Friday, July 13, 2012

Big Journalism: "Politispin: 'Fact-Checkers' Mislead on GOP Leaders' Favorable Unemployment Numbers"

Big Journalism's Tony Lee posted an article yesterday that sets the tone with the first line:
The purportedly unbiased Politifact will go to great lengths to help Democrats.
That's old news around here, but like the liberals who endlessly parrot PolitiFact's spin, we appreciate confirmation bias as much as the next guy. 

So what's all the hubbub about? PolitiFact Rhode Island's rating of GOP gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille's claim that "Unemployment rate dropped in every state that elected a Republican gov. in 2010." Robitaille based his claim on a report done by Robert Elliott. Lee critiques PolitiFact's dance moves:
In a remarkable twisting of facts and logic, Politifact concedes Elliott’s two points are true before somehow rendering those points to be “Half True.”
This isn't the first time in recent memory where PolitiFact found ways to determine accurate figures weren't worthy of a True rating. This rating also adds to the list of experts left with a bad taste in their mouth after dealing with PolitiFact:
“That type of spin would be expected of, say, the Democratic Governors Association, but not a supposedly ‘objective’ and ‘nonpartisan’ news organization that claims to be the official arbiter of the truth,” Elliott told Breitbart News. “It is the insidious nature of PolitiFact's bias that makes them so loathsome.”
Elliot's statements by themselves make Lee's article a must-read. But Lee sweetens the pot by highlighting PolitiFact's use of extraneous evidence to cloud the issue they were ostensibly reviewing:
Politifact then goes on to compare the unemployment rates of the states that simply elected a governor who was from a different party from the predecessor’s, which is a completely different analysis than Elliott’s, which is what Politifact was supposed to be “fact checking.”

When doing that analysis resulted in Republican governors still reducing the unemployment rate faster than Democratic governors, Politifact decided to compare the unemployment numbers of the Republican predecessors in states that elected Democrats and Democratic predecessors in states that elected Republicans. Only then -- when not even comparing the current crop of governors or the past two years, which was the basis of Elliott’s analysis -- was Politifact able to find something they could use to say Democrats (predecessors) were slightly better than Republicans (predecessors) at reducing the unemployment rate.
Lee nails the point, and this reminds me of PolitiFact's treatment of Laura Ingraham's claim about RomneyCare's unpopularity with national voters. In that case, PolitiFact based their entire rating on statistics only from Massachusetts when Ingraham was probably talking about all 50 states. It appears that when PolitiFact doesn't like the initial outcome, they find new facts to throw into the mix until they reach their desired outcome.

The most hilarious part of the rating was that PolitiFact not only conceded, but confirmed Elliot's numbers:
Considering the unemployment rate has fallen in 49 states in the last year, that’s stretching the statistic pretty thin.

We find Robitaille’s claim "is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context," our definition of Half True.
If the unemployment rate fell in 49 states, by definition Robitaille's claim is true. Using PolitiFact's logic, if Robitaille had claimed "The sun rose in every state that elected a GOP governor", he'd only be rated Half-True because he left out important details. It's nonsense. And it's not fact checking.

This is the first time we've noticed Tony Lee, but if this installment at Big Journalism is any indication, we're looking forward to highlighting his work in the future. Head over to Breitbart and read the whole thing. There's plenty more to this smackdown.


Bryan adds:

Matthew Hoy of Hoystory also takes issue with PolitiFact's rating of Robitaille.

One might cut PolitiFact a break for trying to take credit into account for the sake of its ratings if the effort was evenly applied and didn't force PolitiFact to largely ignore the definitions it established for its ratings.

What do I think of PolitiFact's execution?  I'd borrow a line from legendary football coach John McKay:  "I'm in favor of it."

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