Friday, December 7, 2012

Dustin Siggins: The Most Overlooked 'Lie of the Year"

Persistent PolitiFact critic Dustin Siggins wrote up a piece over at Red Alert Politics asking why the GOP's supposed War on Women was left out of PolitiFact's Lie of the Year contenders. Siggins makes some solid points and it's well worth the read, but his big get was his interview with PolitiFact editor Bill Adair. Adair's response to Siggins was typical, and by typical, I mean comically inconsistent with reality.

Siggins quotes Adair:
"We rate the ‘Lie of the Year’ as the boldest statement or the statement with the biggest reach. Obviously, it’s subjective,” he said. “We didn’t do a fact-check on a statement that there was a War on Women. It was an opinion, and we don’t fact-check opinions. People used it as a sum-up of a variety of aspects of the 2012 campaigns, but it was an overall opinion, not a statement of policy fact.”
Siggins makes the case that the War on Women meme was a policy statement, and points out its wide reaching impact on the election. You should read Siggins argument in his own words and in their entirety. For us though, the rest of Adair's response is a howler.
"It was an opinion, and we don’t fact-check opinions."
This statement is from the same guy that gave Mitt Romney a Pants on Fire rating for saying "We're inches away from no longer having a free economy." (Note: Romney actually earned three Pants on Fire ratings for that same claim, something to keep in mind when PolitiFact pimps out their "report cards") What about Rick Perry's opinion that Barack Obama is a socialist? Bill Adair worked on that one too. Oops! PolitiFact calls both of those statements "hyperbole" (coincidentally, PolitiFact claims to have a policy against rating hyperbole as well). I guess hyperbole doesn't count as opinion.

Unfortunately, Adair doesn't fill us in on the objective metric PolitiFact used when they gave Obama a Half True for his claim that Romney's cuts to education would be "catastrophic." Of course, when Obama claimed that his tax plan only asked millionaires to "pay a little more," PolitiFact "decided that "a little more" is an opinion, not a checkable fact."

"Catastrophic"=Verifable fact. "A little more"=Opinion.

The most hilarious part of this is Adair evades the most obvious problem. The Pants on Fire label itself is entirely subjective. The rating is predicated on a claim being "ridiculous." To this day, Adair has never offered up an objective definition of what makes a claim "ridiculous." So the bottom line is PolitiFact doesn't check opinions, but they do use opinions to assign ratings of fact. (Read Bryan's study on the Pants on Fire/False issue here.)

Adair doesn't clarify the issue by adding yet another version of the Lie of the Year criteria:
"We rate the ‘Lie of the Year’ as the boldest statement or the statement with the biggest reach."
Last year, Angie Drobnic-Holan explained the Lie of the Year was a claim PolitiFact rated "that played the biggest role in the national discourse." Which is it?

Regardless, it's hard to imagine some of PolitiFact's finalists even being in the top 20 claims that fit either definition. In what world does Jack Markels (who?) claim that "Mitt Romney likes to fire people" rank as a "bold" statement that has "the biggest reach," let alone played "the biggest role in the national discourse." Of course, don't waste your time looking for any administration comments on Benghazi in the top ten. The reality is that the finalists for PolitiFact's Lie of the Year exemplifies the problems of PolitiFact's selection bias. I've previously said that I suspect the LOTY is predetermined, and a grab bag of nine ratings is thrown in for looks. The competition PolitiFact selected this year does nothing to change my mind.

Finally, I'll give Adair credit for the most honest thing I've ever heard him say about his body of work thus far:
"Obviously, it’s subjective”
Subjective indeed.

Siggins argues the "War on Women" campaign from the Democrats meets key aspects of Adair's criteria and makes a fine Lie of the Year candidate.  He makes a good argument that's worth reading

No comments:

Post a Comment