Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nutting doing: PolitiFact's inadequate excuse

Crossposted from Sublime Bloviations


This week many liberals jumped on the meme that President Obama has the lowest spending record of any recent president.

Fortunately for all of us, PolitiFact was there to help us find out the truth in politics.

Actually, PolitiFact completely flubbed the related fact check.  And that's not particularly unusual.  Instead, it was the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and an Associated Press fact check that helped people find the truth in politics.

PolitiFact isn't backing down so far, however.  On Friday PolitiFact offered the following response to the initial wave of criticism (bold emphasis added):
(O)ur item was not actually a fact-check of Nutting's entire column. Instead, we rated two elements of the Facebook post together -- one statement drawn from Nutting’s column, and the quote from Romney.

We haven't seen anything that justifies changing our rating of the Facebook post. But people can have legitimate differences about how to assign the spending, so we wanted to pass along some of the comments.

PolitiFact also made the distinction on Twitter:

(Image captured by Jeff Dyberg;
 click image for enlarged view)
There's a big problem with the attempt to distinguish between checking Nutting's claims and those from the Facebook post:  The Facebook post argues implicitly solely on the basis of Nutting's work.  PolitiFact likewise based its eventual ruling squarely on its rating of the Nutting graphic.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added): 
The Facebook post says Mitt Romney is wrong to claim that spending under Obama has "accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history," because it's actually risen "slower than at any time in nearly 60 years."

Obama has indeed presided over the slowest growth in spending of any president using raw dollars, and it was the second-slowest if you adjust for inflation. The math simultaneously backs up Nutting’s calculations and demolishes Romney’s contention.
Credit PolitiFact with accurately representing the logic of the implicit argument.  Without the fact check on Nutting's work there is no fact check of Romney's claim.  Making matters worse, PolitiFact emphasized the claim that Obama "has the lowest spending record" right next to its "Mostly True" Truth-O-Meter graphic.  The excuse that PolitiFact was fact checking the Facebook post completely fails to address that point.  Andrew Stiles is probably still laughing.

Criticisms of Nutting make clear that the accounting of bailout loans substantially skews the numbers in Obama's favor. Using the AP's estimates of 9.7 percent for 2009 (substantially attributable to Obama) and 7.8 percent in 2010, Obama's record while working with a cooperative Democrat-controlled Congress looks like it would challenge the high spending of any of his recent predecessors.  The leader from the Facebook graphic, President Reagan, tops out at 8.7 percent without any adjustment for inflation.  PolitiFact's fact check was utterly superficial and did not properly address the issue.

There is a silver lining.  The Obama administration has so aggressively seized on this issue that PolitiFact will certainly feel pressure to fact check different permutations of Nutting's claims.

I can't wait to see the contortions as PolitiFact tries to reconcile this rating with subsequent attempts.



*Many thanks to Mickey Kaus of the Daily Caller for linking this story.

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