Why centrists are obsessed with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


It’s Tuesday, so once again Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is dominating the national conversation. At time of writing, The Washington Post has gotten at least nine articles out of her 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper over the past two days. Some are supportive, but centrist “straight” reporters and columnists are skeptical. Aaron Blake says her response to complaints about bungling facts “just so happens to be the underlying ethos of the entire Trump presidency,” while former neocon Max Boot compared her to both Trump and Sarah Palin for the same reason.

This hysterical reaction, while wildly off-base, is also an instructive lesson in the political ideology and functions of centrist journalism.

First, let’s go through the complaint here. Ocasio-Cortez really has fumbled a few facts. Most notably, she incorrectly stated that leaks in the Pentagon budget could finance a big portion of Medicare-for-all, which is not true at all. The Washington Post’s fact checker Glenn Kessler identified a few other more suspect claims in an article from August (more on this later).

When Cooper asked her about this, she responded:

OCASIO-CORTEZ: If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees. I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.

COOPER: But being factually correct is important —

OCASIO-CORTEZ: It’s absolutely important. And whenever I make a mistake. I say, “Okay, this was clumsy,” and then I restate what my point was. But it’s not the same thing as the president lying about immigrants. It’s not the same thing at all. [60 Minutes]

Thus Boot argues that she “cares more about ideological correctness than factual correctness. “The Post’s Fact Checker has documented her reign of error,” he writes, citing Kessler’s article. He concludes that if “this attitude takes hold among the broader populace, responsible self-government becomes impossible, and radical demagogues will succeed reactionary ones.”

We should first note that Boot isn’t being quite accurate himself. Ocasio-Cortez did not say ideology is more important than accuracy, she said accuracy is not more important than being morally right. But let’s dig into the more pressing factual question here.

When I started my journalism career, I worked as a fact checker for many months. Focusing on strict empirical truth is a devilishly tricky business (and a decent introduction into the basic problems of epistemology), but one that is key to quality reporting. It also bears scant resemblance to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column.

For instance, one of the key tasks of fact checking is figuring out not just when something is mistaken, but how it might be fixed. Very often a writer will say something that is not strictly accurate, but is pretty close and might be corrected with a slight change of wording. Your job as the fact checker is to help the writer both by correcting errors and by figuring out how they might make their case …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics

      

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