Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fact Checking I and II, GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out)

A friend of mine, Mitch Berg, on his conservative blog Shot In the Dark, recently wrote a two-part post on the subject of No Child Left Behind.  To give credit (or blame, depending on how you view Penigma) where credit is due, Penigma exists in part as a reaction to Mitch and his blog.  It was a contributing factor to Pen starting this blog, and to my seeking out Pen and asking to write here.

I was shall we say challenged by the title Mitch selected for his post, "Fact checking".  As a reader, and in my writing here on Penigma, I like to begin with the question "is that true" before proceeding.  In the instance for example of Mitch asserting there were many, many studies that showed felons vote democrat(ic), it led me to track down the studies, and for Pen and I to begin reading.  Mitch did not then, and has not so far as I am aware ever, bothered to look at those studies himself before claiming they support his position.  Apparently it is sufficient for him that someone else who clearly didn't read them either, from sources like Fox news claimed it.  Mitch believed Breitbart when he insisted he had seen the unedited tapes which showed information about James O'Keefe and which turned out not to be true either. I worry that so long as someone who gets a lot of attention on the right makes a statement, my friend Mitch and his associates will believe it and repeat it and drum on it over and over, unchallenged -- without fact checking any of it. Another instance is the New Black Panther shtick. The blind belief is doubly true when the narrative is promoted by his darlings like Palin or Bachmann, or his current pet candidate Emmer; even TPaw.

I susbscribe to the regular updates from fact-checking sites like and my personal favorite for the way it is organized,  Those sites show me that there is misrepresentation from time to time on both sides of the political aisle - campaign ads are a big source of them.  That the Sunday morning news shows are now being routinely and promptly fact checked for example gives them much greater relevance than they held previously as podiums for spin.  So it is not by any stretch here that I believe all hype and just plain fraud is one-sided.  EVERYBODY needs to be fact-checked.

In the Fact-checking I and II, Mitch made the assertion - chorused by his followers - that the No Child Left Behind Bush initiated legislation of 2001 was in fact a bad thing, and that the primary responsibility for the legislation belonged to the late Senator Ted Kennedy.  At this point, you may be wondering why a discussion on another blog is being discussed here.  A good question; my response is that it is a microcosm of a larger problem, a larger pattern in politics and in blogging which merits attention. 

The erroneous claim that NCLB, as it is shortened (pronounced nicklebee), was Ted Kennedy's legislation has been made here on Penigma as well, in comments at the time of Kennedy's illness and demise.  It was another tediously repeated mantra by KR when he was still commenting here.  It is an often made claim, but just as wrong no matter how often it is advanced. 

My disagreement with who was responsible for NCLB was met with disparagement and insult but nothing of substance in the way of fact.  The rebuttal was pretty much that Bush had Kennedy stand next to him when he signed the legislation. It is true that Kennedy was in the PR photo - which I post here, courtesy of Wikipedia.  That is Ted Kennedy standing behind Bush and a student, to Bush's right.  Standing far closer to him, actually leaning against him, is John Boehner.  I cannot easily identify the other two gentlemen in the photo, but if I do at some point learn their identities, I will include them here in an update.  The four students that appear in the picture are presumably from the school where the legislation was signed.

I readily agree that Kennedy was a supporter of this legislation, that he was influential in it receiving bi-partisan support.  It was bi-partisan, as evidenced by the voting record passing it in the House and in the Senate.  That doesn't make it Kennedy's legislation; it does not justify putting the blame and responsibility for what is argued as failings of this legislation on Kennedy, however.  That is bad fact-checking; that is revisionist history, attempting to rewrite the facts to blame Kennedy for what originated with Bush and was what conservatives did wrong.

In aid of supportng that contention, I noted that Kennedy was a co-sponsor of the legislation in the Senate, but only one of an approximately equal number of Republican and Democratic senators. The bill was originally introduced in the House of Representatives by John Boehner.  Not ONLY John Boehner; it was cosponsored by 84 other Representatives.  All of them, with the exception of fellow Ohio democratic Jim Trafficant, were Republican.  I courteously provided that list of Representatives, with their state and their district and their party affiliiation in a comment.  I was further insulted, I was told I had gotten my information on the vote from Daily Kos, implying it was a biased and inaccurate source.  Except that I hadn't even seen the Daily Kos.  That was offered as an assumption, and as denigration.

I further pointed out that Bush had pushed for similar legislation in Texas, legislation that was the model for NCLB.  That TX legislation has been criticized for similar faults to the NCLB.  Bush also campaigned on his intention to push through this education reform legislation, clearly claiming it was his idea.  There was no similar campaigning claim by Kennedy.  Bush announced his claim to NCLB in the first address to the joint houses of Congress after his inauguration. Bush NAMED the legislation.

I was told I was wrong, that I was wrong because I was parroting Netroots or ________fill in the blank.  In fact, I used the Congressional Record, the Library of Congress,, and - the last is a respected neutral, non-partisan source.  I was also told that no matter what connection Bush might have to the legislation, besides standing in the same room behind Bush when he signed it, Kennedy was responsible for the changes to the legislation, that there were lots and lots of changes.  The Bush admin Department of Education also credits Bush with the legislation, not Kennedy.  They have a lovely archive on-line. But no, I was still bein dissed and dismissed for holding a lefty viewpoint that was not accurate. (Remember, the title of the post in question was Fact-checking I and Fact-checking II).

So, I went back to look at the amendments to the legislation.  There were 28 proposed.  Here is the list of those, who made them, their state and party, and the acceptance or rejection.  Of the amendments, only ONE was made from the Senate - and not by Ted Kennedy.  It was the 28th and final amendment - which is logical as the bill was first introduced in the House by Boehner, as HR 1. of the 107th Congress. That amendment was introduced by Senator Torricelli, NJ - D, not Ted Kennedy, MA-D. Despite the 28 amendments, the text of which are available as well as the main text, the legislation remains very similar to Bush's Texas legislation - legislation that was pushed by text book companies that profited significantly from it, first in Texas, then nationally (follow the money).

The House Amendments began with:
  1. John Boehner OH-R, accepted;
  2. Capps, CA-D, accepted;
  3. Graves, MO-R, accepted;
  4. Hill, IN-D, accepted;
  5. Dunn, WA-R, accepted;
  6. Hoekstra, MI-R, rejected;
  7. Dooley, CA-D accepted;
  8. Vitter, LA-R, accepted;
  9. Tiberi, OH-R, accepted;
10. Hoekstra, MI-R, rejected;
11. Meek, FL-D, accepted;
12. Rogers, MI-R, accepted;
13. Norwood, GA-R, accepted;
14. Tiahart, KS-R, accepted;
15. Armey, TX-R, rejected;
16. Armey, TX-R, rejected;
17. Akin, MO-R, accepted;
19. Trafficant, OH-D, accepted;
20. Brady, TX-R, accepted;
21 Mink, HI-D, accepted;
22. Wamp, TN-R, accepted;
23. Hilleary, TX-R, accepted;
24. Velasquez, NY-D, accepted;
25. Kirk, IL-R, accepted;
26. Hoeffel, PA-D, accepted;
27 Cox, CA-R, rejected.
28. Senator Torricelli, NJ-D, accepted.
courtesy of

What this primary source data - it is from the actual bill records - is that nearly all - 27, out of 28, changes to the original proposed legislation that came from George W. Bush, and was introduced by Republican Congressman John Boehner, those changes were overwhelmingly made in the House, not the Senate.  Those changes were made nearly two to one by Republicans, NOT Democrats or Independents.  The bill was overwhelmingly sponsored by Republicans - 84 to 1 in the House.

We need to oppose revisionist history; we need to oppose, all of us, when facts are misrepresented - wherever they are misrepresented (our side, the opposing side, neutral positions ).  We need to look at original source material, not pre-digested, pre-skewed, biased sources when we take a position and when we challenge a position.  When we find fault with legislation, we need to thoughtfully oppose it, question it, challenge it.  But we should not be trying to pawn it off on anyone else.  And we should not be disparaging those who attempt to politely and conscientiously present information.  Challenge the information if we can, yes, with additional fact.  But most of all, we need to be open to changing our mind if the information we encounter indicates it. Otherwise we are stuck with GIGO, Garbage In, Garbage Out.

Because if we do not; if we only rudely disparage each other by blindly citing ideology, right or wrong, then we ALL lose.  It will diminish our process of representative government.  We have seen too much of that in the past year, with people shouting each other down in town hall meetings, as well as in the blogosphere.

We all deserve better - and that begins with each of us committing to polite fact-checking, and with fairly and accurately designating responsibility for what we like, and what we don't.

You don't only find 'Bush Babies' in trees in Africa, you find them out on an American political limb sometimes.


  1. I agree 100%. Too often a reasonable discussion turns into a left-right squabble and the "facts" (whatever they are) go right out the window with the hot air. I was drawn to "Shot in the Dark" by Mitch's excellent posts on charter schools a few years back. That is where I first got hooked on blogs in general. However, the comments on political blogs almost always turn to left-right smear campaigns that reinforce stereotypes on both sides of the aisle. I try to keep my comments "on topic" but it often feels like I am talking to a brick wall.

    Penigma does a reasonable job of keeping this blog respectful.


  2. Thank you, Leslie!

    We do sincerely make an effort to keep this blog respectful.

    I hope we also succeed in our efforts to try to keep this blog more factual than other blogs, right or left.

    I sincerely believe that until we have a meeting of the minds on issues of fact, we cannot have an effective meeting of the minds of any kind on issues driven by ideology and emotion.