John Hinderaker coins the perfect phrase — “opinion police” — for the journalists who claim to be fact-checking, but really are evaluating opinions. This is a pernicious phenomenon that is becoming far too prevalent.
In this particular instance, Hinderaker was complaining about a Washington Post column by Glenn Kessler called The Fact Checker, which reported Rick Perry’s “newbie mistake” on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Kessler said Perry’s was factually incorrect when he said:
I certainly have some concerns. The first step in any peaceful negotiation for a two-state solution for the Palestinians is to recognize the right of Israel’s existence. They have to denounce terrorism in both word and deed. And they have to sit down and negotiate with Israel directly. Anything short of that is a non-starter in my opinion.
Kessler claimed Perry was wrong on all three points. On the first point, he says that Palestinians have indeed recognized Israel, but this is debatable.
For starters, many say that the Palestinians never really changed their charter to remove its anti-Israel language. They argue that merely voting to revoke the charter’s provisions is not the same thing as producing a new charter without those provisions. (Here’s an example of that school of thought.) Personally, I think that what Palestinian authorities did in 1996 or 1998 to revise a document written in 1964 is beside the point. What matters is what they say and do now. Just last month, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas denied the existence of Israel:
The Palestinian Authority will not be recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday, adopting a belligerent tone ahead of his planned statehood bid in September. . .
“Don’t order us to recognize a Jewish state,” Abbas said. “We won’t accept it.”
And this very day, the logo of the Palestinian mission to the UN denies Israel’s existence. In short, Perry’s position is, at the very least, a defensible opinion, not a factual error. Frankly, I think he’s right.
Kessler is even weaker on the other two facets of Perry’s statement. Perry says the Palestinians must denounce terrorism in word and deed. Kessler produces one example of the Palestinians denouncing terrorism in word. He does not produce any examples of the Palestinians denouncing terrorism in deed (okay, I’ll grant that that’s clumsy wording), because there are none to produce.
On the third point, that the Palestinians need to negotiate with Israel directly, Kessler seems to concede that Perry is right. The Palestinians are not negotiating with Israel directly, and haven’t since March 2010. But somehow this point too shows Perry’s ignorance. Kessler doesn’t explain how.
Nowhere in this “fact-checking” piece on Perry’s “newbie mistake” does Kessler demonstrate any factual errors. On the contrary, there is one difference in opinion, and two correct facts. But wait, Kessler talked to three anonymous “experts”, and all three said that Perry sounded remarkably uninformed. Oh, well then.
But wait, there’s more! Kessler concludes that Rick Perry’s campaign is a “fact-free zone” (no facts at all!) because they have never replied to any of his inquiries. Clearly, Kessler is using the word “fact” to mean something entirely different from what it means to me.