Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hot Air: "PolitiFact Goes to the Dogs"

This week PolitiFact flexed their Pulitzer-sized muscle by...copying and pasting.

Our fact-finding friends decided the hubbub surrounding our commander-in-chief's canine cuisine wasn't worthy of a fact check, but wanted to weigh in on it anyway. What better way to put the issue "In Context" than to simply reprint the passage from Obama's book? Karl over at Hot Air was quick to Spot spot the ruse:
Although the heart of PolitiFact is the Truth-O-Meter, which they use to rate factual claims. [sic] author Louis Jacobson assigned no rating to the seemingly straightforward question of whether Obama ate dog.
Karl's post is well worth the read, but I think his buddy Ace summed it up nicely on Twitter:

Image from Twitter
After receiving several criticisms on Twitter about being unable to determine what is a widely acknowledged fact, PolitiFact attempted to reframe the article as simply putting the issue "In Context":

Image from Twitter

That defense falls flat. Check out how PolitiFact (originally) headlined the article:

(Image from PolitiFact's Facebook page)

Did Obama eat dog in Indonesia? The question mark implies doubt. The only thing missing here is PolitiFact's gimmicky Truth-O-Meter graphic. The offending headline has since been scrubbed from the website and replaced with the more benign heading: "In context: Obama's comments on eating dog in Indonesia." Of course, no editor's note or mention of the change is provided. (The question in question is still up on PolitiFact's Facebook page, but links to a version of the story with the updated headline).

John Sexton over at Breitbart describes the trouble with the transmuted title:
Ace of Spades began questioning what exactly Politifact was suggesting with their headline shortly after the story appeared. Is there some doubt about the dog-eating story? If so, why not offer a ruling? And if there's actually no doubt, why write a factcheck piece at all? What does "context" actually add in this case? Either Obama ate dog or he didn't.

Friday afternoon, Politifact rewrote their headline. As you can see, it now reads "In context: Obama's comments on eating dog in Indonesia." No more question mark, which is presumably their way of saying the story is true. And yet, we still get no "true" ruling. And there is still no explanation of what the context adds to this discussion.
But headline hijinks aren't the only problems with this article. Karl goes on to point out that PolitiFact has not shied away from animal related claims in the past:
More significantly, PolitiFact’s responses ignore their much more relevant track record in this particular area. For example, PolitiFact rated the story about the Romneys transporting the family dog on the roof of their car as “Mostly True.” And PolitiFact rated the story about former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee frying squirrels in a popcorn popper simply “True.”
In all fairness to PolitiFact, they have indeed rated Obama on a dog claim:

(Image from PolitiFact.com)

Awww...

The bottom line is PolitiFact failed to provide any context that wasn't already widely available. The one angle of the story they could have clarified was whether or not eating dog meat was customary (or even common practice) in Indonesia at the time of the incident. But if you thought that kind of context would be provided by the Pulitzer-winning outfit in a feature they call "In Context", you'd be wrong. Instead, we're forced to rely on the word of those biased extremists over at Breitbart to do the legwork PolitiFacter Louis Jacobson was too busy to do:
A diplomatic source close to the Indonesian delegation in the U.S. confirms that while dog is sometimes eaten in Indonesia, it is done so very rarely. “Obama had to go hunting for dog meat,” the source, who didn’t want to be identified, told me.

“I don’t know of anyone who eats it and frankly, I’m a little offended you would ask.”
Breitbart.com scoured Indonesian cook books. Not one mentions ways to prepare dog.
PolitiFact's latest "In Context" article was little more than a device for them to delicately acknowledge a popular and controversial issue without actually having to take a position on it. People who claim to be objective servants of fact should be unconcerned with perception. But PolitiFact are not those people. They didn't sort out the truth of anything or even put anything in context. They punted. Their Obama eats dog article was an evasion. Readers should expect more of the same in the coming months.

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