Newsflash: Dan Riehl is failing again [Updated]

The Breitbartless Breitbartians continue to explore the boundaries of irony over at the spectacularly misnamed BIG Journalism, where Dan “Oh, Really?” Riehl is taking a break from the racebaiting and harrassing people on Twitter to gin up another fact-free conspiracy theory buffered by the usual headline question mark:

DID THE WHITE HOUSE PRESSURE WASHINGTON POST TO CHANGE FACT CHECKER?

Riehl’s deeply concerned about the values of Pinnochios, as can be gauged by the startling point size of his lede:

On March 27, Josh Hicks of the Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave White House regulation czar Cass Sunstein one “Pinocchio” for his defense of the Obama administration’s regulatory record. However, the same article, a day earlier, was far more critical of the administration, giving Sunstein a total of three Pinocchios.

It Depends What You Mean By “Facts”

Before you get too excited, lay down those clutching pearls and rest assured that Riehl offers precisely no evidence whatsoever of behind-the-scenes shenanigans, instead relying on the customary paranoia that feeds the benighted BIG comment streams and keeps the rubes clicking. Riehl’s been driven to exploiting MS Word’s wonderful Compare Files feature to track the rewriting of two successive versions of the “factchecking” article, and supplies a handy screenshot to fuel the speculation:

image

I don’t expect his menagerie of regular readers to bother perusing any of this in any detail, but I’m not infrequently paid to do this sort of thing, so here’s a freebie, Dan.

Many of the amendments to the article section cited (Riehl doesn’t reveal what if any differences there are in its other sections) are trivial tightening up of verbosity, rephrasing, and general tinkering to no great effect, but some of them alter suppositions and inferences which are not impartial on their face, thus toning down the condemnation in the original article. Take the first couple of paragraphs:

Sunstein said correctly noted that the Obama administration has issued fewer reduced overall regulations than the government of his predecessor, compared to the last years of the Bush era, but he didn’t mention that more rules of the “significant” variety have taken effect under the current president—though even that number doesn’t clarify under whose rules have a larger negative impact since then.

The White House regulatory chief would have you believe that Obama’s executive orders and a series of incredibly smart new regulations have produced historicstaggering results in terms of estimated net benefits. But third party sources and the budget office’s own footnoting give us plenty of reason to doubt the gaudines of Obama’s statistical advantage.He may be right, but he cherry-picked data that cast previous presidents in a pretty negative light.

This follows a pattern we’ve noted before in the WaPo’s “factchecking,” where abstruse arguments earlier in the “The Facts” section article worry at the issue at hand, then slither seamlessly—or not infrequently with a severe semantic jolt—in the “The Pinnochio Award” section into condemning an administration statement on the basis of what it doesn’t say, rather than locating what most of us would class as bald misstatements of fact, and we and plenty of others have rightly ridiculed the WaPo in the past for this. Indeed, Josh Hicks, deputizing for Glenn Kessler, has to concede in an earlier part of the article Riehl hasn’t submitted to such high-faluting technical analysis:

We don’t take issue with Sunstein defending the president’s regulatory policies. He has every right to do that, especially if he provides valid data to back up his claims—which he did in this case.

Case closed, then? Nah. The rubes skip to where the real entertainment is: How many Pinnochios, dammit?!

Other than plucking deperately at yet another totally unfounded conspiracy theory on what was apparently a slow news day chez Dan, it’s unclear what Riehl hopes to achieve from this exercise. WaPo’s “The Fact Checker” article focuses on two statements from Sunstein:

Over the Obama administration’s first three years, the net benefits of regulations reviewed by OIRA and issued by executive agencies exceeded $91 billion—25 times the corresponding number in the [George W.] Bush administration and more than eight times the corresponding number in the Clinton administration.”

“In the last 10 fiscal years, the highest costs were imposed in 2007. The last three years of the Bush administration saw higher regulatory costs than the first three years of the Obama administration. If you’re looking for the year with the highest regulatory costs on record, you’ll have to go all the way back to 1992, under President George H.W. Bush.”

—From an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune by White House regulatory chief Cass Sunstein, March 19, 2012

“In terms of just the facts, the Obama administration’s issued fewer final rules in the first three years than the [George W. Bush] administration did in the first three years.”

—Sunstein during Politico breakfast, March 20, 2012

It summarizes:

Cass Sunstein, who heads the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the White House budget office, argued against these critics in a Chicago Tribune opinion article titled “Why regulations are good — again.”

If you’ve nothing better to do and you want the blow-by-blow of how Hicks stacks up his “evidence” to sidestep Sunstein’s contention—not only that the current administration hasn’t been over-regulating in comparison to previous ones, but that some regulations can and do bring cost savings and other benefits—you can read it at the article itself. Not only does Hicks prove that Bush II was no slouch in passing regulations, but he accepts that they saved costs, because the evidence is all there.

Does Riehl support this idea, which would fly in the face of his evidently libertarian small-government streak? He certainly doesn’t address it, which might earn him the coveted Four Pinnochios in an alternative universe where what he wrote actually mattered. So if I construct my own little “The Pinnochio Test” tent here for a moment, I have to assume that Dan Riehl thinks government regulation is A Good Thing that can often save taxpayers’ hard-won money. Well done, Dan.

The Tosser Test

As noted above, Dan Riehl has yet another conspiracy theory to hawk, so he alleges:

After the March 26th item was published, it promptly disappeared and was replaced with a notification: “This post was inadvertantly published and has been temporarily removed by the editors.”
...
The Post gave no additional explanation; the notice was removed, and an all but re-written version of the Fact Checker item appeared the next day, with no acknowledgement of what had transpired during the 24-hour gap between the first and second items, now far more favorable to the Obama administration.

I have to (perhaps unwisely) take his word for all this, but that’s certainly unusual as far as I know. Riehl bemoans the fact that the WaPo has offered no further explanation, but that may be because (a) Riehl hasn’t bothered to contact them to seek one, or (b) he has done so, and they for some inexplicable reason have chosen to ignore his all-caps messages (which would be evidence of editorial wisdom I’m unaccustomed to seeing from the WaPo).

I can think of a few more plausible reasons why that version was pulled. For example: It was crap, and wandered too far into the long grass of insinuation and damning with “evidence” of omission of sin than even the editors at “The Fact Checker” were comfortable with. But if that standard were applied more generally, a few forests’ worth of scrawl would be spared every day and the intertubes would be a lot more compact than they currently are, so that may be stretching bounds of plausibility a bit too far.

One non-conspiracy theory that would be entirely in keeping with what facts we have to hand would be that an article draft was published accidentally (some of us at Rumproast have fallen foul of that mistake ourselves in the past), and the reviewed version is more in keeping with whatever standards, including impartiality in phrasing, “The Fact Checker” usually sets itself in its finished articles. In fact, a geek like me would find it mildly interesting to see the WaPo’s editorial process in its “The Fact Checker” columns laid bare—not least to help me understand how it so frequently veers from the allegedly neutral-ish tone of its “The Facts” sections (themselves often prime examples of counter-cherrypicking)  to the conclusions and final awards in its “The Pinnochio Test” sections—were it not a rare sunny day out there, the birds a-twittering with extramarital affairs in mind and the breeze ruffling the season’s coyly peeking new growth, and the damage from the past year’s near-incessant storms isn’t going to fix itself.

Riehl concludes:

The Fact Checker appears to acknowledge, in the first version, that the Bush administration could emerge on top if the Obama administration left out “very important information” from its public statements.

Well, yes. But for balance’s sake, Dan, I have to point out that the second version also excised this:

We have no evidence that any of his statements was factually wrong, but ...”

Which—the inevitable “but” notwithstanding—would seem to be the most important bar for a factchecking article in a more naive world. Or maybe I don’t quite get what the point of these sorts of exercise is. Oh well. Dan’s suspicions won’t be dismissed so easily:

What happened? The Post’s readers deserve a clear explanation. In particular, it should disclose what, if any, contact it had with the White House in the time between the two items.

Good luck with that.

Anyway, Dan worked hard on all this—even firing up Word and opening two files and doing a screencap—so even though he’s not technically a factchecker himself, he just plays one on the intertubes, and because his headline and lede are completely unsupported by anything resembling facts, he’s certainly deserving of today’s award, only the second since its inauguration.

Four Tossers

imageimageimageimage

Rumproast Award for Shamelessly Misleading Fact Checking

UPDATE:

Somebody claiming to be the WaPo’s Glenn Kessler has responded in Riehl’s comments:

GAKessler

Oh my, such a vast conspiracy theory! If Dan Riehl had simply bothered to contact me (as one other reporter did) he would have quickly discovered that an unedited version of Josh Hicks’ column on regulations went live for about 20 minutes or so because of a technical glitch. We removed it as soon as I spotted the error.

Luckily, Josh is a clean writer and so having raw copy on the web was not a total embarrassment. But the final version did change, based on my editing and discussions between me and Josh, just like any article does. That’s how the sausage is made in our business.

For what it is worth, I gave President Obama four Pinocchios just days before Josh’s column appeared. I am sure the White House wishes it had the ability to pressure us. But we always listen to both sides of the story before making a ruling.

That is not Riehl’s standard. Apparently he was afraid that his theory would fall apart if he simply acted like a real reporter and made a phone call to check the facts.

Glenn Kessler
Fact Checker columnist and editor

That’ll be option (a) above, then:

Riehl bemoans the fact that the WaPo has offered no further explanation, but that may be because (a) Riehl hasn’t bothered to contact them to seek one ...

And Riehl has now taken to badgering a singularly unimpressed Kessler on Twitter in an attempt to cover some ass.

Meanwhile, and more recently:

John ‏@jmachats
2 audio experts have concluded it is NOT @michellemalkin, @editmedavid & @danriehl close friend George Zimmerman on 911 cll #zimmermanlies
12:30 AM - 1 Apr 12 via web

DanRiehl ‏ @DanRiehl
@jmachats Why do you hate white people? #zimmermanlies
12:34 AM - 1 Apr 12 via TweetDeck

2h John John ‏ @jmachats
@DanRiehl is that supposed to be witty? #failedwriter #zimmermanlies
12:49 AM - 1 Apr 12 via web

Posted by YAFB on 03/31/12 at 11:14 AM • Permalink

Categories: Geek SpeakPoliticsBedwettersNuttersOur Stupid MediaPoliblogsSkull Hampers

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Bravo! 

Plus, my sincere sympathy for what your brain had to go through in order to read all that dreck.

It took me awhile to get where he was going with it, but I gave up.  People edit, fact checkers use rubber inches, che sera sera.

I did the “print draft by accident” thing the other night and discovered my images were all code; I copied the wrong links and hadn’t done “preview” yet—


Fastest. Edit. Ever.

I did the “print draft by accident” thing the other night and discovered my images were all code; I copied the wrong links and hadn’t done “preview” yet—

Fastest. Edit. Ever.

Aha! DID YOU HAVE ANY CONTACT WITH THE WHITE HOUSE IN THE MEAN TIME? I THINK THE ROAST’S READERS DESERVE A CLEAR EXPLANATION.

I’m sure Dan Riehl would like to know.

(Yeah, it’s an adrenalin rush when that happens. Hitting “Close” temporarily gives me some cover if I’ve made a humungous booboo. Still, one benefit of being largely nocturnal is that relatively few people get to see it all going on at the time ...)

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