Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Anchor Rising: "More Bias on Display"

JD and I only got started with PolitiFact Bias in early 2011.  That puts us a few years behind in highlighting excellent examples others have found that help show PolitiFact's left-leaning bias.

Thanks to the new "PolitiFarce" tag at Anchor Rising I ran across this stellar example from Justin Katz:
The statement being addressed is that "over half of the foreign-born population in Rhode Island is white," and the findings were as follows:
Brown directed us to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 2006-2008, which includes three-year estimates of foreign-born populations in the United States. Specifically, he said he was citing the figures showing that 45.2 percent of foreign-born Rhode Islanders are white. That's not more than half. ...
Drawing from data in the 2006-2008 survey, the census said that 32 percent of foreign-born people, about one third, are white alone, not Hispanic or Latino. ...
A one-year report from 2009 showed that 30 percent of Rhode Island respondents identified themselves as "white alone, not Hispanic or Latino."
So, judged by the statistic that Brown incorrectly thought he should be using, his statement was only false by a little; judged by the appropriate statistic, Brown's statement was false by a lot. On what grounds did PolitiFact give him a "half true"?
Indeed, upon examination of PolitiFact's argument it is difficult to see what portion of Steve Brown's statement, if any, was true.

It's worth noting that this story by PolitiFact did attempt to address Brown's underlying point.  PolitiFact's standards (using the term advisedly) call for giving the underlying point the greatest emphasis in a numbers claim.

But trying to understand PolitiFact's approach on that basis simply leads to more trouble.

In the end, Brown's underlying claim that the state police investigate Hispanics more often than non-Hispanics for immigration violations is supported by the department's own numbers. Of the 92 people investigated, 71 were from Latin American countries.
The most obvious problem is the small sample size.  But the bigger problem is PolitiFact's supposed identification of Brown's "underlying claim" that Hispanics were investigated more often than non-Hispanics.  If that was Brown's underlying claim then there should have been no reason to look at race percentages among Rhode Island's foreign-born population.  PolitiFact could have just used the numbers 71 and 92 and had done with it with a glowing "True" rating.  But clearly Brown's point was that Hispanics are investigated disproportionately by race, implying racism in the department's methods.  That argument is specious on its face given the aforementioned small sample size and the strong possibility that factors other than race (proximity of the nation of origin, for example) come into play in leading to an investigation.

The "true" in Brown's statement, then, appears to come from an "underlying claim" that wasn't really Brown's point.  PolitiFact used a superficial factoid to justify bumping Brown up a notch or two (or three).

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