Washington Post "fact checker" Michele Ye Hee Lee targeted Sen. Ted Cruz today -- but she wasn't questioning his facts. She just didn't like they way he used the facts. It's correct to point out that there are more words in the tax code than the number of words in the Bible, but that's "utterly meaningless," she argued.
Cruz is correct on the comparison of words in both texts. But regular readers of The Fact Checker know we frown on such counting exercises, like the number of pages in “Romneycare” health-care law in Massachusetts or the number of pages in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Such comparisons — in this case, the word count of the evolving tax code of the most industrious country in the world to words in a religious document that was written thousands of years ago — don’t really tell you much of anything.
Which raises the obvious question: So why not just leave it alone? Why waste “Fact Checker” time on it? Was there nothing better to pick on? Is this the "Not Telling Me Much" blog? The Post is allegedly supposed to be rooting out serious fact-mangling, not picking nits because they don't like the ideology of the argument.
The literally translated King James Version of the Bible contains just over 800,000 words. There are as many as 3.7 million individual words in the IRS tax code....
But does any of this matter? Here is another, possibly more relevant, comparison. It takes an average American taxpayer 13 hours to comply with the tax code, according to the IRS. Four hours of that estimate is devoted to actually completing the forms. The rest of the time is spent on record-keeping and other miscellaneous tasks. (The Fact Checker has explored this figure in the past.)
In comparison, it takes 90 hours for a marathon reading of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, without commentary. At least that’s how long it takes for the annual U.S. Capitol Bible Reading marathon. (If you want to figure out how long it would take you to read the Bible, try this nifty “How long does it take to read the Bible” calculator.)
The point, said Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier, is that the IRS code is too long and complicated.
Lee allowed for a few paragraphs the point that the tax code is rather complicated, but she still thought Cruz was pushing nonsense, writing in conclusion: "This is a nonsense fact, something that is technically correct but ultimately meaningless. Thus it is not worthy of a Geppetto Checkmark but neither does it qualify for a Pinocchio."
By the Post “fact checking” standards, “Statements and claims that contain ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ will be recognized with our prized Geppetto checkmark.”
Ted Cruz apparently told a "nonsense truth," which is unworthy of the "prized" Post atta-boy. That response is much more emotional than factual. Lee even argued that Cruz's "crude" comparison actually diminishes public frustration with the IRS:
In a way, comparing the raw word count in the tax code to the text of the Bible diminishes the real frustration that taxpayers feel, and the real impact that can occur from improper tax filings. The consequences of not filing your taxes is of far bigger concern than not reading the Bible — legally speaking, anyway. We can’t speak to possible eternal damnation.
As a reporter who is supposed to be explaining the world to the public, it should be glaringly obvious that the tax code -- and most of the laws and regulations that govern our lives from Washington -- are far too long and boring (and confusing, perhaps intentionally so) for the average citizen to master. The question then becomes if that also applies to the citizen's representatives in Congress -- and the alleged sentinels of the people called the press. If you can't handle the facts, get out of the "Fact Checker" cubicle.