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Think Again: As a Matter of Fact

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Is $100 billion "big" money? Maybe it is to you and me. I suspect it is even to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. But the flacks at Koch Industries are trying to convince members of the media that a company with those kinds of revenues should not be saddled with the adjective "big" -- as in Big Oil. They've even produced a video making this argument. According to "a Koch Industries representative who didn't wish to be identified by name" and who was quoted in Politico, "when people think about quote-unquote Big Oil, they think about big, integrated oil companies."

Exactly what "people think about" when they think about anything is a mystery to me, but presumably facts are facts. Nevertheless, both FactCheck.org and the Washington Post's fact-checker column -- two allegedly nonpartisan, nonideological operations in the business of checking "facts" -- have taken up the cause of the relative puniness of this $100 billion mom-and-pop oil company.

The argument appears to be based on the belief that because the massive Koch Industries comprises so much more than its oil interests, it's not fair to use the word "big" followed by "oil." Their evidence: the fact that other oil companies are larger than the parts of Koch Industries devoted to oil. For instance, ExxonMobil happens to be, by most measurements, the world's largest global corporation, so when compared to the largest companies on the planet, $100 billion is mere chump change.

To these arguments, my friends at the Center for American Progress Action Fund's ThinkProgress blog added some useful facts that might bear on this decision. Allow me to borrow just a few highlights:

  • The Koch Political Action Committee is the largest oil-and-gas contributor--donating more than even ExxonMobil and spending more than1 million in each of the past two election cycles. This cycle, it has spent almost750,000.
  • Koch Industries is the fourth-largest lobbyist in the oil and gas industry, spending2.3 million so far in 2012 and more than8 million in 2011.
  • Koch Industries emits more than 300 million tons of greenhouse gases per year. Much of its lobbying funds, to say nothing of the millions it spends funding "research" and "educational" efforts, is directed toward confusing the public with pseudoscientific arguments designed to weaken the world's ability to combat the climate crisis that 97 percent of climatologists attribute to such emissions.
  • Flint Hills Resources, a Koch subsidiary, processes 300 million barrels of oil per year, which is responsible for up to 5 percent of the entire U.S. 7-gigaton carbon footprint.
Allow me to suggest that refusal to append the adjective "big" to the noun "oil" in these cases is being driven by far more than a simple rendering of the "facts." The problem these fact-checking organizations face is that while they pride themselves on being nonideological and nonpartisan, they have been thrown into a world in which one side -- that of conservatives -- has simply given up on reality as a normative or empirical matter. Whether the issue is climate science, economics, foreign policy, or teen sexual activity, the answer can almost always be found in conservative ideology rather than expert testimony or scientific study. The notion therefore that "reality has a liberal bias" explains something serious and significant about the conservative political world today -- but it is something that groups describing themselves as nonideological and nonpartisan cannot admit. What's more, the age-old tactic of "working the refs" is really successful for such groups. As The Weekly Standard online editor Mark Hemingway complains, when such fact-checking organizations tend to find many more conservative lies than liberal ones, rather than respond that conservatives tell far more lies, the fact-checkers go looking for liberal fabrications and find them whether they exist or not. How else could the priests of false equivalence maintain their law that "both sides do it" -- what I call "on-the-one-handism" -- which has proven to be a fundamental tenet of Beltway faith? The American Prospect's Paul Waldman discerned this dynamic at work in 2011, when he bravely predicted that yet another of these fact-checking organizations, PolitiFact, would choose as its (gimmicky) lie of the year a "'lie' told by Democrats, even if the one it picks is far from the most egregious lie told this year, or even really a lie at all" -- owing to the fact that the previous two years, Republicans had been caught fibbing. Three times in a row is enough to cry partisanship whether it exists or not, so Waldman was on pretty strong ground despite the damage that such a strategy might do to the organization's reputation for intellectual integrity. Waldman's prediction proved correct. PolitiFact's "lie of the year" in 2011 -- which was reported as front-page news in some places -- turned out to be the claim that House Republicans, acting on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, wished to "kill" or "end" Medicare. Again, the accusation, as serious as it sounds, was entirely based on a semantic question whereby what the alleged fact-checkers deemed to be an exaggeration of sorts -- and barely one at that -- was deemed to be not merely a "lie" but the most offensive lie of the political year.

To continue reading, please click over to the Center for American Progress.