If you want to set yourself up as some kind of sanctimonious authority on the truth, you should avoid telling blatant falsehoods.
Ever since the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel joined the PolitiFact project founded by the St. Petersburg Times, the newspaper’s so-called Truth-O-Meter has repeatedly broken down and blown gaskets.
The idea behind the original PolitiFact, which won a Pulitzer Prize in Florida, was to check the veracity of factual statements made by political candidates and blow the whistle on lying politicians.
It’s a worthwhile public service, especially in the era of tea party attack politics when lies about the president’s citizenship or death panels plotting to exterminate senior citizens are spread intentionally.
The success of PolitiFact, however, requires a strict adherence to facts. If the almighty arbiter of the truth adopts the political viewpoint of one party or the other, it’s just another screech from the attack pack.
Some of the problems with the Truth-O-Meter actually stem from the Journal Sentinel’s attempt to appear nonpartisan. Appearing nonpartisan is not the same thing as being nonpartisan.
If a particular political party, the Republican Party, let’s say, happens to lie a lot, the keepers of the sacred Truth-O-Meter go out of their way to find Democrats to brand as liars so no one will accuse the newspaper of bias.
The Truth-O-Meter called Congresswoman Gwen Moore and the leadership of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin liars for statements each made based on facts reported in the Journal Sentinel. That’s what they get for considering the newspaper a reliable source.
Editors love it when they get complaints from both parties. They say it proves they aren’t biased one way or the other. It just as easily could prove they’re doing such a lousy job everyone is appalled.
Now it appears the self-anointed tribunals of truth can’t even recognize political bias when they are immersed in it. We don’t know who discovered water, but we can be pretty sure it wasn’t a fish.
That sputtering, rattling, polluting Truth-O-Meter recently collapsed totally and embraced the demonstrably false Republican doctrine that tax cuts don’t cost anything.
First, it attacked state Rep. Cory Mason from Racine for saying one of Gov. Scott Walker’s tax giveaways to business would spend $80 million without producing many jobs.
The Truth-O-Meter verdict: “Mason was flat wrong when he said the tax credits bill ‘spends $80 million.’ The bill would not spend any money; it would reduce state revenue by nearly $80 million.”
Talk about a distinction without a difference. Wow. Republicans have figured out a way to make $80 million disappear from the state treasury without even spending it.
Shrapnel from the crashing Truth-O-Meter then hit the progressive political organization, One Wisconsin Now. The group added up the cost of three Walker tax giveaways, noting the governor had added $140 million in new special interest spending to the state’s mounting budget deficit.
The Truth-O-Meter had another seizure: “The bills in question don’t create any expenditures -- those are done in budget bills, which Walker has yet to introduce. But they do mean the state will take in less money.”
They do, indeed -- about $140 million less to be exact. And does anyone seriously believe only budget bills create expenditures?
The Journal Sentinel’s justification for calling everybody a liar who criticizes Republicans for spending enormous amounts on tax cuts: “You can’t spend what you don’t take in.”
That’s simply a description of the Republicans’ “starve the beast” political tactic. Journalists -- posing as objective and nonpartisan -- should not adopt the rhetorical tricks of one party.
We know why Republicans pretend tax cuts aren’t expenditures. They don’t want to pay for any of the enormous tax cuts for the wealthy they advocate.
Republicans insist any expenditures to create jobs or even to provide unemployment benefits for millions out of work be paid for through spending cuts elsewhere.
However, when Republicans advocate continuing tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, they have no qualms about refusing to come up with any money to pay for them and simply adding $700 billion to the budget deficit.
Only government programs for people who are desperately in need of help have to be paid for.
It doesn’t matter whether state funds are spent on tax cuts or government programs. The result is exactly the same.
Unlike the federal government, the state is required by law to balance its budget. Revenue and expenses have to match.
That means money spent on tax cuts, which overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, will have to be offset by cuts in government programs, which primarily benefit people in need.
That’s the real reason Walker’s first actions as governor were to tremendously increase the state deficit through tax cuts. It’s the perfect excuse to slash government services.
Too bad we don’t have some sort of Truth-O-Meter to blow the whistle on that nefarious scheme.
Joel McNally of Milwaukee writes a regular column for The Capital Times. email@example.com