Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hot Air: 'Whiplash: Politifact absolves Democrat who repeated…Politifact’s lie of the year'

Rest assured, readers: There's no lack of PolitiFact blunders to write about, merely a lack of time to get to them all. For that reason, we're grateful that we're not the only ones doing the work of exposing the worst fact checker in the biz for what it iz.

Take it away, Guy Benson:
Politifact, the heavily left-leaning political fact-checking oufit, has truly outdone itself.  The organization crowned President Obama as the 2013 recipient of its annual “lie of the year” designation for his tireless efforts to mislead Americans about being able to keep their existing healthcare plans under Obamacare.  While richly deserved, the decision came as a bit of a surprise because Politifact had rated that exact claim as “half true” in 2012, and straight-up “true” in 2008 (apparently promises about non-existent bills can be deemed accurate).
And what did PolitiFact do to outdo itself? Republican senatorial candidate Ed Gillespie ran an ad attacking Democratic rival Mark Warner over pledge not to vote for a bill that would take away people's current health insurance plans.

PolitiFact Virginia, incredibly, ruled the ad "False."

Read Benson's piece at Hot Air in full for all the gory details. The article appropriately strikes down PolitiFact Virginia's thin justification for its ruling.

Also see our past assessment of PolitiFact's preposterous maneuvering on its editorial "Lie of the Year" proclamation from 2013.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Left Jab: Rachel Maddow and the presidential salute

MSNBC television host Rachel Maddow is probably the highest-profile critic of PolitiFact from the left. We've panned a number of her criticisms of PolitiFact as weak, but her Sept. 25 blog scores a palpable hit:
So, what I wrote is true. Punditfact found it to be true. They published an amusing presidential speechmaking anecdote that not only shows that it’s true, but makes you feel all warm-hearted about its being true.  And then gave their rating:  “Mostly False”.  Ta-daa!

Usually, I ignore these guys.  Yesterday, I made the mistake of responding to their letter, which I regret. Don’t feed the trolls.  They included a line from my response to them in their rating, which I realize now may create the impression that I participated in this enterprise as if it was a real thing.  It’s not a real thing: it’s Politifact.  It’s terrible.
We appreciate the absence in Maddow's post of any partisan whining. She just makes the justifiable assertion that PolitiFact does fact checking badly, and supports it with a pretty good anecdote. PolitiFact uses some sort of Associative Property of Quotations to blame Maddow for the questionable claim of a blogger who cited her book.

We'll repeat our position there's nothing inconsistent between PolitiFact treating liberals or Democrats unfairly and our position that PolitiFact displays an anti-conservative and anti-Republican bias. Maddow has a legitimate example of PolitiFact treating her unfairly.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

PolitiMath at PolitiFact New Hampshire

PolitiFact New Hampshire provides us an example of PolitiMath with its Sept. 19, 2014 rating of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's ad attacking Republican challenger Scott Brown.

The ad claims Brown ranked first in receiving donations from "Wall Street," to the tune of $5.3 million.

PolitiFact New Hampshire pegged the reasonably "Wall Street" figure lower than $5.3 million:
Brown’s total haul from these six categories was about $4.2 million, or about one-fifth lower than what the ad said.
Note that national PolitiFact's Louis Jacobson, writing for PolitiFact New Hampshire, figures the difference between the two figures with the errant figure as the baseline. That method sends the message that Shaheen's ad was off on the number by about one-fifth, or in error by about 20 percent. Calculated properly, the figure in Shaheen's ad represents an exaggeration (that is, error) of 26 percent.

Curiously, PolitiFact doesn't bother reaching a conclusion on whether it's true that Brown ranks number one in terms of Wall Street giving. Jacobson says Brown led in four of the six categories he classified as Wall Street, but kept mum about where Brown ranked with the figures added up.

That makes it difficult to judge whether the 26 percent error implied by PolitiFact New Hampshire's $4.2 million figure accounts for the "Mostly True" rating all by itself.


For comparison, we have a rating of President Obama where the PolitiFact team made a similar mistake, calculating the error as a percentage of the errant number. In that case, Obama gave a figure that was off by 27 percent and received a rating of "Mostly True."


After a little searching we found a "Mostly True" rating of a conservative where the speaker used the wrong figure. Conservative pundit Bill Kristol said around 40 percent of union members voted for the Republican presidential candidate in 2008. The actual number was 37 percent. Kristol was off by about 8 percent. So "Mostly True."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

PunditFact and the disingenuous disclaimer

Since PunditFact brings up its network scorecards yet again, it's worth repeating our observation that PunditFact speaks out of both sides of its mouth on the issue of scorecards/report cards.

This corner:
The network scorecards were designed to provide you a way to measure the relative truth of statements made on a particular network.
The other corner:
We avoid comparisons between the networks.
PunditFact breaks down its data to enable its readers to "measure the relative truth of statements made on a particular network."

At the same time, PunditFact tells its readers that it's not comparing the networks.

We're still trying to figure out a way these claims can reconcile without contradiction and/or excusing PolitiFact from the charge of deliberately misleading its readers.

If the scorecards provide readers with a legitimate tool for judging the relative truth of statements made on a particular network, then why would PunditFact avoid comparisons between the networks? And how can PunditFact even claim to avoid making comparisons between the networks when its scorecards avowedly serve the purpose of leading readers to make those comparisons?

If this paradox doesn't indicate simple ignorance on PunditFact's part, it indicates a disturbingly disingenuous approach to its subject matter.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Quality at PolitiFact New Hampshire

Let's just say consistency isn't PolitiFact's strong suit.

PolitiFact Wisconsin serves up more baloney on Obama cutting the deficit in half

PolitiFact defines its "True" rating as "The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing."

Thus we greet with derisive laughter PolitiFact's Sept. 5, 2014 bestowal of a "True" rating on President Obama's declaration "We cut our deficits by more than half."

Curious about what "we" cut the deficits? PolitiFact Wisconsin is here to help:

"We" is "he": Obama (image from PolitiFact.com)
"We" is "he." Obama did it. Obama cut the national deficit in half. The statement is accurate and there's nothing significant missing. Right?

Well, no. It's a load of hooey that PolitiFact has consistently helped Obama sell.

Here are some insignificant things PolitiFact Wisconsin found:
  1. "When you use Obama's methodology to compare the deficit Obama inherited -- the 2009 result minus the stimulus package to that in 2013 --  the drop in the deficit is slightly under half, at 48%."
  2.  "'The economic recovery, wind-down of stimulus, reversal of TARP/Fannie transactions, and lower interest rates are really what has caused our deficit to fall so much,' Goldwein told us. He mentioned cuts in discretionary spending as well."
  3.  "(Ellis) and Goldwein emphasized that while the deficit has been halved, it’s been halved from a skyscraping peak."
The second point is significant because TARP and other bailout spending was heavily focused on FY2009. As that money is repaid, it counts as lower spending ("negative spending"). The government has turned a profit on the TARP bailouts, so a fair bit of the "skyscraping peak" came right back to the government, making its later spending appear lower.

Here are some insignificant missing things PolitiFact Wisconsin didn't bother to mention:
  1. PolitiFact claims it takes credit and blame into account. But Obama carries little (if any) personal responsibility for reducing the deficit by half.
  2. Remember those obstructionist Republicans who block the Democrats' every attempt to pass jobs bills and keep critically important entitlement benefits flowing?
  3. PolitiFact's expert, Goldwein, mentioned cuts in discretionary spending. Way to go, Obama! Oh, wait, that was largely a result of the sequestration that the president blames on Republicans.
So, yeah, the deficit was cut in half. But given the nature of the FY2009 deficit spike, cutting the deficit in half by the end of Obama's first term in office should have been a layup. It wasn't a layup because the economy stayed bad. Democrats would have continued spending investing in jobs and education if Republicans hadn't gained control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

Obama tries to take this set of circumstances largely beyond his control to fashion a feather for his own cap.

To PolitiFact Wisconsin, none of that is significant. What a joke.


For more on Obama's effect on the deficit and debt, see the following Zebra Fact Check articles:

FactCheck.org says federal spending has increased ‘far more slowly’ under Obama than under Bush

Is the federal deficit ‘falling at fastest rate in 60 years’?

Sunshine State News: 'Charlie Can't Even Get a 'Pants on Fire' for the Phony Rothstein Connection?'

On the Sunshine State News website, opinion writer Nancy Smith asks what party-switching Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist needs to do to earn a "Pants on Fire" rating from PolitiFact:
The Crist ad that claims  the governor "teamed up with a felon convicted of running a Ponzi scheme to smear Charlie Crist" is grudgingly rated "false." 

What does this new Democratic Party darling have to do to show he's not only rewriting his own life as he goes along, but he's making up Rick Scott's, too?
Smith's criticism of this Crist rating from PolitiFact Florida quickly widens in scope:
I often feel my temperature rise reading the Times-Herald because these folks never admit to bias and probably never will. But by no means am I the only one to cite PolitiFact for "ranting and rating." The Internet is alight with websites trying hard to tell the real story and keep the Tampa Bay newspaper (now the Times-Herald) honest.

Check out Politifactbias.com. It claims to be the work of "independent bloggers who share a sense of outrage that PolitiFact often peddles outrageous slant as objective news."
We thank Smith for noticing our work, and Jeff appreciates the likely hat tip to his classic work "Ranting and Rating: Why PolitiFact's Numbers Don't Add Up."

Yes, it's hard, though not impossible, for a Democrat to earn a "Pants on Fire" rating from PolitiFact Florida. Charlie Crist got one when he was a Republican, back in 2009, and he got another the next year after switching to Independent. But since turning Democrat in 2012 the "False" rating Smith notes is Crist's worst run-in with Florida's journalistic arbiters of truth.

That's to be expected, of course, when combining an ideological slant with a subjective rating system. The difference between a "False" and a "Pants on Fire" on PolitiFact's scale consists of the judgment that the latter claims are "ridiculous."

How PolitiFact objectively measures ridiculousness is anyone's guess. And until PolitiFact announces its objective criteria for utilizing the rating, we'll go right on using it as one measure of PolitiFact's ideological bias.