For sheer entertainment on MSNBC, few things rival the spectacle of its marquee host, Rachel Maddow, in the throes of high dudgeon.
There she was again last night, the full shtick, wide eyed, arms waving, sentences ending with exclamation points, the fact checkers at PolitiFact the target of her wrath. (Video after page break)
So grievous has PolitiFact erred, Maddow inveighed, that she practically begged for someone, anyone to take legal action against them, before PolitiFact can hurl inaccuracy at its next target. It all came across as more than a little over the top, especially from someone as unctuously earnest as Maddow.
Maddow's anger was prompted by PolitiFact's response to a claim made by former tennis star Martina Navratilova on "Face the Nation" while talking about NBA center Jason Collins as the first athlete playing for a major professional sports team to come out of the closet. "We still don't have equal rights," said the openly gay Navratilova. "I have been getting on Twitter, oh, why does this matter? I don't care, which is kind of code for, I really don't want to know. But it does matter because in 29 states in this country you can still get fired for not just being gay, but if your employer thinks that you're gay you could still get fired."
PolitiFact, a project run by the Tampa Bay Times newspaper, described Navratilova's claim as "half true" on its "Truth-O-Meter" in a post published on Sunday. PolitiFact cited the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign in pointing out that 21 states and the District of Columbia "explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. The remaining 29 do not," the latter figure neatly dovetailing with Navratilova's claim.
That's when employment law pertaining to gays starts turning gray, at least as far as PolitiFact was concerned. Although Navratilova "gets the number right," PolitiFact stated, "our discussions with legal experts produced a few exceptions to the rule" -- government workers covered by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, municipalities such as 12 of the 15 most populous cities in Pennsylvania with anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation, union agreements or other contracts between workers and employers that bar such dismissals, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
If one frames Navratilova's claim "in the context of blanket protections by states," PolitiFact concluded, "she's correct. Still, even in those 29 states, many gay and lesbian employees do have protections, either because they work for the government, because they live in a city that bars such discrimination, or because they work for a company that has pledged not to discriminate based on sexual orientation. On balance, we rate Navratilova's claim Half True."
Maddow was having none of it -- "They rated her statement (pause) half true! Because they checked what she said and found it was true, so then they rated her half true, because they are PolitiFact and this is why the very important concept of fact checking has become pointless, at a time in our country when we really need it to mean something."
Translation: Not only are those employed at PolitiFact reckless with facts, they're unpatriotic too. Maddow's rant continued -- "Because PolitiFact exists and has branded themselves the generic arbiter of fact and the paragon of fact checking, and they are terrible at it! They are terrible! They fact checked a statement about state law, found it to be true, decided it didn't seem seemly or whatever to actually just call it true, so then they researched other unrelated information about how there are other kinds of things besides states like some companies decide they don't want to discriminate and doesn't that count for something?! No! Because that is not the statement you are fact checking!" (The embedded video jumps abruptly at 2:53 due to an editing glitch; here is a link to the segment on Maddow's MSNBC site).
"Other unrelated information," did you say? Imagine for a moment that it was Maddow, herself openly gay, who was fired on the basis of her sexual orientation in one of those 29 states. Is it scarcely possible to believe she would not challenge her dismissal if it were expressly forbidden in a union contract? Or if the city where it occurred had passed an ordinance barring such discrimination? Or if Maddow were a government employee? (which she is in all but name, shilling at MSNBC on behalf of the Obama administration). When Maddow says "unrelated information," what she really means is -- this refutes my argument and therefore I'll ignore it.
Maddow wasn't done. "The statement you were supposed to be fact checking is true and until somebody figures out how to sue you in order to retrieve the meaning of the word 'fact' from the dark and airless hole you have stuffed it into, PolitiFact, then no, it is not OK for you to just make this stuff up. You are truly terrible. Fact checking has to count for something and PolitiFact, you are ruining it for everyone."
But PolitiFact clearly did not "just make this stuff up" -- and Maddow venting to the contrary is the single most deceitful claim in the saga. As for someone who might sue PolitiFact for its alleged misdeed here, how about Navratilova, the party allegedly harmed? Such a lawsuit would get hooted out of court. Instead of suing PolitiFact, Maddow would much rather that someone silence them, permanently, preferrably her. It takes little prompting for her inner censor to emerge.
Maddow's feud with PolitiFact began two years ago when they nailed her for a bogus claim about Wisconsin's budget surplus. Since then she's had it in for them, not so much for their judgment calls on when someone in politics or media gets it right or wrong, but because PolitiFact does not defer to Maddow as supreme arbiter of such matters. Until Maddow can go longer than a news cycle without getting nailed at NewsBusters and elsewhere for her default toward deception, she's in no position to judge.