Fact Check a Campaign Promise?

The highlighted article of the second story on Google News this morning was from AP:

FACT CHECK: White House ignores health concession.

President Barack Obama has indicated a willingness to drop a government-run health care plan from any overhaul. The White House says that's not a shift. Actually, it is.

Fierce proponents of a government-run health plan for months, Obama and senior administration officials, bowing to pressure from Republicans and skeptical voters, suggested that such a public option is not do-or-die.

"All I'm saying is, though, that the public option, whether we have it or we don't have it, is not the entirety of health care reform," the president told a town hall-style audience in Grand Junction, Colo., on Saturday. "This is just one sliver of it, one aspect of it."

CLAIM: "I challenge you guys all to go back and see what we've said about this [a public option for the health exchange] over the course of many, many, many, many months, and you'll find a boring consistency to our rhetoric," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters.

THE FACTS: During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama said a new public plan should offer comprehensive insurance similar to that available to federal employees.

The article goes on to say that President Obama supported the public option in many places in the first half of the year and includes two specific quotes from June 3 and July 18.

So what? You can't fact check a politician promising something and then backing off that promise when it looks like there isn't support for it. Taking positions and then altering them is the essence of politics. If you don't change when the situation changes, you're a zealot.

A fact check is supposed to research whether a factual claim is true or not. For instance, it is a factual claim if someone says that the health care bill would "absolutely require" that seniors on Medicare undergo end-of-life counseling "that will tell them how to end their life sooner." In this case the factual claim is untrue, and has been repeatedly debunked by many media outlets.

Why the AP chose to fact check a political proposal is uncharacteristic, as they clearly know what a factual claim is, and have checked many of them in the health care debate. The only thing I can think of is that all of the lies about health care reform are coming from the right, so they had to appear "balanced" by taking on a Democrat.

UPDATE: My theory might be right. Checking some old AP Fact Checks, almost all were about factual claims and seemed fair to me. Interestingly, the only other counter-example was also about President Obama. A particularly bad instance was what he said about Henry Louis Gates, Jr. in his press conference. Obama said, "the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home." The AP says, "Gates wasn't arrested for being in his own home, as Obama implies, but for allegedly being belligerent when the sergeant demanded his identification." First, Obama didn't imply that, and second, the sergeant had seen Gates' ID (and knew Gates lived there, as Obama says) when he was arrested. The rest is mainly about health care and don't seem fair to me, but I might be biased.

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