senate) versus their past support of blatant earmarks on behalf of their own states. This too deserves scrutiny.
Suppose that a mere 20 percent of people understand the less general meaning for "earmark" while the remaining 80 percent don't understand the processes of the government sufficiently to catch McCain's intended meaning ... PolitiFact would apparently find McCain speaking false as a result.
I stick with my conclusion that the PolitiFact entry contains a distinct bias, and based on Pete Sepp's communications with me I think my sense that PolitiFact quote-mined Sepp to propel their spin was justified.
The reader may have noted, as I did, that Sepp mentioned "factcheck.org" near the end of his message. Because I have never noticed PolitiFact to significantly assist in helping to clarify complicated fiscal issues and because of the mention of Annenberg's FactCheck.org, I wrote to Sepp to invite his clarification, thinking perhaps he had confused the very worthy Annenberg FactCheck.org with PolitiFact.
I spelled out my concerns to Sepp and he promptly replied:
I'm sorry about the confusion I caused. You're right, and I agree with your assessment. I trust your judgment entirely to edit my reply as you wish.I judged that presenting the conversation as it occurred minus salutations and pleasantries provides the reader with the most accurate picture, as I would have some difficulty in describing with certainty the degree to which Mr. Sepp agrees with my assessments.
I offer public thanks to Pete Sepp for patiently responding to my inquiries.
For the sake of completeness, the text of the message I sent to Sepp:
In your second paragraph you express respect for PolitiFact's efforts to "get to the root of controversial fiscal issues."In your final paragraph you express the desire for factcheck.org to delve into the Clinton/Obama shift on earmarks. PolitiFact and FactCheck.org are not affiliated. The latter organization does an admirable job of informing the public in a relatively even-handed manner (in my humble opinion). PolitiFact, though a cooperative effort between the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, doesn't hold a candle to Annenberg's FactCheck.org. In my post, I was poised to disagree with you in your assessment of PolitiFact while agreeing with you that it would be nice for (a fine fact-checking outfit like) FactCheck.org to look into the Clinton/Obama shift. Because it seems possible that you link PolitiFact with FactCheck.org, I wanted to offer you the opportunity to clarify your remarks before I move to publish--it had been my intention to reproduce your reply in its entirety minus the salutations and needless apology (I'm entirely honored that you replied to me at all). I think it will tend to appear that you believe the two organizations are linked, unless you're expressing the view (which I would agree with) that it is better for FactCheck.org to handle this type of thing than the folks at PolitiFact.
*Polished my fourth graph for clarity.