Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fact-checker can't tell the difference between "trusted" and "trustworthy"?

PolitiFact just makes criticism too easy.

Today PolitiFact's PunditFact highlighted a Pew Research poll that found many people do not trust Rush Limbaugh as a news source. The fact checkers published their article under the headline "Pew study finds Rush Limbaugh least trustworthy news source."

No, we're not kidding.

As if botching the headline isn't bad enough, the article contains more of PolitiFact's deceptive framing:
PunditFact is tracking the accuracy of claims made on the five major networks using our network scorecards. By that measure, 61 percent of the claims fact-checked on Fox News have been rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire, the most among any of the major networks.
As PolitiFact's methodology for constructing its scorecards lacks any scientific basis, this information is a curiosity at best. But by juxtaposing it with the polling data from Pew Research, the reader gets a gentle nudge in the direction of "Ah, yes, so the accuracy of PolitiFact's scorecards is supported by this polling!" That's bunk.

The scientific angle would come from an investigation into whether prior impressions of trustworthiness influence the ratings organizations like PolitiFact give to their subjects.

If PunditFact's article passes as responsible journalism then journalism is a total waste of time.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Hot Air: 'It’s time to ask PolitiFact: What is the meaning of “is”?'

Dustin Siggins, writing for the Hot Air blog, gives us a PolitiFact twofer, swatting down two fact-check monstrosities from the left-leaning fact checker.

In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton told the American people that he hadn’t lied to a grand jury about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky because, on the day he said “there’s nothing going on between us,” nothing was going on.

While that line has been a joke among the American people ever since, it looks like PolitiFact took the lesson to heart in two recent fact-checks that include some Olympic-level rhetorical gymnastics.
Siggins goes on from there, dealing with recent fact checks of senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

Click the link and read.

Also consider reviewing our highlights of a few other stories by Siggins.

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.