KSTP-TV’s corporate owner has given $100,000 to MnForward, a group backing GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Emmer’s DFL opponent, Mark Dayton, has given MinnPost $4,500 and my boss’s son works for Dayton’s campaign.
With those disclaimers in place, let’s compare how KSTP reporter Tom Hauser fact-checked the most recent MnForward ad to one from the pro-Dayton Alliance for a Better Minnesota.
Hauser uses letter grades to sum up his evaluations. The game — which involves an appreciation of hairsplitting — is seeing if you think they’re consistent. But at the outset, I’ll say if you take the grades away, both reports are solid and add necessary context.
Because KSTP doesn’t allow embeddable video, you’ll have to view the MnForward analysis here and the ABM review here. Hauser found both factually accurate, but like most media fact-checkers, also considers context or lack thereof. In the end, he graded MnForward’s higher — a “B+” versus ABM’s “C+.”
The MnForward ad makes three basic claims: Dayton wants to raise income and property taxes $5 billion, “he even supported a tax on email,” and “thinks ideas to reduce wasteful spending are ‘idiotic.’”
ABM’s ad starts out, “What if you missed one out of every five days of work for a year?” analogizing that to Emmer missing 23 percent of votes in the 2010 legislature.
Fundamentally, Hauser says ABM over-reached by equating a missed Emmer vote to a missed day of work. Many votes occur on the same day (though on the flip side, the legislature doesn’t vote every working day).
When I interviewed Hauser last month, he explained that the ad “gave almost no context.” DFL opponents Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Paul Thissen — who, like Emmer are legislators — saw missed votes spike, though to a lesser degree. (Hauser notes Anderson Kelliher, as Speaker, controlled the House floor.)
Noting President Obama missed 24 percent of U.S. Senate votes the year he ran for president, Hauser asks, “The inference is that anyone who misses 23 percent of votes, as Emmer did in 2010, isn’t qualified to be governor. … Does ABM then infer President Obama is unfit for office?”
ABM isn’t advertising in a presidential race, but if Hauser is saying the missed-votes issue is superficial and not tightly linked to governance, I agree — even if that’s opinion more than truth.
MnForward’s ad also has its misleading moments.
The ad is generally on solid ground asserting Dayton’s $5 billion in (biennial) income and property tax hikes; Hauser notes the property tax hikes only kick in for homes valued above $1 million.
While Dayton did say in 2003 that it’s “worth looking at some very, very small charge for every e-mail sent” to reduce spam, Hauser says the concept was not in a computer-owners’ bill Dayton introduced. It has also never been part of the DFLer’s 2010 budget proposal.
(Another pro-Emmer group, Minnesota’s Future, has an ad stating the email tax is part of Dayton’s budget “bill.” That’s patently false. Hauser and WCCO Reality Checker Pat Kessler did not review that ad; MPR’s Tom Scheck critiques it here. The MnForward ad hits the same themes as the Minnesota’s Future ad, a political tag team even though the parties may not have touched hands.)
As for thinking “ideas to reduce wasteful spending are ‘idiotic,’” Hauser notes that was Dayton’s evaluation of a single idea — Gov. Pawlenty’s proposed constitutional amendment to limit state spending to the amount raised in the previous biennium.
I’d argue that idea doesn’t “reduce wasteful spending” so much as it reduces all spending. More importantly, Hauser notes that Dayton has proposed $680 million in spending cuts.
So … ABM highlights a superficial issue that’s par for the bipartisan course and stretches to make an analogy, earning a C+; MnForward hits a more fundamental taxation issue but highlights a tax with no role in the race and stretches to imply Dayton won’t cut waste, receiving a B+.
Seem fair? To judge, you need to know KSTP’s grading scale. A problem with the station’s reports online and on-air is they never tell you what the letters mean. Here’s how Hauser described them to me:
- An “A” requires nearly complete accuracy with little exaggeration and little or no need for more context.
- A “B” requires mostly accurate information, but gets marked down for minor exaggerations and misleading information.
- A “C” can be the result of inaccurate information or exaggerated information that misleads and gives the viewer no context.
- A “D” is the result of at least half the information being false or misleading to the point of leaving a false impression.
- An “F” is the result of more than half the information being outright false as well as misleading and out of context.