Tuesday, December 12, 2017

PolitiFact's lying "Lie of the Year" award for 2017

On Dec. 12, 2017, PolitiFact announced its 2017 "Lie of the Year." PolitiFact supposedly gave its award to a particular statement from President Trump.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
"This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won," said President Donald Trump in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in May.
PolitiFact Bias correctly predicted the winner. But even we hardly imagined the Olympic-grade gymnastics the editors of PolitiFact would perform in justifying their selection.

We thought PolitiFact would cross its fingers and hope the Mueller investigation would implicate Trump in some type of illegal collusion with the Russians.

Instead, PolitiFact turned Trump's statement into a complete denial that Russia interfered with the election. Instead of "Trump and Russia" like Trump said, PolitiFact trims the issue down to just "Russia."

No, seriously. PolitiFact did that. Let's start with the headline of its "Lie of the Year" announcement:

2017 Lie of the Year: Russian election interference is a 'made-up story'

Did Trump say anything in the winning statement about Russian election interference being a "made-up" story? We're not seeing it, and PolitiFact does not explain the connection. Maybe in context?

We looked to PolitiFact's original rating of Trump's claim for clues. That story suggested Trump was claiming that Democrats made up the Trump-Russia narrative. PolitiFact said James Comey's report of a "credible allegation" (or "reasonable basis to believe"!) was enough to "rebut" (refute?) Trump's charge that the narrative was made up.

How did PolitiFact know that the "credible allegation" was not made up and not by a Democrat? We do not know. PolitiFact will have to answer that one. We can only marvel at the idea that a "reasonable basis to believe" unequivocally serves as a foundation for stating something as fact.

Do we think PolitiFact's narrative that Trump completely denied Russian election interference stands up to scrutiny? We do not (Reuters, Jan 6, 2017):
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia engaged in cyber attacks during the U.S. presidential election and may take action in response, his incoming chief of staff said on Sunday.
In opposition to PolitiFact's reasoning, we think it much more reasonable to take Trump to mean that the narrative attempting to connect the Trump campaign to Russian meddling has no evidence to back it. If such evidence existed, it would have served to help justify the Robert Mueller investigation. Instead, Mueller was given the job of looking at a broad category of interactions ("collusion") for something that could justify criminal charges.

In fact, PolitiFact's description of what Trump said bears little resemblance to what he said.

PolitiFact (bait in red, switch in blue, highlights added):

Trump could acknowledge the interference happened while still standing by the legitimacy of his election and his presidency — but he declines to do so. Sometimes he’ll state firmly there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia, an implicit admission that Russia did act in some capacity. Then he reverts back to denying the interference even happened.
Declining to acknowledge the interference, supposing the Reuters story cited above counts for nothing, is not the same thing as denying the interference ever happened.

If PolitiFact had any clear statement from Trump denying Russia made any effort to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, PolitiFact would have been smart to include it (see the "Afters" section, below).

Lacking that evidence, we conclude that PolitiFact has exaggerated, one might even say "made up," the degree to which President Trump denies Russian election interference.




Afters

We say PolitiFact offered no unequivocal evidence Trump denied all Russian meddling in the U.S. election. But PolitiFact did offer evidence that it perhaps interpreted that way.

We think it fair to let PolitiFact make its case:
Facebook, Google and Twitter have investigated their own networks, and their executives have concluded — in some cases after initial foot-dragging — that Russia used the online platforms in attempts to influence the election.

After all this, one man keeps saying it didn’t even happen.

"This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won," said President Donald Trump in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in May.

On Twitter in September, Trump said, "The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?"

And during an overseas trip to Asia in November, Trump spoke of meeting with Putin: "Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn't do that.’ And I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it." In the same interview, Trump referred to the officials who led the intelligence agencies during the election as "political hacks."

Trump continually asserts that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election is fake news, a hoax or a made-up story, even though there is widespread, bipartisan evidence to the contrary.
 We've covered PolitiFact's trading of "Trump and Russia" for just "Russia."

What "Russia hoax" was continuing? The hoax of Russian interference or the hoax of Trump and Russia collaborating to steal the election from its rightful winner?

If Trump says he thinks Putin's denials are sincere, does that likewise mean that Trump thinks nobody in Russia did anything to interfere with the U.S. election?

Who fact checks like that, not counting liberal bloggers?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Another partisan rating from bipartisan PolitiFact

"We call out both sides."

That is the assurance that PolitiFact gives its readers to communicate to them that it rates statements impartially.

We've pointed out before, and we will doubtless repeat it in the future, that rating both sides serves as no guarantee of impartiality if the grades skew left whether rating a Republican or a Democrat.

On December 1, 2017, PolitiFact New York looked at Albany Mayor Kathy M. Sheehan's claim that simply living in the United States without documentation is not a crime. PolitiFact rated the statement "Mostly True."


PolitiFact explained that while living illegally in the United States carries civil penalties, it does not count as a criminal act. So, "Mostly True."

Something about this case reminded us of one from earlier in 2017.

On May 31, 2017, PolitiFact's PunditFact looked at Fox News host Gregg Jarrett's claim that collusion is not a crime. PolitiFact rated the statement "False."


These cases prove very similar, not counting the ratings, upon examination.

Sheehan defended Albany's sanctuary designation by suggesting that law enforcement need not look at immigration status because illegal presence in the United States is not a crime.

And though PolitiFact apparently didn't notice, Jarrett made the point that Special Counsel Mueller was put in charge of investigating non-criminal activity (collusion). Special Counsels are typically appointed to investigate crimes, not to investigate to find out if a crime was committed.

On the one hand, Albany police might ask a driver for proof of immigration status. The lack of documentation might lead to the discovery of criminal acts such as entering the country illegally or falsifying government documents.

On the other hand, the Mueller investigation might investigate the relationship (collusion) between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives and find a conspiracy to commit a crime. Conspiring to commit a crime counts as a criminal act.

Sheehan and Jarrett were making essentially the same point, though collusion by itself doesn't even carry a civil penalty like undocumented immigrant status does.

So there's PolitiFact calling out both sides. Sheehan and Jarrett make almost the same point. Sheehan gets a "Mostly True" rating. Jarrett gets a "False."

That's the kind of non-partisanship you get when liberal bloggers do fact-checking.



Afters

Just to hammer home the point that Jarrett was right, we will review the damning testimony of the  three impartial experts who helped PunditFact reach the conclusion that Jarrett was wrong.
Nathaniel Persily at Stanford University Law School said one relevant statute is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

"A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime," Persily said. "And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime."
The conspiracy to commit the crime, not the mere collusion, counts as the crime.

Next:
Another election law specialist, John Coates at Harvard University Law School, said if Russians aimed to shape the outcome of the presidential election, that would meet the definition of an expenditure.

"The related funds could also be viewed as an illegal contribution to any candidate who coordinates (colludes) with the foreign speaker," Coates said.
Conspiring to collect illegal contributions, not mere collusion, would count as the crime. Coats also offered the example of conspiring to commit fraud.
Josh Douglas at the University of Kentucky Law School offered two other possible relevant statutes.

"Collusion in a federal election with a foreign entity could potentially fall under other crimes, such as against public corruption," Douglas said. "There's also a general anti-coercion federal election law."
The corruption, not the mere collusion, would count as the crime.

How PolitiFact missed Jarrett's point after linking the article he wrote explaining what he meant is far beyond us.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Not a Lot of Reader Confusion VII

We say that PolitiFact's graphs and charts, including its PunditFact collections of ratings for news networks, routinely mislead readers. PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan says she doesn't notice much of that sort of thing.

We're here to help.

This comes from the lead edge of December 2017 and PolitiFact's own Facebook page:


Somebody introduced a subjective PolitiFact chart in answer to a call for a scientific study showing the unreliability of Fox News. So far as we can tell, the citation was intended as serious.

We predict that no number of examples short of infinity will convince Holan that we are right and she is wrong. At least publicly. Privately, maybe.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Handicapping the PolitiFact "Lie of the Year" for 2017 (Updated)

PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" is a farce, of course, as it places the objective and non-partisan editors of PolitiFact in the position of making an obviously subjective decision about which false (or false-ish) statement was the "most significant."

In other words, they put on their pundit hats.

But we love the exercise because it gives us the opportunity to predict which claim PolitiFact will choose, basing our predictions on PolitiFact's liberalism and its self-interest.

We've got a pretty decent record of predicting the outcome.

This year, all of the nominees were rated "Pants on Fire" during the year. We note that because exceptions often occur. For example, President Obama's declaration that people could keep their insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act if they liked those plans wasn't rated at all during the year it received the award. Moreover, it was never rated lower than "Half True" by the nonpartisan liberal bloggers at PolitiFact. That (complicated and deceptive) pick was a case of PolitiFact covering its arse in response to a news cycle that demanded the pick.

This year's ballot resembles last year's. Voters just get to see the claim and the rating, though voters may click hotlinks to view the fact checks if desired.

PolitiFact puts on its neutral face by listing the claims in chronological order.


"That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period."
— Sean Spicer on Jan. 21, 2017, in a press conference



The size of the inauguration crowd should never count as an important political story representing the entire year. This nominee was picked to lose.


Says Barack Obama "didn’t do executive orders in the beginning."

— Whoopi Goldberg on Jan. 25, 2017, in a segment on ABC's “The View”


No claim coming from a host of "The View" should ever count as an important political story representing the entire year. This nominee was picked to lose.


Says Rex "Tillerson won't divest from Exxon."

— Charles Schumer on Jan. 27, 2017, in a tweet


Who's Rex Tillerson? Just kidding. This pick shows how PolitiFact had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for anything significant coming from a Democrat. This nominee is another placeholder made necessary by the hard time PolitiFact has giving Democrats a "Pants on Fire" rating. By our count, PolitiFact has only issued three "Pants on Fire" ratings to Democrats this year. This claim has no shot, as it was politically unimportant.


"I have not called for impeachment" of President Donald Trump.

— Maxine Waters on April 18, 2017, in an interview on MSNBC


This one's another place-holding, politically unimportant claim that has no shot of winning. Do we detect a pattern?


"Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care."

— Raul Labrador on May 5, 2017, in a town hall event


This one I'll make my dark horse pick. Labrador is not particularly well-known, and the quotation is taken out of context. But if PolitiFact ignores those factors and the claim gets an unexpected boost from the reader's poll as representative of the health care debate, this one has a greater than zero shot of winning.


"This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won."  

— Donald Trump on May 11, 2017, in an interview with NBC News


That's the overwhelming favorite. It fits the narrative PolitiFact loves (Trump the Liar). It fits the narrative PolitiFact's predominantly liberal audience loves (Russia, Russia, Russia!). Is there any solid evidence that Russia swayed the election results? No. But that shouldn't matter. We're talking narratives and clicks, things to which PolitiFact is addicted. PolitiFact will hope the Mueller investigation will eventually provide enough backing to keep it from getting egg on its face.


"Every single year that there's an increase (in temperature) it's within the margin of error -- meaning it isn't increasing."

— Greg Gutfeld on June 2, 2017, in Fox News’ “The Five” show


Global warming Climate change remains near and dear to liberal bloggers and liberals but ... Greg Gutfeld? This one could have had a chance coming from a major figure in the Trump administration. Coming from moderately popular television personality like Gutfeld it has no chance.



White nationalist protesters in Charlottesville "had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit."

— Donald Trump on Aug. 15, 2017, in a question-and-answer session with reporters


That's my second pick. Again we've got the pull of the Trump/Liar narrative. And we've got the Trump's a Nazi tie-in. Was the statement politically significant? Only in terms of stimulating negative narratives about Trump. And that could help this one pull out the win.



"The United States ended slavery around the world, and maybe we should get some credit for that, too."

— Tucker Carlson on Aug. 15, 2017 in comments on “Tucker Carlson Tonight”


This one counts as another politically unimportant statement. This pick has no chance unless driven by the name "Tucker Carlson" and network that airs his show.



"We’ve got dozens of counties around America that have zero insurers left."

— Paul Ryan on Aug. 21, 2017 in a CNN town hall broadcast



The claim by Ryan comes in as my third pick.

It fits a popular liberal narrative--protecting the Affordable Care Act. Ryan has good name recognition and little popularity among liberals. PolitiFact's valiant exposure of Ryan's falsehood may have saved Obamacare from repeal! Or so I imagine PolitiFact may reason it.



So there it is. The 2017 award almost certainly goes to Trump and almost certainly for his claim about his ties to Russia affecting the election counting as fake news. It's worth noting that fact checkers like those at PolitiFact resent Trump's co-opting of the term. That should give this claim another advantage in claiming the award.

It does look like PolitiFact stacked the deck of nominees, most notably by only nominating claims that received "Pants on Fire" ratings. That's a first. Claims receiving that rating tend to be more trivial and thus politically unimportant. That decision helped clear the field for Trump.

If PolitiFact changes nothing about its biased approach to fact-checking and continues to draw its "Lie of the Year" finalists only from that year's list of claim it rated "Pants on Fire," statements from the Republican Party will surely dominate the awards in the years ahead. "Fake news" stories may start appearing on the list of nominations, however. "Fake news" stories pick up most of PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" ratings these days.

Update Nov. 29, 2017:

Jeff Adds

The Trump/Russia claim seems like the safe bet here, and it's hard to argue against Bryan's case. If we believed PolitiFact actually adhered to its Lie of the Year criteria, I think it's the only one that meets those standards (namely, a claim that is politically significant.) It's also got the click-grabbing factor that drives people to PolitiFact's recently malware infested website, and clicks are what actually motivates PolitiFact more than any noble search for truth.

But PolitiFact is mildly self-aware, and sometimes they'll tweak things up as a matter of image control. This tic of theirs led me to correctly predict that 2011's Lie of the Year pick would go against the Left (though wrong about which specific claim would win.) I think PolitiFact wants to avoid giving Trump the award because it already catches flack for obsessively targeting him.

I'm going to #Resist the urge to go with the obvious pick and I predict that Sean Spicer wins for his crowd size claim.

This allows PolitiFact to avoid being mocked for picking on Trump himself while allowing it to pick on Trump's administration. The pick will be loved by PF's liberal fan base and the media (I repeat myself.) The headlines crowing "Trump admin earns Lie of the Year!" will serve as sufficient click-bait. I expect PolitiFact can spin the pick into the first lie of the Trump administration that set the tone for all the easily debunked and ridiculous falsehoods that followed.

For my Dark Horse I'm going to contradict myself: If PolitiFact repeats their recent tradition of making up a winner that wasn't actually in their list of finalists, I say they go rogue and give it to Trump for all of his falsehoods, and claim they couldn't pick just one. This has all the benefits of clickbait and will upset no one that matters to PolitiFact.

Whoever the winner is it's clear, as has been the case every year they've done this, the field of picks is an intentionally lopsided mixed bag of bland throw-aways and a couple of obvious picks.

Just like PolitiFact's ratings, the winner is already determined before the contest has begun.





Edit: Added "recenty" to first graph of Jeff Adds -Jeff 1948PST 11/29/17


Clarification Nov. 29, 2017: Changed "sometimes exceptions often occur" to "exceptions often occur"

Friday, November 10, 2017

'Not a lot of reader confusion' VI

PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan has claimed she does not notice much reader confusion regarding the interpretation of PolitiFact's "report card" charts and graphs.

This series of posts is designed to call shenanigans on that frankly unbelievable claim.

Rem Rieder, a journalist of some repute, showed himself a member of PolitiFact's confused readership with a Nov. 10, 2017 article published at TheStreet.com.
While most politicians are wrong some of the time, the fact-checking website PolitiFact has found that that [sic] Trump's assertions are inaccurate much more frequently than those of other pols.
When we say Rieder showed himself a member of PolitiFact's confused readership, that means we're giving Rieder the benefit of the doubt by assuming he's not simply lying to his readers.

As we have stressed repeatedly here at PolitiFact Bias, PolitiFact's collected "Truth-O-Meter" ratings cannot be assumed to reliably reflect the truth-telling patterns of politicians, pundits or networks. PolitiFact uses non-random methods of choosing stories (selection bias) and uses an admittedly subjective rating system (personal bias).

PolitiFact then reinforces the sovereignty of the left-leaning point of view--most journalists lean left of the American public--by deciding its ratings by a majority vote of its "star chamber" board of editors.

We have called on PolitiFact to attach disclaimers to each of its graphs, charts or stories related to its graphs and charts to keep such material from misleading unfortunate readers like Rieder.

So far, our roughly five years of lobbying have fallen on deaf ears.

Monday, November 6, 2017

PolitiFact gives the 8 in 10 lie a "Half True."

We can trust PolitiFact to lean left.

Sometimes we bait PolitiFact into giving us examples of its left-leaning tendencies. On November 1, 2017, we noticed a false tweet from President Barack Obama. So we drew PolitiFact's attention to it via the #PolitiFactThis hashtag.



We didn't need to have PolitiFact look into it to know that what Obama said was false. He presented a circular argument, in effect, using the statistics for people who had chosen an ACA exchange plan to mislead the wider public about their chances of receiving subsidized and inexpensive health insurance.


PolitiFact identified the deceit in its fact check, but used biased supposition to soften it (bold emphasis added):
"It only takes a few minutes and the vast majority of people qualify for financial assistance," Obama says. "Eight in 10 people this year can find plans for $75 a month or less."

Can 8 in 10 people get health coverage for $75 a month or less? It depends on who those 10 people are.

The statistic only refers to people currently enrolled in HealthCare.gov.
The video ad appeals to people who are uninsured or who might save money by shopping for health insurance on the government exchange. PolitiFact's wording fudges the truth. It might have accurately said "The statistic is correct for people currently enrolled in HealthCare.gov. but not for the population targeted by the ad."

In the ad, the statistic refers to the ad's target population, not merely to those currently enrolled in HealthCare.gov.

And PolitiFact makes thin and misleading excuses for Obama's deception:
(I)n the absence of statistics on HealthCare.gov visitors, the 8-in-10 figure is the only data point available to those wondering about their eligibility for low-cost plans within the marketplace. What’s more, the website also helps enroll people who might not have otherwise known they were eligible for other government programs.
The nonpartisan fact-checker implies that the lack of data helps excuse using data in a misleading way. We reject that type of excuse-making. If Obama does not provide his audience the context allowing it to understand the data point without being misled, then he deserves full blame for the resulting deception.

PolitiFact might as well be saying "Yes, he misled people, but for a noble purpose!"

PolitiFact, in fact, provided other data points in its preceding paragraph that helped contextualize Obama's misleading data point.

We think PolitiFact's excuse-making influences the reasoning it uses when deciding its subjective "Truth-O-Meter" ratings.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
FALSE – The statement is not accurate.
In objective terms, what keeps Obama's statement from deserving a "Mostly False" or "False" rating?
His statement was literally false when taken in context, and his underlying message was likewise false.

About 10 to 12 million are enrolled in HealthCare.Gov ("Obamacare") plans. About 80 percent of those receive the subsidies Obama lauds. About 6 million persons buying insurance outside the exchange fail to qualify for subsidies, according to PolitiFact. Millions among the uninsured likewise fail to qualify for subsidies.

Surely a fact-checker can develop a data point out of numbers like those.

But this is what happens when non-partisan fact checkers lean left.


Correction Nov. 6, 2017: Removed "About 6 million uninsured do not qualify for Medicaid or subsidies" as it was superseded by reporting later in the post).

Monday, October 23, 2017

PolitiFact's Evangelism & Revival Tour III

PolitiFact's Katie Sanders PolitiSplains why conservatives should trust PolitiFact

PolitiFact reached out to red state residents in three states, Alabama, Oklahoma and West Virginia thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation. We're calling it PolitiFact's Evangelism and Revival Tour thanks to its resemblance to religious "love-bombing."

In our post from this series published on Oct. 22, 2017, we wondered what specific reasons PolitiFact was offering conservatives to convince them they should trust PolitiFact.

We're supposing the red state unwashed are hearing little more than the spiel PolitiFact's Katie Sanders gave in West Virginia.

MetroNews and Alex Thomas reported:
Organization deputy editor Katie Sanders said following the 2016 presidential campaign, they noticed a trend among conservatives regarding a distrust of news organizations.

“We are concerned about that because we are independent, we’re nonpartisan, we call out both sides, yet there’s still this skepticism,” she said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
PolitiFact is neutral and trustworthy because it is "independent"?

We like the response of the University of Miami's Joe Uscinski to that one:
We believe by "independent" PolitiFact means it does not allow outside entities to guide its process. The same is true of PolitiFact Bias. Does that make us unbiased?

PolitiFact is neutral and trustworthy because it is "nonpartisan"? 

Think tanks nearly all call themselves "nonpartisan." Yet news reports routinely report that a think tank is "right-leaning" or "left-leaning." "Nonpartisan" does not automatically equate with "unbiased," let alone neutral and trustworthy.

We might as well mention that PolitiFact Bias is "nonpartisan" by the same definition think-tanks (and likely PolitiFact) use (everything but "unbiased"). Does that make us unbiased?

PolitiFact is neutral and trustworthy because it calls out both sides?

Bush made mistakes. Obama made mistakes. Look, Ma, I'm neutral!

Calling out both sides does nothing to guarantee neutrality or trustworthiness. It's perfectly possible to call out one side with kid gloves and the other with a hammer.

At PolitiFact Bias, we think PolitiFact is often guilty of applying unequal standards, and we created this site in part to highlight such cases. We point out that PolitiFact sometimes unfairly harms Democrats as well as Republicans. Does that make us unbiased?

The argument for trust that Sanders used counts as flim-flam.

If PolitiFact wants trust from conservatives and moderates it will need a better sales pitch. That is, a sales pitch with specifics that actually address the issues that lead to the lack of trust.

Get to it, PolitiFact.