Saturday, April 26, 2014

Fact check follies

In the long list of things that people don't like about politics, slinging "mud" is pretty close to the top. In my earlier article deconstructing accusations against U.S. Congressional Candidate John Ratcliffe it was observed that there is a difference between pointing out the negatives about a political candidate, and simply trying to raise clouds of doubt about that candidate for the sake of political expedience. It was predictable that the article would not be well received by the author of the accusations being deconstructed, but the extent of the doubling down on those positions was a little surprising.

Bearing in mind that the accusations have been emphatically proclaimed to have been fact checked, the purpose of today’s article is simply to demonstrate the level of credibility with which these charges should be viewed. The internet is sometimes both a blessing and a curse. There is a nearly infinite amount of information at our fingertips, but that information still has to be processed and analyzed. Collecting lots of data is pretty simple. Analyzing it is not always so simple. We can easily connect dots that really have nothing to do with each other. That can be done intentionally, but it can also be done by accident. This is one reason that it is imperative to first be committed to the truth when we set out on a course to tear down a political foe.


Case in point, the following quote is an excerpt from the "official response" to my previous article:

"Chris Christie, the former underling of John Ashcroft’s DOJ but now Governor of NJ, had hurricane Sandy destruction to fix. There was money put in a “Relief Bill” to pay for damaged property and infrastructure. So hold this thought while I add in the Ashcroft group. 
The Ashcroft(sic) is the listed Lobbying firm for the Rockefeller Fund, a non profit that was building a new project in NJ. The Rockefeller Fund project was not in any way damaged during the hurricane. 
I think you already know what happened and why Chris Christie is being investigated again. Yes, as you might expect, Chris Christie, a former DOJ crony of Ashcroft and fellow US Attorney to Ratcliffe and Sutton, handed the Rockefeller Fund a gift of $6,000,000 dollars from the Sandy Relief money (tax dollars) as a grant. 
Again for review, the Ashcroft group is the Lobbying firm that the Rockefeller Fund hired."
The text above is part of the official response that has been posted on the internet, and emailed to political organizations throughout northeast Texas. In at least one case, the email that accompanied the article contained the following disclaimer: "Make your own conclusions, do your own fact checking by all means."  There is something basically wrong with throwing out an accusation, and then telling people to verify it themselves. Of course we do need to verify things for ourselves, but we also have a duty to make certain that accusations like this are valid before we make them.

So what do we find when we do our own "fact checking" regarding the above charges? First there is some liberty taken with the name of the "Rockefeller Fund". There are two distinct organizations intertwined in this tale - "The Rockefeller Family Fund" (RFF), and the "Rockefeller Group" (RG). Both organizations trace their origins to the famous American Rockefeller family. The second issue with the accusation is that both groups have taken dramatically different paths since they started. The RFF is a philanthropic organization that the Ashcroft Group did indeed do some lobbying for. The RG is a real estate development enterprise run by CEO Atsushi Nakajima, and 100% owned by Mitsubishi Estate Co. Ltd. The third noteworthy item is that the $6 million grant at the heart of one of Christie's scandals was not made to a project developed by either of these Rockefeller enterprises. The confusion seems to stem from RG involvement in another Christie misadventure that we shouldn't be surprised to see become the focus of future "fact checking" by Mr. Hall's new bff. The $6 million grant from the Sandy relief fund was directed toward building the Franklin Manor senior center, and the developer for that project was Mill Street Development Urban Renewal LLC.


So just what do an American philanthropic organization and a Japanese owned real estate development group have in common? They have similar sounding names that make good fodder for conspiracy theories. There is no reasonable excuse for throwing out accusations of collusion between either Rockefeller organization, Christie and Ashcroft over the Hurricane Sandy relief controversy. I was a little surprised to see Ratcliffe’s detractor make a very specific accusation in another recent article posted on FourStatesNews: "...the Ashcroft group lobbied Chris Christie to give money to the Rockefeller Family fund from(sic) Hurricane Sandy relief fund even though there was NO hurricane damage to their project." The only problem is that the RFF didn't have a development project, damaged or undamaged.


So finally we see that we have a political attack on a Texas congressional candidate who doesn't work for Ashcroft's lobbying group, which did not lobby for the Rockefeller Group, which is a 100% Japanese owned company not connected to the Rockefeller Family Fund that a part of the Ashcroft business that the candidate is not part of did lobby for. Not to mention the fact that the entire accusation was based on the completely false premise that the Rockefeller Group was the developer for Franklin Manor. How many degrees of separation need to be established between the accusation and the accused in order to reveal this accusation for the politically expedient act that it was? Is it really reasonable to just cherry-pick some google results to throw out an accusation like this and expect everybody to go unravel the threads for themselves?


Unfortunately, there are other conclusions in the "official response" that are off the mark, or simply wrong. The data that was gathered for most of the accusations is not necessarily bad, as far as it goes. The analysis that was applied to that data is another story entirely. Did the misguided accusations quoted above stem from honest mistakes or malice? What matters is simply that the accusations don’t represent the truth.