Tuesday, March 15, 2011

PFB Smackdown: The Providence Phoenix rises to aid Politifact--sort of

The Providence Phoenix provided a would-be defense of PolitiFact Rhode Island--but in the end the defense hurts the mainstream media's version of Media Matters.

The story, by David Scharfenberg, opens with the misleading title "PolititFact Faces Its Conservative Critics."  Scharfenberg's story included, I have yet to see PolitiFact meaningfully engage its conservative critics.  The closest we get to that is stuff like Bill Adair waving off criticisms from the right by pointing out that PolitiFact is also criticized from the left.  No doubt the critics from the left are eligible for the same meaningless defense--except that PolitiFact seems concerned enough about offending its left-tilted base to the point of defending itself from the criticisms of Arianna Huffington and Rachel Maddow.  For contrast, a major Wall Street Journal editorial had its existence noted without addressing its content.

Scharfenberg moves on to a critique of PolitiFact written by Willam A. Jacobson (and linked at PolitiFact Bias).

Scharfenberg's conclusion is curious:

Any of the ratings from half-true to mostly true to true would have been in order. For the ProJo to find "pants on fire" itself deserves a "pants on fire" rating.

PolitiFact, you have a problem.

I find Jacobson's critique less than persuasive. The ProJo may be guilty of examining McKay's statement a bit too literally. But for McKay to claim that Whitehouse labeled any Rhode Islander who didn't agree with him on health care reform a "white supremacist" is a pretty serious distortion.
While Scharfenberg apparently disagrees with Jacobson that McKay may have warranted a "Half True" or higher on the "Truth-O-Meter," he apparently concurs with Jacobson that the "Pants On Fire" rating was unjustified.

Scharfenberg subsequently sharpens the point:
Still, when I read the PolitiFact entry, I couldn't help but wonder: is parsing this sort of political theater, this sort of obvious hyperbole, the best use of PolitiFact's time?
PolitiFact claims it grants license for hyperbole:
In deciding which statements to check, we ask ourselves these questions:
  • Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.
Fact check that?


  1. Don't flush this one away: http://www.620wtmj.com/shows/charliesykes/104403514.html

  2. Thanks, Karen.

    While Sass makes some pretty good points his overall presentation harms his ability to communicate to the undecided.

    I'd run across his post before. It didn't quite make the cut.

    Appreciated the pun, of course.