The fact checkers:
James B. Nelson: writer, researcher
Greg Borowski: editor
Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) appeared on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program on Feb. 17 and weighed in on the Wisconsin governor's run-in with the state's union workers:
"It's not asking a lot, it's still about half of what private sector pensions do and health care packages do. So he's [the Governor is] basically saying, I want you public workers to pay half of what our private sector counterparts and he's getting riots -- it's like Cairo has moved to Madison these days," Rep. Ryan told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
Here' an example of how PolitiFact editors choose their stories:
Now that warrants a news flash: Riots?That's how the fact check proceeds. It is assumed that Ryan was saying that the Madison protests were violent, so the fact check involves trying to find examples of violent behavior.
That conjures images of tear gas, broken windows, cracked heads. Is that really happening?
We get a number of contrasts to violent antiwar protests from the American 1960s.
We get highlighting of the fact that there is little tension between the police and Wisconsin protesters (perhaps the police are unionized?).
Finally, PolitiFact asked for a response from Ryan's office:
Puzzled, we called Ryan’s office and asked what he was referring to in his comments about riots and his comparison of a week of Madison protests with 18 days that led to the resignation of the president of Egypt.Ryan's response was perhaps too deferential. Not everyone thought the comparison was inapt, as quite a few signs in the Madison crowd made a direct comparison between Governor Walker and (former) Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. But it's pretty easy to figure out why Ryan would back away from the comparison. More on that after a little video showing the riot in Cairo:
Ryan’s response: "It was an inaccurate comparison."
That's right, ladies and gentlemen. The Egyptian protesters were by and large peaceful. The scenes depicting violent behavior come from the riot control folks (police and the like).
Given that Ryan invoked the comparison with Cairo in the immediate context, what is the justification for taking "riot" as literally meaning violent behavior?
There apparently is no such justification, other than taking the literal definition of the word and trying to make Ryan wear it regardless of the context. The similarity to Cairo is sufficient for Ryan to make the comparison. Big crowds turned out to protest the actions of the government (peacefully in both cases). The state hasn't yet used teargas to disperse the crowds, nor have government supporters instigated violent clashes with protesters as happened in Egypt.
Given the explicit comparison to massive protests in Egypt, Ryan's comment ought to have been taken as hyperbole (exaggeration for emphasis) and politically inadvisable because the Wisconsin protesters deliberately tried to invoke the comparison themselves between Walker and Egypt's Mubarak.
The Egyptian protesters were notably repressed. The Madison protesters suffered no comparable harm.
This item is classic "gotcha" journalism.
James B. Nelson: F
Greg Borowski: F