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Blackwell Blasts FactCheck

In an interview on "The Daily Show," Family Research Council fellow Ken Blackwell disagreed with host Jon Stewart about whether the Obama administration has an unprecedented number of "czars." (This is part two of the interview, available only online.)

Stewart: Not all the so-called czars were appointed by Obama, and again — and this is just from an organization called FactCheck.org, and just because they have "fact" in their title doesn’t necessarily mean anything — but again, George Bush had more czars.

Blackwell: No he didn’t.

Well, yes he did, if one applies the same standards to both administrations. We listed 35 instances in which members of the Bush administration were called "czars" in the media, to 32 for Obama. Of course, Bush had a longer period in the media’s eyes. If Obama’s czars have gotten more media mentions in a shorter time, that might prove that his administration is appointing people who might be called "czars" at a faster clip — or it might just show that more people are using the nickname.

Blackwell checked out our analysis after the fact and wrote an op-ed piece for The Huffington Post taking issue with our figures. "The reality is," he writes, "although it’s true that President Bush did have a few czars, that number was somewhere between 5 and 8, not 35. Fact Check just lists a number of administration officials, and then calls them ‘czars.’ But they’re not."

That’s not what we did — at all. We applied the same standards to Bush that Fox News’ Glenn Beck applied to Obama when he said the president had 32 czars. Beck said that his list was "based on media reports from reputable sources that have identified the official in question as a czar." Our list collects the names of every position that was referred to as a "czar" in the media, with links to examples for every one. We did not count multiple holders of the same position, and we also discounted people who were only called "czars" in articles about how many "czars" a particular administration had. (And yes, the Bush administration also generated media coverage about its preponderance of czars.)

Of course, the Bush and Obama administration officials in any of these lists are not really czars, in the sense that they have at no point been supreme rulers of Russia, Serbia or Bulgaria. We double-checked, and the last real czar, Simeon II of Bulgaria, was deposed in 1945. However, Blackwell implies that Obama officials were really czars, whereas Bush officials were just called czars, by us. This is absurd.

Blackwell seems to have missed the part of the article where we state clearly: " ‘Czar’ is media lingo, not an official title." (Hint: It’s after the big red "A.") He complains, for instance, that we called Karl Rove a "domestic policy czar." "In the real word [sic] (as opposed to The Daily Show world), Karl Rove was White House Senior Advisor," he writes. "Yet mysteriously, the sage scholars at Fact Check failed to list [David] Axelrod as Domestic Policy Czar for Obama, which would add a 33rd czar to Obama’s list." That’s because Harold Meyerson called Rove Bush’s "domestic policy czar" in an August 15, 2007, op-ed in the Washington Post, whereas we found no instances of the media using the same term for Axelrod. "Czar" is a title bestowed by the media, and they have so far declined to bestow it on Axelrod.

Blackwell offers no support for his claim that the Bush administration had "between 5 and 8" czars. We, on the other hand, have 35 links to media mentions of 35 different Bush-era czarships. Since it’s not a "real world" title, but a nickname, Blackwell has no leg to stand on when complaining that we included people who aren’t czars in "reality."