No New Crowleys!

5 Facts Not to Check: Like many Clinton supporters, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wants the press to fact-check Trump (and presumably Clinton), calling out “lies.” But even he admits that, in the most famous recent case of this sort of epistemological assertiveness, CNN’s Candy Crowley screwed it up:

In a 2012 presidential debate, the moderator Candy Crowley backed President Obama when Mitt Romney accused him of not having promptly called the Benghazi attacks terrorism. In fact, the point was ambiguous — Obama had used the phrase “acts of terror” but wasn’t clearly referring to Benghazi.

As a starter guide for debate moderators who might want to avoid Crowley’s epic and consequential mistake, here are some other prominent “facts”  that (often cocooned) partisans believe are “true” but that are actually in some — often considerable – doubt:

Mexico won’t pay for the wall: This is Kristof’s example of valid potential fact-check:

And we all know that Trump will not build a wall that Mexico will pay for (estimates are that it would cost $25 billion). If we know this, we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves.

“[W]e all know …” Unfortunately for Kristof, his column ran the day after former Mexican foreign secretary Jorge Castaneda noted Trump “has many ways of getting many Mexicans to pay for the wall,” including various tolls, fees, taxes on remittances, etc. — some of which do not require Congressional approval.

Crowleyism’s 0 for 2 so far.

Crime has not been increasing: This is a favorite fact-check response to Trump’s Giuliani-like pitch. Except on many measures crime (including homicide) is rising.

Homicides increased 9% in the largest 63 cities in the first quarter of 2016; nonfatal shootings were up 21%, according to a Major Cities Chiefs Association survey. Those increases come on top of last year’s 17% rise in homicides in the 56 biggest U.S. cities, with 10 heavily black cities showing murder spikes above 60%.

That doesn’t mean they’ve reached the levels of the bad-old days of the early ’90s. But any increase in crime is a legitimate public concern.

Trump even sometimes phrases his point with lawyerly precision (“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed …”). He still gets dinged by AP’s wannabe Crowleys — for “ignoring some big increases in spending” under Obama. Spending! If anti-crime spending were the same as actual drops in crime, we’d be living in Eden.

Illegal immigration from Mexico has stopped: There was indeed a reversal of the flow in the last half of the oughts (after the economy tanked, and … George W. Bush’s amnesty plan failed, and many states got tough on immigration). This decline is reflected in stats that end in 2014. But It’s not 2014. Since then, illegal immigration has surged again — mainly from areas other than Mexico, like Central America. But also from Mexico.

Obama deported record numbers of illegal immigrants: According to the administration’s  stats, deportations peaked at record numbers in 2012. But that was the result of finagling in the official numbers — specifically, “counting many people caught at the border [and immediately returned to the other side] as deportations, which they were not previously.” Since 2012, even official deportations have collapsed. (See also here.)

Trump did not oppose the 2003 Iraq War: As Byron York notes, this is #1 on the Hillary campaign’s must-fact-check-in-real-time hit parade. Trump did mouth weak support for the war on a radio show 6 months before it started (“Yeah, I guess so.”) Did he nurse growing misgivings in the tumultuous succeeding months of the run-up to war– as many did? Who knows? He didn’t vocalize clear Obama-style opposition.** He passed up a chance to blast the war in a Cavuto appearance four and a half months later — but he didn’t support it and expressed some doubts. (“I think the economy is a much bigger problem.”)

If I remember right, this was a time when publicly opposing the war had a social cost among East Coast political and journalistic types — I remember admiring Mike Kinsley for opposing it without angst, while many of my Democratic colleagues at SlateSlate! — who are now trashing Trump supported it. And it was only once the war started that Trump’s public disdain materialized. A few days after the invasion — still way early, compared with actual war supporters — he called it a “mess.”

So Trump didn’t have Obama’s balls. That doesn’t mean he supported the war, or that in his what-would-I-do-as-President mode he didn’t oppose it, or that the whole issue lends itself to “the cathartic, true-false, black-white ‘You lie!’ moment Democrats would like,” as York puts it.

He was somewhat against the war, or partially against the war, or mostly against the war, or mildly against the war, or kinda against the war.

So is that the point the Clinton campaign would like Lester Holt to make?

Looks like a quagmire to me.


** — Remember how grateful David Axelrod was that a tape of then-state-senator Obama’s anti-Iraq-War speech existed. Why? Because otherwise it would be difficult to document even Obama’s exact position. Likewise, Trump’s.