The “Fact-Checking” Of Harry Reid

by Patrick Appel

Politifact claims Reid is lying about Romney's taxes:

Reid has made an extreme claim with nothing solid to back it up. Pants on Fire!

Yglesias objects:

Politifact hasn't seen Romney's returns. Politifact doesn't say they have a source who's seen Romney's returns. Maybe Reid or his source is lying, but maybe they're not.

Kevin Drum disagrees:

Reid didn't say I'll bet Romney didn't pay any taxes. He didn't say he talked to someone familiar with high earners who told him Maybe Romney won't release his returns because he didn't pay any taxes. He made a flat statement of fact. He said he has an "extremely credible source," which in this context means someone with direct knowledge of Romney's taxes who decided to pick up the phone and dish about it to Harry Reid. Does anyone really believe this? Really?

Glenn Kessler, the WaPo's factchecker, gives Reid Four Pinocchios:

Without seeing Romney’s taxes, we cannot definitively prove Reid incorrect. But tax experts say his claim is highly improbable. Reid also has made no effort to explain why his unnamed source would be credible. So, in the absence of more information, it appears he has no basis to make his incendiary claim. Moreover, Reid holds a position of great authority in the U.S. Congress.  He should hold himself to a high standard of accuracy when making claims about political opponents.

Jonathan Bernstein takes both Reid and Politifact to task:

Reid may be simply flat-out making stuff up, or he may "only" be behaving irresponsibly by being deliberately naive about what someone tells him, and at any rate what he's doing is not how people should conduct politics. But Politifact doesn't really know how to sort that out, and it's not their job to judge political ethics.

Brendan Nyhan suggests a solution:

[Politifact] is right to hold public figures like Reid accountable for making such claims, but the standard to which they are held does not easily map onto a scale of truth and falsehood. For instance, it is impossible to prove that a “Pants on Fire” rating for Reid is merited. As a result, critics can divert attention from the substance of PolitiFact’s analyses and turn the debate into a referendum on the epistemological flaws in the site’s ratings, which force complex issues into arbitrary and subjectively determined categories. … A better approach would consider whether claims can be supported and whether they are consistent with the best available evidence without assigning labels to them.

Earlier Dish on Reid here and here.