PolitiFact Illinois can check facts, can't make politicians listen

Gov. Bruce Rauner holds a press conference on Sept. 19, 2016, in Springfield.
Clockwise from top: Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk
Clockwise from top: Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk

On Sept. 15, a fact check I researched and wrote for PolitiFact Illinois gave a "Mostly True" rating to Tammy Duckworth's statement that Mark Kirk had embellished his military record "at least 10 times."

One of the 10 incidents on which the statement was based, I found, had been updated since its initial publication and should not have been included on the list. Nine out of 10 ain't bad, but it's also not "at least 10."

A few weeks earlier, I had checked a statement by Gov. Bruce Rauner in which he said Democrats "are cutting our school funding. Four times in the last 10 years before we came into office." This statement earned a "Mostly False" rating because state school funding -- the part controlled by Democrats in the years in question -- had gone up slightly. Overall funding had declined not because Democrats cut it, but because federal stimulus money went away.

Fast-forward to Monday morning, Sept. 19. A new TV ad by Mark Kirk's campaign featured the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Duckworth accusing her of covering up abuse of veterans while serving as director of veterans affairs to protect then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

How did the Duckworth campaign respond? It issued a statement that included the line, "Senator Kirk, on the other hand, has lied at least ten times about his own military record."

As that news was breaking, I was attending a press conference in which Gov. Bruce Rauner answered a question about changing the system by which the state funds schools. Rauner said this was a major concern because "four times in the prior 10 years to me becoming governor the Legislature cut school funding. It's... atrocious what we've done to our public schools."

We didn't partner with PolitiFact because we expected politicians to heed our rulings as gospel and change their messages -- though we'd like them to consider it. The fact-checking we do is intended to give citizens/voters a clearer look at what's behind the statements their leaders make.

As demonstrated above, once a message becomes engrained in an official's platform, it's probably not going to change, no matter how much we point out the inaccuracies behind it. Political campaigns paint with the broadest of brushes and they rarely yield the canvas to those who point out what they consider to be minute, subjective technicalities. And in political messaging, unfortunately, the ends generally are considered to justify the means.

As a voter, though, you deserve to know what kind of evidence goes into building these claims.

I'd write more but an urgent email from the Tammy Duckworth campaign -- subject line: "BREAKING: Kirk's new lie about his military record" just dropped into my inbox:

Mark Kirk has told at least 10 different lies about his military service during his political career....

I guess "at least nine" doesn't pack quite the same punch.