Sunday, May 20, 2012

PolitiFact Virginia takes mere months to correct obvious misjudgment

It's "CORRECTION" time at PolitiFact? No, not quite.

It's "UPDATE" time at PolitiFact? Er, not exactly.

It's "Editor's Note" time! We love these!
Editors Note: On Dec. 26, 2011, PolitiFact Virginia rated as Mostly True a statement by Democrat Tim Kaine that Republican George Allen, during his term in the U.S. Senate from 2001-2007, helped turn the largest budget surplus in U.S. history into the largest deficit.

Our ruling was largely based on raw federal budget numbers dating back to the 1930s. The Allen campaign recently told us that our rating did not give enough credence to what two economists said in the original story: The best way to compare deficits through history is to express them as a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product at the time.

We took a new look at the fact-check and concluded the Allen campaign is right. So we are changing our rating to Half True because there is still validity to Kaine’s claim, but his numbers need context. 
PolitiFact Virginia published the above on May 15, nearly six months after giving Kaine his inflated grade.

Note that this ruling change does not come as a result of new information.  Everything was there in the story, and the PolitiFact Virginia team just failed to put the pieces together.  Note also that PolitiFact avoids calling this a correction in the editor's note.  Let's review the "Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter":
When we find we've made a mistake, we correct the mistake.
  • In the case of a factual error, an editor's note will be added and labeled "CORRECTION" explaining how the article has been changed.
  • In the case of clarifications or updates, an editor's note will be added and labeled "UPDATE" explaining how the article has been changed.
  • If the mistake is significant, we will reconvene the three-editor panel. If there is a new ruling, we will rewrite the item and put the correction at the top indicating how it's been changed.
If PolitiFact Virginia had committed a factual error, then it would publish an editor's note labeled "CORRECTION."  The note does not contain that word, therefore by PolitiFact's principles it committed no factual error by calling Kaine's claim "Mostly True."

Neat!

It gets even more confusing with the next bullet point.  If there's no factual error but just a clarification or update then we should see the label "UPDATE" along with the explanation of the change.  We don't see that label either.

Apparently PolitiFact Virginia just skipped the first two bullet points and went right for the third.  Reconvene if the mistake is significant and rewrite the item with the (non-correction) correction at the top.  So we have a mistake significant enough to require a rewrite with no admission of a mistake in accordance with PolitiFact's principles.  A mistake is implied by the new ruling with the rewrite, of course.

Seriously, if PolitiFact follows its principles on the matter of corrections in such a haphazard way, what makes anyone think it applies its other principles consistently?

Incidentally, it is clear that Republican George Allen endured the harm from the mistake, while Democrat Tim Kaine reaped the benefit.

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