MSNBC talk-show host Rachel Maddow got worked up Thursday over a PolitiFact ruling that said this Feb. 17 statement of hers was false: “Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year.”
The statement is in the present tense (note the verb ‘is”). Presently, everyone agrees that Wisconsin "is on track" to have a deficit. So Maddow’s statement is simply false.
Yet Maddow said PolitiFact’s ruling was false. To do so, she misled about how she misled. Her evidence: a 9-word snippet in which she also said: “there is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall.” Said Maddow on Thursday: “PolitiFact says I am false – false – because I denied there is a budget shortfall in Wisconsin.” She then played the 9-word snippet again.
She implies PolitiFact left the sentiment out. But it didn’t.
PolitFact noted in a synopsis: “She added a kicker that is also making the rounds: Walker and fellow Republicans in the Legislature this year gave away $140 million in business tax breaks -- so if there is a deficit projected of $137 million, they created it.”
On Thursday night, Maddow made no mention of this PolitFact paragraph. But she played the 9-word snippet three times as if it were some obvious disclaimer. So Maddow's viewers could easily be left with the impression that this synopsis was utterly lacking from PolitiFact. Maddow did, however, direct viewers to her website to see her show’s correspondence to PolitiFact. There, her executive producer noted the PolitiFact synopsis that was conspicuously absent from Maddow’s Thursday J’accuse. The producer wrote that the PolitiFact synopsis was “a complete fabrication. Maddow never stated -- not once-- that Governor Walker's tax breaks were the direct cause of the budget deficit this year.”
That’s technically true -- that Maddow didn’t explicitly say this. She just did everything in her considerable rhetorical power to suggest it without exactly saying it. Here’s her statement in its entirety: “The state is not bankrupt. Even though the state had started the year on track to have a budget surplus – now there is, in fact, a $137 million budget shortfall. Republican governor Scott Walker, coincidentally, has given away $140 million worth of business tax breaks since he came into office. Hey, wait, that’s about exactly the size of the shortfall.”