Fact-Check Reporter Quietly Fact-Checks Himself on Bad Anti-McCain Claim

Larry Rohter on Saturday claimed McCain was "simply false" to say that Obama voted to raise taxes on people making just $42,000 a year. On Tuesday, he wrote: "The bottom line is that if passed into law without accompanying tax relief measures, the budget resolutions that Mr. Obama endorsed would raise taxes for some individuals making $42,000 a year."

Reporter Larry Rohter's "Check Point" feature for Tuesday, "Misleading Claims by McCain on Obama's Tax Plans," is his second bite of the presidential debate from Friday night - an eon ago in a news-heavy period like this one. So why return to it? Perhaps to subtly correct a bad claim Rohter made in his first fact-check of the debate (caught by Times Watch) on Saturday, when McCain said Obama had voted to raise taxes on people who made as low as $42,000 a year, and Rohter called the McCain claim "simply false."

Today, Rohter modified that assertion. In what's known in journalistic parlance as a rowback, Rohter doesn't take it back in so many words, but after much-throat clearing and many caveats, lets slip in the story's 11th paragraph that McCain's "simply false"statement was, in fact, factually accurate.

One of the sharpest exchanges Friday night in the presidential debate between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama came on the issue of taxes. When Mr. McCain charged that his opponent had "voted in the United States Senate to increase taxes on people who make as low as $42,000 a year," Mr. Obama replied: "That's not true, John. That's not true."

"That's just a fact," Mr. McCain responded. "Again, you can look it up."

So what does the record say when you look it up? Is one candidate right and the other wrong, or are both exaggerating?

On Saturday, Rohter knew for a fact that McCain was wrong. Rohter passed on the good word from the "nonpartisan" Factcheck.org that McCain's claim was "simply false." Problem was, that's not what Factcheck.org said about McCain's debate claim. Factcheck.org determined that "McCain was right, though only for single taxpayers."

On Tuesday, Rohter hemmed and hawed, and first rehashed campaign history to paint McCain in a bad light and to fiercely defend Obama against a potential weak point - that he's a tax-raiser:

In the past, Mr. McCain has characterized Mr. Obama's position on taxes in ways that proved to be demonstrably inaccurate. His remarks on Friday night, which he amplified on the campaign trail on Monday, seemed to be an effort to shift him away from that shaky ground. However, they too contain assertions that are misleading or overstated....The budget resolutions are merely a blueprint and do not have the force of law. But even if they indicate a propensity by Mr. Obama to vote to raise taxes - something he and his campaign would fiercely dispute - there is a question of whether the vote would raise taxes at all.

Rohter also raises eyebrows by referring to the "nonpartisan Tax Policy Center" to refute McCain's charges as a "bizarre proposition." The Tax Policy Center may be nonpartisan in the fact that it does not actually endorse candidates, but as a creature of the liberal Brookings Institution and Urban Institute, it's fairly clear where its political sympathies lie.

Finally, in paragraph 11, Rohter reluctantly answered the question he'd posed in paragraph 3, without acknowledging that it's a reversal from his previous position.

The bottom line is that if passed into law without accompanying tax relief measures, the budget resolutions that Mr. Obama endorsed would raise taxes for some individuals making $42,000 a year. But it would not raise taxes for all of them. For a single taxpayer with no dependents, the amount of that increase would be $15. A single taxpayer with one child earning $58,000 or less, however, would not pay additional taxes.