The fact checkers:
Robert Farley: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor
"Truth-O-Meter says"? I thought this was the Flip-O-Meter. Maybe the Truth-O-Meter speaks for the Flip-O-Meter.
And I suppose Robert Farley writes for the Truth-O-Meter as it speaks for the Flip-O-Meter. Here's Farley:
In a last-minute effort to protect a Democratic Senate seat in Massachusetts, President Barack Obama sang the praises of an independent voting record. In a Boston campaign appearance on Jan. 17, 2010, for Democrat Martha Coakley, Obama took aim at her opponent, Republican Scott Brown, for voting too much along party lines in the Massachusetts Senate.The truth of the allegation might have mattered, then, since Obama was trying to influence the outcome of the election with his speech.
Whitehouse.gov apparently has no record of the campaign speech, so we'll stick with the PolitiFact telling:
"I do want somebody who's independent," Obama said. "I want a senator who's always going to put the interests of working folks all across Massachusetts first -- ahead of party, ahead of special interests.I wonder if Obama ever really listened to Scott Brown closely? But I digress. Farley has the floor:
"So I hear (Coakley's) opponent is calling himself an independent," Obama said. "Well, you've got to look under the hood because what you learn makes you wonder. Now, as a (state) legislator, he voted with the Republicans 96 percent of the time -- 96 percent of the time. It's hard to suggest that he's going to be significantly independent from the Republican agenda. When you listen closely to what he’s been saying, it’s very clear that he’s going to do exactly the same thing in Washington."
The president's comments gave us a serious case of deja vu that sent our Flip-O-Meter spinning.Who cares about the flippin' Flip-O-Meter? There's an election tomorrow (or was at the time PolitiFact published)! Is Scott Brown not significantly independent of the Republican Party?
But first we'll look into the accuracy of the president's claim, not only because it was disputed by Brown (and later seemingly embraced), but also because it's kind of our thing here at PolitiFact.It's peachy that Farley will investigate the accuracy of the claim, but what's this about Brown disputing and then embracing the Obama/Coakley claim about his voting record? Let's follow the trail left by Farley:
Republican State Senator Scott Brown toured a medical device company in Chelmsford, using the event to again blast Democratic efforts to overhaul health care and tamp down Democratic efforts to paint him as a Republican in lock-step with the national GOP.That certainly looks like a denial by Brown that he voted with Republicans 96 percent of the time. How about that tight embrace?
"The allegation that I vote 96 percent of the time with Republicans is inaccurate, but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve stood up against out-of-control spending and taxation in Massachusetts,” he said.
(Boston.com, yellow highlights added)
If "Senator Tisei" equals "Republicans" then Brown would have contradicted himself. But we ought to keep an open mind for now because they are not necessarily the same thing. "Senator Tisei" seems singular rather than plural, for starters. Perhaps Farley will shed some light on the situation with his investigation:“The allegation that I vote 96 percent of the time with Republicans is inaccurate, but I’m proud of the fact that I’ve stood up against out-of-control spending and taxation in Massachusetts," Brown told reporters after a campaign stop Wednesday — the same time he said he wasn't familiar with the tea party movement.
But a few hours later, on WEEI-AM, a Boston sports radio station, Brown was considerably less equivocal. "I love how they say I voted 90 plus times — percent of the time with the Senator Tisei. Well I’m guilty."(Politico.com, yellow highlights added)
(W)e found that Obama is guilty of a little cherry-picking. In September, the Coakley campaign commissioned an analysis of Brown's voting record from Insta Trac, a nonpartisan Massachusetts legislative bill tracking service. As the Coakley campaign has hammered often, the firm found that since 2007, Brown has voted with the Republican Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei 96 percent of the time. But Brown has been in the Massachusetts Senate since 2004, and he voted with Tisei's predecessor, Brian Lees, 82 percent of the time. We verified those numbers with Insta Trac president Michael Segal.Huh. Maybe Brown noticed the same thing that Farley noticed, and that's why he says it is false that he voted 96 percent of the time with Republicans. But given that Farley realized that Obama manipulated the numbers, why did Farley imply that Brown had contradicted himself?
Also, Brown served for six years in the Massachusetts House, and according to Insta Trac statistics, he voted with Republican leadership there about 92 percent of the time. We tallied all of Brown's votes in the state House and Senate (3,104 votes in all) and confirmed the Coakley campaign's claim that he has voted with Republican leadership 90 percent of the time as a state legislator. We think that probably would be a fairer number for Obama to cite, unless he qualified that he was just talking about Brown's voting record over the past two years.
So back to Farley:
But our aim here is not to quibble with Obama's number. Rather it's that Obama was citing these voting records to dispel Brown's claims of independence.One might think that using accurate numbers would assist with an accurate assessment of political independence. Apparently that isn't the case for PolitiFact.
During the presidential campaign, Obama defended his 96 percent record as a strong stand for his principles. But when Brown has the same rating in Masschusetts, he's not independent enough. That earns Obama a Full Flop.Couldn't one have a strong stand for one's principles where they happen to coincide with the goals of the party? In building the case that led to the conclusion, Farley never had Obama claiming independence from his party. Rather, Obama was asserting that he wasn't the most liberal. And why would we use cohesion with the party as to how far left a politician leans? The Democratic party as a whole might be more conservative than its most liberal member(s).
It seems that PolitiFact staffers do not know how to go about detecting a contradiction. They blew it in Brown's case and for Obama as well. The Flip-O-Meter flopped, and not in a good way.
Robert Farley: F
Bill Adair: F
When I began to suspect that PolitiFact was nosing around this story, I kept mum about an aspect of the story that I expected PolitiFact to flub. Though I hinted that I would look for the flub later (see "Update"). That piece of the story occurs in Farley's account, but only through a quotation. Farley never dealt with the issue.
And what was it? The difference between the Massachusetts Republican Party and the national Republican Party, of course. The state versions of the GOP are much more liberal in New England. NARAL gave Scott Brown a 50 percent rating for his voting record, for example. Yet Obama said a close look would reveal that Brown would dependably vote with the national party.
I should eventually get over my astonishment that PolitiFact regularly overlooks stuff like this. One could infer that PolitiFact sought to go easy on Democratic Senate candidate Martha Coakley, and this flip-flop piece unfairly tars the Republican candidate with the appearance of a contradiction when it ought to have confirmed that he was correct on both counts. The saving grace from the charge of political bias was the faulty attempt to find Obama guilty of a reversal. Instead, Farley should have nailed the president for using Coakley's baked set of voting numbers while noting the substantial difference between the state and national GOP. Better still, he should have pinned the blame on the original perpetrator. Obama surely got that talking point from the Coakley campaign.