Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hoystory: Your fact check of the day

Welcome Hoystory readers!

Big thanks to Matthew Hoy for the mention on his site.

PolitiFact is currently engaged in full damage control after their recent favorable rating of a Joe Biden statement upon noting the sharp contrast with the conclusions at two other well known fact-checking outfits. We're working on a more detailed review of the issue but for now Hoy has a succinct account of the sophistry.

Highlighting PolitiFact's bias hasn't always been as popular as it is now and Hoy was one of the first to do so. His critiques of PolitiFact have always been spot-on and extremely well written. We're flattered by the shout-out.

You can read our reviews of his work here and you can read Hoy's PolitiFact posts on his site here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michael F. Cannon repeats/clarifies: "PolitiFact Just Asked Me to Be a Source, Again. I Declined, Again."

Michael F. Cannon of the CATO Institute, in the past used by PolitiFact as an expert source, started boycotting PolitiFact based on its weighing in on opinion.

Cannon gave us an update on July 8 indicating that PolitiFact had called on him for expertise and he had declined to provide it.

On Oct. 12 Cannon posted a similar message clarifying his statement that he "declined to help" PolitiFact:
The whole purpose of my PolitiFact boycott is to help them.
We try to emphasize the same attitude at PolitiFact Bias.  A PolitiFact aware of and able to check its tendency toward ideological bias can properly serve a useful and essential role in our constitutional republic.

But PolitiFact's failure to address errors such as its flip-flop on the percentage of the payroll tax paid by employees and its blind support of Alan Grayson's ridiculous argument serve to discourage those of us hoping to see PolitiFact rise to a higher standard of fact checking.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Sublime Bloviations: "PolitiFlub: The employee contribution to Social Security"

It's not often PolitiFact alters their standards so quickly on the exact same topic, but it happens. 

We spotted it right away and PFB editor Bryan White was on the case with his latest update regarding the recent flurry of tax related campaign flyers factchecks PolitiFact's been writing.

This one is pretty obvious. Let's see if our readers can spot it.

Here's PolitiFact's standard for determining tax contributions for Obama's hypothetical $50,000/year worker that pays a higher tax rate than someone making $50 million (bold added):
We asked two researchers at the [Brookings Institute] ... for their advice on how to factor in payroll taxes. They estimated that combining the workers’ share of the payroll tax with the employer’s share -- the usual practice among economists -- would mean an extra 15 percentage points for our hypothetical middle-class worker, and less than 2 additional percentage points for the high-income taxpayer.  Adding these to the percentages we previously found for the income tax alone produces a new, "final" rate of 22 to 23 percent for the construction worker...
Obama's final rating: Half True.

Here's their standard for determining the facts of Herman Cain's statement that "every worker pays 15.3 percent payroll tax":
What we found is that Cain is counting both worker and employer contributions to payroll taxes to arrive at the 15.3 percent number.
Cain said, "Every worker pays 15.3 percent payroll tax." That's not accurate. Workers only pay half that...You can reach that number only by including the half of the tax that employers pay.
If this sound went through your head just now; welcome to our world.

Instead of boring you with the rating they gave Cain, we suggest you head over to Bryan's article and read the whole thing

Once there you will find a deeper analysis as well as a handy chart Bryan has created that shows how PolitiFact has used one standard or the other in various tax fact checks.

Extra Credit: Guess which party benefits from the alternating definitions of what constitutes a tax contribution.

And if you haven't done so check out our recent reviews on this tax issue here and here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Hoystory: "Covering for Obama"

Matthew Hoy of Hoystory has an excellent piece up regarding the same PolitiFact rating we mentioned here yesterday.

Hoy's take:
Like magic, Politifraud sets aside all of the additional taxes that would make Obama’s lie even more obvious and will only concern itself with the one that can bump the lower-income tax rate closer to the upper-income one.
Because it’s hard.
And they’re lazy.
And dishonest.
 As with all of Hoystory's PolitiFact posts, well said.

Visit Hoystory for the entire article. And see our previous reviews of Hoy here.

And congrats to Bryan for getting a shout out for his piece.

Bryan adds:

CBO reports practically fall into one's lap with a Google search for "effective tax rates."  If that's too hard for the folks at PolitiFact then they're in the wrong line of work.

Also thanks to Mr. Hoy for the kind mention.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sublime Bloviations: President Obama and the Buffett Fallacy

Daryl Hannah once taught us that mermaids can only survive in the water. In a similar fantastic vein, the "fact" that Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary can only exist in the murky world of PolitiFact. 

They've dealt with a few statements relating to Buffett's now infamous op-ed, and you don't need to be Carnac to divine which way the Truth-O-Meter fell. But our fact-famished readers have nothing to fear, as PFB editor Bryan White chronicled the whole sordid affair.

Bryan's most recent post takes on PolitiFact's treatment of President Obama's version of Warren's wobbly whopper:

Image from

 Bryan sums up the fact check nicely:
Though the president's statement qualifies as slightly ambiguous, the PolitiFact judgment seems reasonable on its face: Obama is saying that a $50,000 earner is routinely taxed at a higher rate than the $50 million earner. Therefore the president requires more than just a few appropriate individual cases to justify his claim.

We found an IRS chart for tax year 2008 that shows a variety of tax information broken down into 18 ranges of adjusted gross income for the filer.

This chart lists three types of tax returns -- filers who have income for a child who earns more than $1,900 (meaning the child’s income is taxed at the parent’s rate); those who have income reported on Schedule D (primarily capital gains); and those without either of these types of income. For the purposes of our calculations, we are combining data for all three types of returns.
It's hard to see why PolitiFact went to all that trouble when the Congressional Budget Office--ordinarily a trusted source--has already done the work for them.

PolitiFact crunched the IRS numbers, after a fashion, and didn't find much to vindicate Obama:
By these calculations, Obama would be incorrect in most cases.
I saw nothing in the calculations, inadequate though they might be, to indicate that Obama would ever be correct.
Bryan makes a great point about PolitiFact avoiding any information from the CBO. In a recent fact check they cited four CBO reports to defend stimulus job creation. Why not use them now?

PolitiFact dusts off the pity piano and plays us a sad song about the rigors of sorting out the truth for its readers:
These figures are for federal income taxes only. There are also a bunch of other federal taxes that could, and probably should, be included in the calculation. The burden for some [sic] some taxes, including corporate taxes, excise taxes and estate taxes, are hard to attribute to individual returns, so we’ll set those aside. But one federal tax is straightforward to throw into our calculations: payroll taxes.
Bryan quickly spots the flaw:
Figuring the burden for corporate taxes, excise taxes and estate taxes way [sic] well provide a stiff test for researchers, but given the of [sic] admitted relevance of those taxes why not make use of the previously-mentioned CBO report that estimates the effective tax rate with corporate and excise tax burden estimates figured in?

Apparently PolitiFact's version of fact checking only involves consideration of the most regressive tax (by far) in the group, payroll taxes. Ironically, payroll taxes are probably the least relevant tax in the group since the Social Security tax is peddled as retirement insurance--a premium paid for a fixed benefit package at retirement. The argument for progressive insurance premiums based on the ability to pay lacks something in terms of moral authority. Shall the rich also pay more per unit for milk, tea and gasoline?
Well, that would be asking PolitiFact to wade into commentary, and we wouldn't want them to do that. Besides, when the CBO isn't non-partisan enough, PolitiFact can always rely on the reliably liberal Brookings Institute to dole out the cold, hard math:
We asked two researchers at the Urban Institute-Brookings Institute Tax Policy Center, Roberton Williams and Rachel Johnson, for their advice on how to factor in payroll taxes. They estimated that combining the workers’ share of the payroll tax with the employer’s share -- the usual practice among economists -- would mean an extra 15 percentage points for our hypothetical middle-class worker, and less than 2 additional percentage points for the high-income taxpayer.
Don't you just love the back-of-the-envelope methodology?

Let's take a figure calculated by journalists based on data that ignore a number of relevant taxes such as excise and corporate taxes, then call on the left-leaning Tax Policy Center to give us a modification based on (regressive) payroll taxes. While we're at it, let's ignore the work done by the highly respected CBO touching the issue.
Bryan delves deep into the numbers, and scores some direct hits on PolitiFact's flawed methodology. He also slams them for failing to recognize Obama's implication that capital gains tax rates are somehow a "loophole" (Obama's word). They're not, but PolitiFact is far too enamored with their subject to notice.

There's a lot of information involved in these critiques and I couldn't do justice to Bryan's work here. As always I urge you to go to the source and enjoy his blog in its sublime bloviating. For now though, I'll leave you with Bryan's summary:
 If you fudge the numbers enough in Obama's favor you can make it seem possible that he's possibly correct in some individual cases.
I also suggest you read his other critiques of PolitiFact's recent tax ratings here, here and here.

And please don't miss the most damning update he's written here on PolitiFact's dubious technique of adding the employer's share of the FICA tax to the employee's side of the tax burden.

Edit-10/04/11: Removed errant "s" from Buffet in 1st paragraph. Jeff 
Edit-10/06/11:  Added enough t's to ensure consistently proper spelling of Buffett's last name.  --Bryan