Last week, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler did a great job of disproving Mitt Romney‘s claim that he created 100,000 jobs through Bain Capital, but made the bewildering judgment that the claim merited but a single “Pinocchio.”
After watching Romney at Saturday’s ABC News debate, Kessler came back with a new ruling: the claim now merits three “Pinocchios,” while the rationale doesn’t appear to have changed.
It’s one thing to challenge claims based on their merits, and even to apply some reasonable subjective judgments, but too often, these fact-checking outfits fall down when it comes to delivering their “Pinocchio/Pants On Fire/So Full Of Shit Your Eyes Are Brown” rating. Since that rating is often the only thing people end up seeing (candidates have taken to citing the ratings on the trail and in debates), sticking the landing is important.
In this case, Kessler concluded, last week, that Romney’s claim to have created 100,000 jobs was based on a selection of only three businesses that Bain was involved with, and that it “does not include job losses from other companies with which Bain Capital was involved — and are based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain.”
To me, that sounds like “Romney’s claim is pure crap,” which should have merited at least three Pinokes: “Significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”
Instead, he gave it one: “Some shading of the facts. Selective telling of the truth. Some omissions and exaggerations, but no outright falsehoods.”
So what changed?
According to Kessler, Romney’s performance at Saturday’s debate changed everything. His new conclusion? (emphasis mine)
Romney certainly has a good story to tell about knowing how to manage a business, spotting opportunities and understanding high finance. But if he is to continue to make claims about job creation, the Romney campaign needs to provide a real accounting of how many jobs were gained or lost through Bain Capital investments while the firm managed these companies — and while Romney was chief executive. Any jobs counted after either of those data points simply do not pass the laugh test.
This was as true last week as it is today. As I noted Saturday, Romney simply sharpened the relief on an already obvious subterfuge. Kessler got it right both times, but only scored it right once.
Kessler did make an excellent, familiar-sounding point about the broader issue of Romney trying to claim jobs creation at Bain:
High finance is a difficult subject to convey in a sound bite, so Romney evidently has chosen to focus on job creation.
This is a mistake, because it overstates the purposes of Bain’s investments and has now led Romney into a factually challenging cul-de-sac.Romney never could have raised money from investors if the prospectus seeking $1-million investments from the super wealthy had said it would focus on creating jobs. Instead, it said: “The objective of the fund is to achieve an annual rate of return on invested capital in excess of the returns generated by conventional investments in the public equity market and the private equity market.”
Indeed, the prospectus never mentions “jobs,” “job,” or “employees.”
That sounds a lot like what I wrote on Sunday:
By all accounts, arriving at a net jobs figure for Romney’s tenure at Bain is impossible, and while that unknowable number is somewhat relevant, the real point is that people’s jobs are incidental to Bain’s mission. Indeed, the firm’s modus operandi, buying companies and extracting maximum short-term profit by cutting costs (i.e. layoffs), then selling them before they either collapse or are fixed by the next guy, tends to encourage job losses, not gains.
Now, I’m not one of these people who see partisan bias under every rock. I think the agenda of the fact-checking game is to burnish their own credibility, and in service of that, they seem to err on the side of the counterintuitive. That’s fine when it comes to their commentary, which can be evaluated on its merits, but their ratings can be somewhat arbitrary, and as a result, misleading. They should tighten them up, or get rid of them.
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