Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PolitiFact's shaky and debatable conclusions (Updated)

On April 10, 2014, PolitiFact graded Sen. John E. Sununu "False" for a statement he made about the health care reform law's effect on the number of uninsured Americans.

There's plenty wrong with PolitiFact's reasoning in that fact check, starting with its assumption that federal spending on the ACA has to do with an increase in the number of people who sign up for insurance through an employer.  Contrary to PolitiFact's skewed focus, Sununu was making the point that the insurance exchanges were providing little bang for the buck in reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

But rather than writing an opus dealing with the entire misguided fact check, we're going to narrowly focus on one particular PolitiFlub:
A Rand survey that debuted a couple days after Sununu’s comments put the previously insured rate at about 36 percent of new marketplace enrollees. The Rand survey did not account for people who signed up for insurance in the final days of March.
If 36 percent of the marketplace enrollees were previously insured, then that leaves the balance, 64 percent, as enrollees moving out of the ranks of the uninsured.  That's a big win for Obamacare and the insurance exchanges!

Actually it's a big blunder by PolitiFact.  Our unbiased, Pulitzer Prize-winning (2009, not 2014) fact checkers left out a little "un" that reverses the percentages.  Here's how the RAND study put it (bold emphasis added):
Our estimates suggest that only about one-third of new marketplace enrollees were previously uninsured. While this percentage seems low in absolute terms, it is slightly higher than an earlier figure reported by McKinsey & Company.
So PolitiFact was way off.

We tried to give PolitiFact warning that might result in a correction.  PolitiFact solicits fact checks with the #politifacthis Twitter hashtag.  We obliged with the following:
The error in PolitiFact's reporting persists.

Update 4/15/2014 8 p.m.
PolitiFact issues a correction, less than 12 hours after we posted.  It probably didn't hurt that we repeated the above tweet @KatieLSanders earlier today.

We appreciate PolitiFact making the correction, particularly since it doesn't always happen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

No 2014 Pulitzer for PolitiFact (VIDEO)

Adolf Hitler learns PolitiFact failed for the fifth consecutive year to win a Pulitzer Prize

We're not kidding that the Tampa Bay Times' chief executive, Paul Tash, chairs the Pulitzer Prize committee this year.

We're not kidding that PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair had a life-sized cutout of President Obama standing in his office.  We don't know how long it was there or if it ended up in the office of Adair's replacement, Angie Drobnic Holan.

Why are we tweaking PolitiFact over its failure to win a Pulitzer this year?  Because PolitiFact uses its 2009 Pulitzer to burnish its reputation for reliability.  But PolitiFact has never been particularly reliable.  The 2009 Pulitzer was likely awarded mostly in recognition of PolitiFact's innovation, specifically producing an attractive and popular online outlet for what journalists think is serious journalism.  The Pulitzer was awarded in 2009 for a set of 13 stories.  That's what the Pulitzer committee was judging, not overall reliability.

Don't forget that hogwash has won Pulitzers in the past.

Friday, April 11, 2014

More gender wage gap shenanigans from PolitiFact Oregon

Back in February, we pointed out PolitiFact Oregon's blunder in ruling it "Mostly True" that women in Oregon earn 79 cents on the dollar compared to men for doing the same job.

PolitiFact Oregon is back today with another misleading take on the gender wage gap.
The National Partnership For Women & Families, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, released a new analysis April 8, 2014, to coincide with Equal Pay Day. It cited U.S. Census data showing that women who work full time in Oregon are paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to men -- a claim PolitiFact Oregon has investigated previously and found solid.

But it went further. If the wage gap were eliminated, it said, "a working woman in Oregon would have enough money per year for 2,877 gallons of gas, 72 more weeks of food for her family or nearly 12 more months of rent.["]
PolitiFact Oregon apparently doesn't remember that its earlier fact check examined a version of the gender wage gap claim that had men and women doing the same work.

So we've got a fact check that focuses on a wage gap that exists primarily because men and women work at different jobs and men tend to put in longer hours.

This is a little like hearing "If you step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back" and then focusing intently on whether somebody stepped on a crack.

The National Partnership for Women & Families drew PolitiFact's attention with an April press release expressly designed to encourage support for paycheck fairness measures--measures that would do next to nothing to reduce the 21-cent gap that creates all the would-be disparities PolitiFact carefully verifies.

OMG!  We stepped on a crack!  Our poor mothers!

PolitiFact Oregon rules it "True" that we stepped on a crack the average woman in Oregon could afford to pay for more stuff if the wage gap was eliminated.  PolitiFact Oregon ignores the fact that the paycheck fairness measures the NPFWF supports would narrow the gender wage gap fractionally if at all.

Looks like PolitiFact Oregon is too busy fact checking to worry about little details like that.


We liked The Oregonian's added touch of promoting its gender wage gap story with teaser headlined with "That 79-cent gender pay gap and what it will buy."

A 79-cent gap!  What happened to the 21-cent gap?

The accompanying video has PolitiFact Oregon reporter Dana Tims expressing the NPFWF's argument, saying the pay gap would narrow if women were compensated fairly.  Tims also says the claim of a 21-cent pay gap in Oregon pretty much holds up when women and men are doing the same work, which is baloney.

Correction 4/12/2014:  Replaced the "e" in "women" in the next-to-last paragraph with an "a," changing it to the grammatically correct singular form.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

PolitiFact's PunditFact fantasizes about Dick Morris

The title and deck say it all:

When PunditFact is quoting conservative pundit Dick Morris, Morris plainly uses the word "probably."  In PunditFact's deck paraphrase, the "probably" disappears, and Morris is portrayed as saying there is proof that over 1 million people voted twice in 2012.

PunditFact's full quotation of Morris shows that he did not even say there was proof that over a million people "probably" voted twice in the 2012 election:
"It's most important data I've read in a year," Morris said on Fox News’ Hannity. "The elections commissioner there, Kim Strach, did a study of those who voted in North Carolina who also voted in another state in 2012 and she found 35,500 people voted in North Carolina and voted in some other state.

"And only 27 states pool that data. Texas, California, New York and Florida did not pool their data. So you're talking about probably over a million people that voted twice in this election. This is the first concrete evidence we've ever had of massive voter fraud. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. This proves it."

Morris was obviously talking about proof of massive voter fraud, not proof of any specific number of fraud cases.

It's great having fact checkers who simply make things up, isn't it?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Twitter critic: '(N)ame one of [PolitiFact's] tweets today which is factually incorrect.'

Our would-be Twitter critic, Matthew Chapman, is at it again.  We're addressing some public criticisms owing to the possibility that the critics' thoughts echo those of left-leaning readers who visit this site.

PolitiFact had another bad week fact checking, and @nextinstinct tweaked Chapman (@fawfulfan) about it.  Chapman responded with the following:
I (@ZebraFactCheck) answered with this:
Mine was a specific answer to Chapman's challenge.  He asked for an example of a factually incorrect tweet, and I gave him one.  This is PolitiFact's tweet about Rubio:
What was it Rubio said?  Here's how PolitiFact quoted it in the body of its fact check (bold emphasis added):
"I mean, the purpose of Obamacare was not to get 7 million people or 6 million people, or whatever the number now is, to sign up on a website," Rubio said. "The purpose of Obamacare, according to them, was to get more people insurance. And by all accounts, it's going to fall woefully short. You're still going to have 30-some-odd million people in this country uninsured."

We wanted to know if Rubio’s claim was correct that the health care law was falling short of its goals.
We posit that any intelligent person ought to be able to consider Rubio's statement and see that he does not say that Obamacare is falling short of its 7 million signup goal.  He's saying it's falling short of its goals for lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  PolitiFact's tweet about Rubio is false.

Chapman doesn't see it.

He's posted a fair number of tweets in response.  He said it's true the goal was 7 million and 7.1 million signed up.  He said PolitiFact was simply checking "Rubio's claim that ACA's signup goal was 30 million in 1st yr."  He said I didn't read the article.  He said Rubio was comparing apples to oranges.  He said I confuse the long run with the short run.  It appears he thinks we're somehow moving goalposts.

Chapman said plenty of things, many of which ought to embarrass him.  And he doesn't address the specific problem we identified with PolitiFact's tweet.  We've reminded him that Twitter is a poor venue for debate and have offered him commentary space in response to our post about the dispute.

Our argument is simple.  When Rubio says the purpose of Obamacare was not to get 7 million people to sign up on a website but rather to get more people insured, we say Rubio is distinguishing between the 7 million signups and lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  When Rubio says the ACA will fall short of its goals for lowering the number of uninsured persons, we assert that Rubio is not talking about exchange signups, which reports indicate are mostly people who already had insurance, but rather he's talking about the ACA's goals for lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  We say that when Rubio says "30-some-odd million" will remain uninsured he's talking about the number of uninsured persons, not the total number of exchange signups.  Nor was Rubio referring to any goal of 30 million signups, contrary to Chapman's assertion.

Considering the above, we think it's perfectly obvious that PolitiFact tweeted falsely when it claimed Rubio said the ACA was falling short of its signup goals.  Rubio was saying the 7 million goal for exchange signups is hardly relevant to the ACA's central goal of lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  Therefore, this serves as a good example to offer Chapman when he asks for an April 4 PolitiFact tweet that was factually incorrect.

PolitiFact could have accurately claimed Rubio said the ACA was falling short of its goals for lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  That would have been a fact.  But that's not what PolitiFact tweeted.

We think all of this is pretty obvious, and we stand ready to defend our view with facts and logic against whatever argument Chapman is able to bring.

Reply below, Chapman.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

PolitiFact rates two false statements "Mostly True" (Updated)

We're still puzzling over this one, thinking perhaps that a double negative equals a positive, or something like that.

Yesterday PolitiFact published a fact check of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Reid said billionaires Charles and David Koch are the richest family in the world.  PolitiFact checked the statement and found that the Koch brothers are a relatively distant second to the Walton family (Walmart).

Reid said that the Koch brothers rank fifth individually among the richest billionaires.  PolitiFact checked the statement and found the Koch brothers are tied for sixth.

So Reid was pretty close on both statements but wrong on both statements.  So PolitiFact rated Reid "Mostly True" on the two false statements:
Reid said the Koch brothers are "the richest people in the world. Individually they're only fifth. Put them together they're the richest in the world." If you look at families -- which is what Reid is essentially doing -- then Charles and David Koch rank second internationally to six members of the Walton family, at least according to Forbes. That’s still pretty close to the top of the list. We rate his statement Mostly True.
Just a reminder:  This was published on April 2, not April 1 (April Fool's Day).

Here's another reminder.  PolitiFact's definition of "Mostly True":
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
The trick, in this case, is that the clarification or additional information means the statement isn't accurate.  This is just another rating based on whim.  It can't meet the definition of "Mostly True."

Coincidentally, the beneficiary of this blinkered ruling is a Democrat.  This is the wonderful world of PolitiFact fact checking.

Update, April 3, 2014

Perhaps Reid's rating was as high as it was because PolitiFact literally paid no attention to its own fact check.  We just noticed a discrepancy between the concluding paragraph and the body of the fact check.  In the conclusion, PolitiFact says "Individually they're only fifth."  In the body, PolitiFact checks with Forbes and concludes "Currently, Charles and David Koch, when measured as individuals, are tied for sixth place on the international list, with $40.7 billion each."

Fifth.  Sixth.  What's the difference, right?

Update April 4, 2014
Jeff correctly points out an obvious point I somehow missed in my update comment:  PolitiFact was quoting Reid in the summary paragraph.  That erases what I took as a discrepancy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Voter fraud and shark attacks, recycled

With a recently recycled news item on illegal voting in Florida, it's a fine time to revisit PolitiFact Florida's fraudulent fact check from 2012 of an ACLU attorney who claimed voter fraud is less common than shark attack.
"There are probably a larger number of shark attacks in Florida than there are cases of voter fraud," he said.

We couldn’t resist diving in: Are there more shark attacks than cases of voter fraud in Florida?
The challenging aspect of the fact check comes from figuring out how many cases of voter fraud occurred in Florida.  PolitiFact Florida stacked the deck by defining "case" as "deemed legally sufficient for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement."  It's April 1, but we're not kidding.

Florida doesn't make it easy to ferret out fraud.  Somebody has to notice something and report it, then law enforcement has to decide whether the report warrants an investigation.  Florida's "motor voter" law permits voter registration without verification of citizenship.  Which brings us to the aforementioned news item:

Pierrotti's report actually aired in 2012.  We're guessing some news recycling site posted something about it without including a date and created renewed buzz in the blogosphere.

Still, it's a good excuse to review one of PolitiFact's past sins.  The number of voter fraud investigations doesn't give us the number of cases of voter fraud.  It gives us the number of investigations.  PolitiFact Florida never checked the number of cases, and gave the ACLU attorney a Truth-O-Mulligan on the "burden of proof" criterion PolitiFact uses fallaciously and inconsistently.