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Fact-checking Michele Bachmann: What good is it?

January 27, 2011 |  4:49 pm

BachI know I'm late weighing in on this, but watching Michele Bachmann's officially unsanctioned State of the Union response Tuesday night, I was reminded of a quip by Dodgers announcer Vin Scully: "Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination." The Minnesota congresswoman wielded the frightening words -- "billion" and "trillion" -- that turn "tea partyers" red in the face. She stood in front of charts showing dramatic increases in something or under the Obama presidency, stage props that have proved effective for fellow tea party mogul Glenn Beck. Also like Beck, she invoked the wisdom of the Founding Fathers. But unlike Beck, she refrained from making veiled comparisons between the White House and Nazi Germany; she used Imperial Japan instead.

Which brings me to my point: Though fact-checking Bachmann's (or Beck's, or Sarah Palin's, or any tea party mogul's) historical references provides her critics a certain level of schadenfreude, does it do any good? Before acting as the tea party spokeswoman Tuesday night, Bachmann told a group of anti-tax Iowans  that the founders who wrote the Constitution worked tirelessly to fix their error and eradicate slavery, "men like John Quincy Adams" -- the son of a founder -- "who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country." A chorus of critics called her out for the glaring factual error, a rightful shaming that would cause any honest commentator to pause before asserting so confidently that history is on her side.

But Bachmann was right there Tuesday night, having weathered another round of left-wing hand-wringing, characteristically comparing the Obama administration to the "totalitarian aggressor" U.S. Marines fought on Iwo Jima. And CNN, whose own Anderson Cooper has previously chastised Bachmann for unapologetically flubbing American history, later aired the congresswoman's cliched invocations of the Founding Fathers and constitutional originalism, remarks that were ostensibly intended for her narrow tea party audience.

The problem is that Bachmann is a sought-after pundit in the first place. Much of her brand is bombast, which brings with it a less-than-wholesome treatment of the truth. Getting into a tizzy over her untrue, yet confident, utterances gives her more airtime than her intellectual heft deserves. Of course, this means the non-Fox News broadcasters would have to resist the temptation to invite her on as a commentator. No objections here.

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Photo: In this screen grab taken from video, Bachmann delivers her response to  Obama's State of the Union address. Credit: Associated Press

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