Sympathy for Tom Cotton. Yes, sympathy | Arkansas Blog

Sympathy for Tom Cotton. Yes, sympathy

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TRUE OR FALSE: Doesn't matter. Cotton's ad is dishonest.
  • TRUE OR FALSE: Doesn't matter. Cotton's ad is dishonest.
Roby Brock has laboriously reported the story on Tom Cotton's attack ad on Mark Pryor.

Now feeling some heat from universal condemnation, Cotton's campaign has responded with a defense of the ad and an attack on Politifact, the nonpartisan news operation in Florida that ranked the ad "false."

Cotton Defense 1: Politifact finds fault more often with Republicans. Maybe Republicans lie more.

Cotton Defense 2: Others, like CNN, have looked at the same facts and said there's a difference of opinion on whether Congress gave itself special subsidies or not, as Cotton asserts.

As a technical matter — and we are dealing here in technicalities — Lyin' Tom Cotton is correct for once. He can make a case based on literal language that his ad is true. Close enough for political advertising in any case. I've long picked bones with Politifact for its magisterial pronouncements of falsehood on ads that, while perhaps selective in use of facts, are demonstrably not false though Politifact insists they are. In a 30-second ad, is a politician really supposed to give all the ins, outs, consequences and context of a specific fact? To be fair? It would be nice, but no. I hear that columnists also tend to pick and choose among the facts they choose to emphasize. 

I thought, among many others, that Politifact was off-base when it labeled a Blanche Lincoln ad noting John Boozman's advocacy of a 30 percent national sales tax as a half-truth. It was completely true. Politifact judged that Lincoln should also have mentioned that it would have replaced the income tax. That's irrelevant to the core fact asserted. Particularly if you don't pay much income tax but would face an enormous burden from a sales tax.

So I have sympathy for Tom Cotton, in at least limited measure. Because of political maneuvering too ridiculous to explain, congressional health insurance is part of a new health exchange but also gets an employee contribution. His ad against Pryor may be accurate on that point, but it is fundamentally dishonest. It suggests Congress is getting some special treatment. It is only being treated like any other employer with an existing health insurance plan. Politifact and careful parsing by Cotton and others aren't necessary to demonstrate that the ad is artfully slanted to present a misleading picture of Mark Pryor. What do you bet the Pryor campaign will return the favor? And that Politifact might pronounce the ad false? And that Cotton would trumpet the independent finding from every rooftop?

Hurry November 2014.

UPDATE: Guess what? Politifact is going to apply its superiority to pundits, with a pundit fact-checking service funded by the founder of Craigslist. Will every editorial that fails to include all possible angles of a position be rated false? Will satire, parody and hyperbole be given "pants on fire" labels? Must conclusions and opinions be rendered neutral? We'll see. Something tells me that if they stoop this low, the Arkansas Blog is going to be found in disfavor by this snooty bunch. Tom Cotton has given me the template for responding. They're biased. And they're wrong.




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