Fact-Checking the Blogs; Left vs. Right

Anyone looking for the latest piece of proof that liberals and conservatives play by a different set of rules, with liberals setting a higher bar for personal responsibility, look no further than the back-and-forth taking place online over a dubious report from a liberal website ten days ago that Karl Rove had already been indicted on charges of perjury by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury. The report was posted May 13, by Truthout.org. Not a single other news organization has been able to confirm the facts and lots of people are expressing doubts about Truthout.org, including conservative bloggers who've been busy mocking the report.

What's worth noting though, is the fact that, concerned about potential damage being done to the larger, liberal blogosphere, online progressives have also stepped forward and pressed Truthout.org for answers. Not content to ignore the possible mishap just because it appealed to a deep-seated Democratic contempt for Rove, key liberal voices online have demanded a full account of the report. (Truthout.org, btw, stands by its account, that Rove has officially been indicted but that the charges just haven't been made public.)

That kind of grappling and soul-searching has been regularly AWOL among key, high-profile, right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin and those at Power Line, who have repeatedly jumped the misinformation tracks only to be met with silence from their online political peers. (When not being met by cheers.) The fact that liberal bloggers take a more responsible approach may not be news to most players online, but it's important that the mainstream media understand the difference between the two groups and stop pretending the activists play by the same rules of fairness. (The Wall Street Journal's. D.C. bureau was quick to write-up the Truthout.org story as a cautionary tale about liberal blogs, but the paper's news department has turned a blind eye to several recent instances of conservative blogs actively peddling misinformation.)

Need proof that wingers online regularly treat facts like fiction, and sometimes for weeks at a time? Just think Terri Schiavo talking points memo. Recall that in March 2005, Christian right-to-life radicals, with the backing of the White House, launched a national crusade to continue to keep Terri Schiavo on life support, over the objection of her husband and more than a dozen judges who had all ruled in her husband's favor who argued Terri never would have wanted to kept alive artificially. At the time, Republicans on the Hill, completely misreading the mood of the country, thought the Schiavo story was a political winner and one top Republican aide even typed up a talking points memo, insisting the right-to-life crusade represented "a great political issue" for Republicans, would excite "the pro-life base," and be, "a tough issue for Democrats."

News of the memo, first reported by ABC and the Washington Post, became a source of embarrassment for Republicans who had insisted moral and ethical considerations--not opportunistic political positioning--were the reasons they undertook unprecedented action on behalf of Schiavo's parents. Here's how I chronicle the right-wing bloggers' response to the Schiavo memo story in my book, "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush":

Conservatives thought they smelled a rat and in an effort to connect nonexistent dots they set off on an "investigation," quickly concluding the Schiavo memo was likely a farce from the get-go. Based on nothing more than their vivid, partisan imaginations, they surmised that a wily, unknown Democratic dirty trickster had typed up the memo and gotten the willing press corps to report that the fake memo came from the Republican side. Charging into battle alongside Power Line, a Minnesota-based conservative blog run by three attorneys who posted over a dozen conspiratorial reports about the Schiavo memo, bloggers like Malkin seized on misspellings in the memo as proof of deception and, relying on anonymous GOP staffers on the Hill for tips, became more certain in their pursuit of the "political dirty trick."

• "[The memo] does not sound like something written by a conservative; it sounds like a liberal fantasy of how conservatives talk," Power Line, March 21.

• "Talking Points Story Imploding?" Power Line, March 22.

• There is no evidence that this memo came from the Republicans at all," Power Line, March 24.

• Will ABC News officials continue to stonewall? Or will they come clean and promptly issue a correction?" MichelleMalkin.com, March 24.

• There is not a bit of evidence connecting the memo to any Republican, and, for all of the reasons we have repeatedly spelled out on this site, there are excellent reasons to believe it is a hoax perpetrated by still-unidentified Democrats," Power Line, March 26.

• I still believe the [MSM] has no basis for implying over and over again that the memo was distributed by Republicans," MichelleMalkin.com, March 26.

• ABCNews.com still hasn't retracted its unsubstantiated characterization of the memo as 'GOP Talking Points,'" MichelleMalkin.com, March 30.

Six days after Malkin's insightful post, the author of the infamous memo reluctantly stepped forward--he was the legal counsel for Mel Martinez, the Republican senator from Florida, which meant, of course, the memo was written by Republicans, it was distributed from a Republican office and it was used for talking point purposes. The right-wing press critics though, refused to acknowledge their colossal blunder. Instead, they actually congratulated themselves for helping get to the bottom of the memo story--a story that they stitched together out of whole cloth in the first place.

So, when a single left-leaning blog posted a single, dubious report about Rove, lots of liberal bloggers immediately demanded answers. But when several right-wing bloggers wandered off the reservation for weeks peddling a completely bogus story, most of their colleagues knew to remain silent.

That's the difference between the left and the right.