Thursday, May 31, 2012

Big Journalism: "PolitiFact Bases Entire Fact Check on Author's Intuition"

John Sexton of Big Journalism (and Verum Serum fame) joins Matthew Hoy in slamming PolitiFact's rating of a recent Crossroads GPS ad.

Sexton notes that the ad says one thing and PolitiFact claims the ad says something else:
The ad is clearly about the President's promise that you could keep your insurance, not some insurance. Instead of staying on that point, PolitiFact's introduces a novel new interpretation of the ad's meaning. Suddenly, it's not about the President's promise at all, rather " Its point seems to be simply that a lot of people will lose coverage." Really? Where does it say that?
Sexton draws attention to a recurrent problem at PolitiFact.  Statements that fail to accord with the views inside the left-skewed journalistic bubble often receive an uncharitable interpretation that the original speaker would scarcely recognize.  PolitiFact ends up appearing either unable or unwilling to understand the readily apparent meaning.

Sexton makes other good points as well, so visit Big Journalism and read it through start to finish.  Sexton gets Bill Adair on the record defending PolitiFact's journalistic malpractice, and that's always worth seeing even if it draws  from one of Adair's two favorite cliches:  People won't always agree with PolitiFact's ratings and PolitiFact gets criticized from conservatives and liberals (PolitiFact, therefore, is fair).

Hoystory: "Dishonest hacks"

Frequent PolitiFact critic Matthew Hoy weighed in about a Crossroads GPS rating about President Obama's claim that "If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan."

Hoy gets right to the issue with his trademark eloquence:
It was a lie. Anyone with half a brain knew it.

Since I don’t think that [PolitiFact editors] Angie Drobnic Holan and Bill Adair are slack-jawed drooling idiots, that makes their assessment of Obama’s promise evidence that they are dishonest, lying hacks.
Hoy then zeros in on the way PolitiFact interpreted, and assigned a new meaning, to Obama's specific words:
Obama often said during his 2008 campaign for president that if people liked their health insurance, they wouldn’t have to change it under his proposal, and he continued to say it as president.“If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan,” he said at a 2009 town hall meeting.
Stop there for a moment and think about that quoted statement. When you as an English-speaking individual read those 14 words, do you think Obama’s saying this:
What Obama was talking about was the way his plan left in place the current health care system in the United States.
Seriously? So, according to Politifraud, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan” = “We will not institute a single-payer system.”

Well, if you’re going to twist the plain meaning of Obama’s words into that, then I suppose Politifraud should make Humpty Dumpty its mascot.
In all fairness to PolitiFact, subsequent to Hoy's post, they backtracked explained that they weren't really checking Obama's claim at all. They issued this editors note clarification correction update:
We have adjusted the statement to clarify that we are fact-checking the Crossroads GPS claim that "millions could lose their health care coverage and be forced into a government pool." The ruling is unchanged.
This PolitiFact rating is only the latest in a long string of examples showcasing their defense of ObamaCare. (Not to mention their symbiotic defense of RomneyCare). Readers would be hard pressed to find unfavorable ratings of the law in PolitiFact's archives. It's enough to leave discerning observers with the impression that PolitiFact loves the ACA and is willing to protect it with the sophistry and semantic hair-splitting common among partisan actors.

Hoy's trenchant observations and wonderful way with words make it well worth heading over to his site and reading the whole thing.   Don't miss out on the rest.

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.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The trouble with the disappearance of the original "Julia" fact check

Earlier this week, PolitiFact published a fact check of the Medicare portion of the Obama campaign's "Life of Julia" Web ad.

Hours later, PolitiFact scrubbed the fact check from its website.   A message appeared on PolitiFact's Facebook page saying that the article was "unpublished" so that PolitiFact could address reader criticisms.

PolitiFact took a big step backward this week with its transparency.  In past instances PolitiFact archived the flawed version of a story.  That was a good policy.

The new approach is puzzling.  It isn't hard at all to find guidelines for journalistic ethics strongly discouraging the removal of a whole online story.

What happened? 

Did PolitiFact institute a new policy?  Did a person handling Web content act without approval from up above?  The former appears more likely given the Facebook announcement.

PolitiFact's actions did mitigate some of the ethical black clouds.  The story was not permanently deleted.  The new version carries a "CORRECTION" notice in keeping with PolitiFact's statement of standards and it explains the differences between the old version of the story and the new version (just trust 'em!).

However, the new policy is not likely to assist PolitiFact in building an image of reliability.

As for the "Julia" fact check itself, a review will appear before long at Sublime Bloviations.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Power Line: "Barack Obama, Fiscal Conservative!"

The latest smackdown of PolitiFact's unbelievably inept attempt to present Obama as a budget miser comes from John Hinderaker over at Power Line.

Hinderacker first delves into the problems with Rex Nutting's flawed analysis that started this meme off in the first place:
It started with the ridiculous column by one Rex Nutting that I dismantled last night. Nutting claims that the “Obama spending binge never happened.” He says Obama has presided over the slowest growth in federal spending in modern history. Nutting achieves this counter-intuitive feat by simply omitting the first year of the Obama administration, FY 2009, when federal spending jumped $535 billion, a massive increase that has been sustained and built upon in the succeeding years. Nutting blithely attributes this FY 2009 spending to President Bush, even though 1) Obama was president for more than two-thirds of FY 2009; 2) the Democratic Congress never submitted a budget to President Bush for FY 2009, instead waiting until after Obama was inaugurated; 3) Obama signed the FY 2009 budget in March of that year; 4) Obama and the Democratic Congress spent more than $400 billion more in FY 2009 than Bush had requested in his budget proposal, which was submitted in early 2008; and 5) the stimulus bill, which ballooned FY 2009 spending, was, as we all know, enacted by the Democratic Congress and signed into law by President Obama. So for Nutting to use FY 2010 as the first year of the Obama administration for fiscal purposes was absurd.
Hinderaker goes on to list several of Obama's big spending, deficit-boosting credentials before getting to PolitiFact. Hinderaker has some choice words for PolitiFact's determination that Obama is St. Skinflint, but more importantly notes a discrepancy with a past fact check:
PolitiFact arrived at this conclusion by swallowing the claim that President Bush is somehow responsible for the spending that Obama and the Democrats did in 2009 after he left office. This is doubly amusing because it contradicts the approach PolitiFact took when the shoe was on the other foot. In January 2010, PolitiFact purported to evaluate David Axelrod’s claim that “The day the Bush administration took over from President Bill Clinton in 2001, America enjoyed a $236 billion budget surplus….” PolitiFact found that claim to be true by referring to the FY 2000 budget:
When we asked for his sources, the White House pointed us to several documents. The first was a 2002 report from the Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, that reported the 2000 federal budget ended with a $236 billion surplus. So Axelrod was right on that point.
So at that time, PolitiFact was clear: the Clinton administration’s responsibility ended in FY 2000, the year before President Bush took office. But, now that the partisan position is reversed, PolitiFact says the opposite. Obama isn’t responsible for anything until he had been in office for eight-plus months, even though, in that time, he had signed nine spending bills plus the stimulus.
PolitiFact's assertion that "Obama has indeed presided over the slowest growth in spending of any president" is absurd. The sheer level of incompetence demanded for a rating like this makes it easy to believe that PolitiFact overlooked the problems deliberately. It's simply implausible that PolitiFact overlooked such obvious flaws accidentally.

It takes a special kind of hubris to call yourself non-partisan when dispensing this type of deceitful gimmickry.

Hinderaker's article goes into more detail pointing out the problems from Nutting and PolitiFact.  Do visit Power Line and read the whole thing.

Big Journalism: "Politifact: Obama Presided Over Slowest Federal Spending Growth of Any Recent President"

Big Journalism's John Nolte comes through with a story on PolitiFact's role in supporting Rex Nutting's misleading claims about President Obama's role in expanding federal spending.

Nolte makes some statements about PolitiFact's motivations that we no not necessarily agree with, but his post hits the central issue with a powerful broadside (assisted by Jim Pethokoukis):

Now to the facts, which I will turn over to the Enterprise Blog's indispensible Jim Pethokoukis. It should be noted that Pethokoukis is not taking on Politifact but rather the nonsense that Politifact laughably proclaimed as mostly true: [emphasis added]
Nutting arrives at that 1.4% number by assigning 2009—when spending surged nearly 20%—to George W. Bush: “The 2009 fiscal year, which Republicans count as part of Obama’s legacy, began four months before Obama moved into the White House. The major spending decisions in the 2009 fiscal year were made by George W. Bush and the previous Congress. Like a relief pitcher who comes into the game with the bases loaded, Obama came in with a budget in place that called for spending to increase by hundreds of billions of dollars in response to the worst economic and financial calamity in generations.”

Let me complete the metaphor for Nutting: “Then as those runners scored, Obama kept putting more on base.”

Obama chose not to reverse that elevated level of spending; thus he, along with congressional Democrats, are responsible for it. Only by establishing 2009 as the new baseline, something Republican budget hawks like Paul Ryan feared would happen, does Obama come off looking like a tightwad. Obama has turned a one-off surge in spending due to the Great Recession into his permanent New Normal through 2016 and beyond.
Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere, NOWHERE is this pertinent piece of context included anywhere in Politifact's 1300 word analysis.
Nolte's identification of the central problem agrees with the one I posted at Sublime Bloviations, for what it's worth.  A significant portion of the increased spending in 2009 was one-time spending, much of it in the form of loans, to stabilize the banking system.  Using that year as a baseline for later increases is misleading, period.  And Nolte's right that PolitiFact ignores that critical piece of context.
This bit of partisan and journalistic hackery, however, is a new low. Intentionally and dishonestly, Politifact only reports on the context that backs up the pro-Obama sleight-of-hand while the only context that matters is completely ignored. What we have here is nothing short of lying through a deliberate act of omission.
I find it hard to disagree, even though I try to give PolitiFact's journalists the benefit of the doubt as to their conscious motivations.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

PolitiFact unpublishes "Julia" fact check (Updated)

Whoa, Nelly.

PolitiFact today took the unusual step of taking down a fact check of the Obama campaign's "Julia" Web ad.

This is about the only Web evidence left from the story after it was scrubbed from the PolitiFact website:

The link goes to one of PolitiFact's clever bad link pages for now.

PolitiFact's Facebook page had this to say:
Some readers have raised questions about our latest item on Medicare and Julia. We've unpublished it while we look at them.
Jeff and I put forth a few digs on the issue of journalistic ethics on the Facebook page.  Other than that we're pretty much holding our fire until we see where this goes.

Update May 23, 2012:  PolitiFact's Twitter feed contains a bit more information:
Would replace Medicare with "nothing but a voucher"? That's not what his plan says. False:
 This looks like a rating that some felt was too harsh on President Obama.  The explanation for unpublishing (if we even get one) may prove more entertaining than the new version of the story.

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."


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.

PFB Smackdown: Rachel Maddow (again) and White House baby screening

It does seem that MSNBC host Rachel Maddow has gone a tad unhinged over PolitiFact.

Maddow's latest complaint about PolitiFact stems from a "Mostly False" rating PolitiFact gave to a pro-life/anti-abortion group over its claim that the White House recognizes the existence of unborn babies for security purposes.

Maddow's problem seems to come from the fact that she doesn't recognize that PolitiFact's rating system weights toward the middle ratings because of compound statements and underlying arguments. 


Maddow seems inches from screaming (3:05) "It's got to be either true or false!"

Clearly Maddow believed the "Mostly False" rating from PolitiFact was inflated.  But she made her case with cherry-picked information.  And her choices weren't so surprising when PolitiFact did much the same thing, though not quite to the extreme Maddow took it.

This is the key line from the White House e-mail, which neither Maddow nor PolitiFact saw fit to mention (from the National Right to Life press release):
"We have received a number of calls regarding how to enter security information for a baby that has not yet been born," Shafer wrote.
The PolitiFact telling picks up with Shafer's next sentence (bold emphasis added):
The release was a response to an early-morning email from the White House Visitors Office detailing how to record the personal information of babies still in utero.

"Crazy as it may sound, you MUST include the baby in the overall count of guests in the tour. It’s an easy process," Visitors Office director Ellie Schafer wrote to congressional staffers, specifying that nine zeros should be filled in for the infant’s Social Security Number.
Using just the second sentence, it's very easy to charge National Right to Life with distorting the meaning of the email newsletter.  But with the addition of the preceding sentence it is plain that Shafer is giving instructions on entering security information for a baby that has not yet been born.  The first sentence helps illuminate why Shafer says it sounds crazy to include the (unborn) baby in the overall count.  The PolitiFact version at least introduces the quotation with a helpful paraphrase ("detailing how to record the personal information of babies still in utero").

The White House instruction to provide security information for the unborn baby, clear in the White House email, was the fulcrum on which the NRTL built its implication of White House hypocrisy.

But we need to clarify which fact PolitiFact chose to check.

(clipped from
The top portion of the PolitiFact image is a suitably accurate representation of the NRTL newsletter, and in light of the information already discussed, it can't be entirely false that the White House recognizes unborn babies in terms of its security procedures.  It sent out instructions to help expectant mothers fill out security information for babies not yet born.

The bottom portion of the PolitiFact image tends to mislead.  Saying the White House "screens" unborn babies conveys the impression that the babies have enough history to warrant some type of security threat, and implies that some unborn babies may not make the cut.  The NRTL newsletter doesn't mention anything about that type of screening and does not imply it.  On the contrary, the newsletter appears to take for granted that the White House asks for the information for the purpose of providing security for the visitors, including babies born or otherwise.

I'll go out on a limb and assume that if the White House security team has information about a pregnant woman visiting the White House on a day the White House is attacked, rescue efforts will take into account the fetus and take special action to help ensure its survival.  That's in line with the purpose of the NLRB press release.  There's a touch of hypocrisy in the policy and the NLRB newsletter doesn't overplay that angle.  If "Mostly False" isn't the correct rating then it should be higher than that.  Indeed, the NLRB's newsletter handled the truth more carefully than either Maddow or PolitiFact in this case.

Maddow's rant fits with a pattern of low-quality criticism of PolitiFact from the Left.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Flip-Flopping Your Way to Consistency: A Constant Evolution

"Whatever words I say, I will always love you."
-The Cure

When President Obama came out of the closet as a supporter of gay marriage last week it was little surprise that PolitiFact weighed in with a "Full-Flop" rating. Considering the widespread attention Obama's announcement received, coupled with his vacillation, the rating appears to be a no-brainer:

Image from

Obama's many different positions on gay marriage are common knowledge. We joked on Twitter that PolitiFact would be unveiling the Evolv-O-Meter, but how could PolitiFact have given any rating other than "Full-Flop"? The problem is that, according to PolitiFact, Obama's flip-flop is actually an example of how constant his views have been:
While the president has consistently supported civil rights for gay couples-
Wait, what? Could you repeat that?
 Obama, a consistent supporter of civil rights for gay couples...
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Only PolitiFact could manage to shower praise on Obama for consistency, twice, in an article that describes his current position as a Full-Flop. This also raises an interesting question: Has PolitiFact determined that gay marriage is not a civil rights issue? That's a rating I missed.  PolitiFact has  minimized Obama's changing view of gay marriage and presented it as a minor nuisance in the statutory minutiae of the debate. Heck, Obama has always been pro-gay rights! Just not that right. Obama's positions cannot be simultaneously consistent and evolving. If Obama has always been a consistent supporter of civil rights for gay couples, and Obama's stance on gay marriage has changed, then it follows that gay marriage is not a civil right. Considering the controversial nature of the gay marriage issue, you'd think PolitiFact would let us know when they determined the status of such a key sticking point in the debate. It also puts PolitiFact at odds with Andrew Sullivan. Check out his over-the-top article in which he describes Obama's announcement as leaving him teary-eyed and speechless. Sullivan notes the contradiction in Obama's evolving positions:
"[Obama] said he was for equality, but not marriage. Five years later, he sees - as we all see - that you cannot have one without the other."
Sorry, Mr. Sullivan, but according to Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact you can.

Another question Obama's comments raise is just what is he supporting? A recent state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in North Carolina was overwhelmingly passed after only a nominal effort from Obama (robocalls) opposing it. Notice too, that despite PolitiFact referring to the announcement as a "historic shift", Obama's support is personal, not policy.
At a certain point, I've just concluded that-- for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that-- I think same-sex couples should be able to get married...And I continue to believe that this is an issue that is gonna be worked out at the local level, because historically, this has not been a federal issue...

This is starting to sound more like a Truth-O-Meter item: Is it true that Obama supports gay marriage? While it's unlikely Obama will "introduce legislation making gay marriage legal in all 50 states" as Megan McCain suggested, one wonders if it's true that an evolution in personal feelings while simultaneously rejecting political involvement actually qualifies as "support." Unfortunately, PolitiFact declined to sort out the truth of these questions.

To repeatedly commend Obama for his consistency in an article highlighting his contradictions is puzzling. It gives the impression PolitiFact wants to present his new, contradictory position as a minor adjustment rather than the Full-Flop they put on the meter. This type of sugarcoating is more consistent with an editorial piece than an objective review of the facts.

The bottom line is no matter what Obama says, PolitiFact will be there to put it in the best light. As the election approaches, readers should remember that PolitiFact is not a dispassionate witness to the political process. They are cheerleaders pulling for the home team, adept at turning every setback into a positive rally. Their motivations are expressed in gratuitous commentary best reserved for the opinion pages.

Don't believe the hype.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sublime Bloviations: Grading PolitiFact (Florida): Is U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Bill Nelson ad accurate?

PFB editor Bryan White takes an in-depth look at a recent PolitiFact rating that is a good example of the Pulitzer winners' habit of inventing a claim to check. It's a tad too lengthy to crosspost here, but Bryan's post is well worth the read.

The issue is a U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad critical of Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. The ad highlights Nelsons support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and reminds viewers of the CBO estimate that 20 million people could lose their current coverage:
PolitiFact focuses on a would-be broader context where the ad supposedly implies that 20 million Medicare beneficiaries will lose their current insurance:
Here, we’re checking whether "20 million people could lose their current coverage," and whether those people are older Americans on Medicare as the ad strongly suggests.
Don't hold your breath waiting for PolitiFact to substantiate its claim that the ad "strongly suggests" that 20 million Medicare beneficiaries will lose their current coverage. It never happens.
Bryan goes on to list four "shenanigans" PolitiFact employs in order to end up with the rating they want. Here's my favorite:
Shenanigan C:
Second, some portion of that (20 million) number are people voluntarily switching to other, better coverage -- not being forced out of coverage against their will.
Ah, the old "conjecture as evidence" ploy. "Are" suggests a fact in evidence. But the consequences of the law foretold in the CBO report are not yet in evidence. As chronicled in an earlier "Grading PolitiFact" entry, PolitiFact invented its evidence on this point. Is it possible that a person will voluntarily leave employer-provided coverage for coverage under an exchange? Sure, barely. But subsidized exchange coverage under the health care reform act is not available to those forsaking employer-offered coverage.
Bryan also highlights yet another example of PolitiFact asking leading questions to its sources. That's a problem we've pointed out before

Bryan spares little in his critique. It's difficult to believe PolitiFact is this inept at following basic journalistic guidelines. The more likely excuse for their failures is a political bias that goes unchecked by the editors. Bryan lays out his case in detail, and this short review does not give readers the full depth of PolitiFact's flaws. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nothing To See Here: Employer makes health-care decisions for "Julia"?

This entry's really an update of an earlier item mailed to me from Emily's list.  An amendment offered by Roy Blunt would supposedly give control of women's health-care decisions to their employer.

The Obama campaign's "Julia" ad repeats the claim.
Romney supports the Blunt Amendment—which would place Julia's health care decisions in the hands of her employer—and repealing health care reform so insurance companies could go back to charging women 50% more than men.
The "Julia" presentation tacks on that bit about charging women rates 50 percent higher than those charged to men.  That's a number that begs for a fact check while supplying the likely essential context that the higher rates represent risk calculations.  The ad hints at gender discrimination, but that's just false if higher rates are justified by gender-related differences in medical costs.

Jeff adds: 5/11/12: Bryan's in-depth takedown of PolitiFact's Julia rating is well worth the read.

Edit: 5/11/12: Removed repeated instances of words "supposedly give" in first paragraph-Jeff

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A debunking with bunkum added

Erik Wemple has a short article over at the Washington Post extolling PolitiFacter Louis Jacobson's investigation into an oft-repeated claim (take note of the final line):
Have you ever heard that 85 percent of recent college graduates are moving back home? If so, then perhaps you’ve seen that figure in Time magazine, in, in the New York Post, or in an ad from American Crossroads, a group that used the whopping figure in an ad to hammer President Obama.

So if you’ve heard it from all those places, how could this figure on “boomerang” children possibly be anything but stone-cold accurate? Well, perhaps no one ever once lifted a phone receiver, put a question in an e-mail or deployed other research techniques to fact-check it. (PolitiFact gave it a “false.”)
Our purpose here at PFB is to highlight PolitiFact's liberal bias. In this case, Jacobson appears to do a fair job of researching the numbers, and after reading Jacobson's work the 85 percent stat seems completely bogus. This isn't an ideological issue. The statistic is legitimate or it isn't. Partisans can quibble over its significance or causes, but that's irrelevant to its accuracy. Props to Jacobson for the legwork. If the story ended there then PolitiFact rendered a valuable service, period. But like Anthony Weiner on a Twitter binge, PolitiFact never seems to quit until they expose themselves. If the problem still isn't clear, have a look at Jacobson's original piece:
The ad attributes the claim to a Time magazine story dated May 10, 2011. We found the article in question, which was headlined, "Survey: 85% of New College Grads Move Back in with Mom and Dad."

The story begins, "The kids are coming home to roost. Surprise, surprise: Thanks to a high unemployment rate for new grads, many of those with diplomas fresh off the press are making a return to Mom and Dad’s place. In fact, according to a poll conducted by consulting firm Twentysomething Inc., some 85% of graduates will soon remember what Mom’s cooking tastes like."

Since the Time story didn’t give any details on the study or give any indication that a reporter had called the firm -- the same was true for the two other media reports that cited the statistic, the New York Post and -- we tried to contact Twentysomething Inc. for additional details on the methodology and date of the survey.
...The statistic has been repeated many times on websites and blogs -- twice in the Huffington Post, for instance, and once in the personal finance blog PT Money. It even was picked up by bloggers both liberal (Democratic Underground) and conservative (Free Republic), each with their own political spin. We did not hear back from the author of the Time magazine article.
 Still looking for the part that shows PolitiFact's liberal bias? Here's the missing piece:

Image from

Time, CNN, the Huffington Post, and Democratic Underground were all spared. Sure, the Free Republic and the New York Post went unscathed, but they're not nearly the shiny lure that attracts the liberal fish the way American Crossroads does. More importantly, this rating grants immunity to those most responsible for the bogus statistic: research firm TwentysomethingInc.

Wemple writes "PolitiFact gave it a False" (italics mine) referring to the claim, but that's not all PolitiFact did. PolitiFact put the American Crossroads logo right next to the official Truth-O-Meter with a big red False, implying not that American Crossroads is guilty of shoddy stat research, but is lying. Of the many outlets that used the statistic, it's only American Crossroads who end up with a demerit in their "Report Card" that PolitiFact so likes to peddle as a guide to a person or group's honesty.

If readers get the impression this is nitpicking on my part, it's worth noting that it's not the first time PolitiFact has burdened a conservative with a poor rating for a claim that was widely repeated in the mainstream media. Also keep in mind that in cases like this, the decision to lay blame on a specific source when so many are available is an editorial one. It is our contention that the bias of PolitiFact's editors will harm conservative sources more often than liberal ones.  An objective operation could (should and would) have simply uncovered the source of the bogus statistic, and then provided a list of all the media outlets that repeated it. PolitiFact's bias shows in the selection of just one entity--a conservative one--to shoulder the False rating.

Subtle slights like this, especially added to PolitiFact's many other tricks, allow PolitiFact to use otherwise solid journalism to contort verified facts into liberal propaganda. By all means Jacobson deserves credit for debunking a recurring myth. But as long as PolitiFact conducts itself like a Truth Pimp passing out chits to favored courtesans while branding less fortunate subjects with a scarlet letter F it should be acknowledged for what it is: an editorial page with a left-wing bias.

Update: 5/12/12: Yesterday PolitiFact announced on their Facebook page that NPR would air a segment discussing Jacobson's debunking of the 85% statistic. The comments on PolitiFact's Facebook page rarely disappoint when looking for comical examples of liberal angst and outrage, but there was at least one regarding this article that is worth noting here:

Image from Facebook

As can be expected, PolitiFact's presentation of this bogus statistic with the American Crossroads logo next to the False rating leaves readers with the impression that it was American Crossroads that came up with the figure. Notice too the commenter claims AC "keeps on lying" and "makes a purely false ad" as opposed to repeating statistics without due diligence.

PolitiFact has been doing this long enough to know that this is exactly how their readers will interpret the presentation of the rating. By selecting American Crossroads to bear the weight of the False rating on their own implies an intentional choice by the editors to influence their readers opinion about a conservative PAC. Congrats, PolitiFact. Mission accomplished.

Monday, May 7, 2012

counterirritant: "The Cracks in the Crystal Ball"

If you're not following Byron York on Twitter, then you may have missed this mic dropping takedown of PolitiFact:

Image from Twitter

York is referring to the covering fire PolitiFact recently laid down for the Obama campaign for their insinuation that Mitt Romney would have heeded Joe Biden's advice and not ordered the hit on Osama bin Laden. "Counterfactual supposition" is an accurate description of Obama's campaign ad. But for a more in-depth analysis, check out this post over at "counterirritant":
Apparently the folks at PolitiFact believe that they have achieved such a mastery of the art of fact checking that they feel the need to branch out — into the art of fortune-telling.
The obvious rating for PolitiFact to assign is “Pants on Fire.” There is no way for the Obama campaign to know what Romney would or wouldn’t have done as the president. However, the folks at PolitiFact apparently they [sic] believe they have an idea (half an idea?) of what Romney would have done...
It's worth noting that adhering to their own standards is not a strong point for PolitiFact. Remember, that before deciding to rate a claim, PolitiFact asks themselves a few questions: 
Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions 
Fear not PolitiFans, they've found a loophole to help spread Obama's message without violating their sacred standards:
We wondered: Did the ad accurately characterize Romney’s "heaven and earth" quote?
A-ha! It's the ol' "did he cherry-pick this quote accurately?" conundrum. Glad they sorted out the truth of the president's paraphrasing. This isn't the first time PolitiFact has used this ruse to smooth over rough spots in Obama's message, and it's doubtful it will be the last.

There's more to this particular instance of Politiganda, so make sure to head over to counterirritant to read the whole post.

Bryan adds:  Politiganda!  Good one.  It's important to note, and counterirritant nails this point, that Obama took the Romney quotation out of context.  Romney (and others both Republican and Democrat) criticized Obama for publicly declaring the intention to tread on Pakistan's sovereignty.  The Pakistanis did not react well to it and still haven't warmed to Obama.

Shots Across the Bow: "PolitiFact Tennessee Fails Again"

Blogger "Rich" at Shots Across the Bow hits PolitiFact Tennessee amidships with a precisely aimed critique.

The PolitiFact Tennessee fact-check on a new farm labor rule from the Department of Labor went on at length musing about the reasons behind opposition to the new rule.  Rich points out that reading the text of the proposed rule should have put the musing to bed early:
Given that almost half of his piece on Alexander's statement consisted of Sullivan attempting to show nefarious motivations behind the statement, rather than its accuracy, and that a five minute perusal of the rules demonstrated that Sullivan's assumption was without factual basis, maybe it's time for PolitiFact to give  [writer Bartholomew] Sullivan a "Liar, Liar Pants on Fire" rating.
The piece is short, so set aside a minute and visit Shots Across the Bow to read it all.

Updated sidebar

The discovery of a lively new critic of PolitiFact has inspired an overdue revision of the sidebar section featuring criticism of PolitiFact.  The section wears a new name, "Contra PolitiFact" rather than "PolitiFact's Detractors."  I removed broken links at Red State and the Washington Examiner.

The new critic writes anonymously at a brand-new blog called "counterirritant." 

We look forward to highlighting criticisms of PolitiFact from this new source.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Balancing act at PolitiFact Ohio?

Since its 2011 "Lie of the Year," the claim from Democrats that Republicans voted to end Medicare, PolitiFact has found itself trying to answer the criticism that it tries to achieve a false balance in its fact checking operations.

Past questions about the dangers of selection bias should have amply prepared PolitiFact editors to answer this sort of question.

Should have.

PolitiFact Ohio editor Robert Higgs of the Cleveland Plain Dealer took a shot at addressing the issue of balance in comments to the Plain Dealer's reader representative, Ted Diadium:
I asked Bob Higgs, the editor who oversees the PolitiFact Ohio operation, if he deliberately tries for balance:

"The belief is that if we apply the same constructive standards to all claims, we'll end up treating all sides fairly," he said. "Some of the state operations (there are 10 in the PolitiFact organization), as well as the national operation, do not tally the rankings at all."

Higgs admits that he does tally up the results by party (which shows them remarkably even), "but only to see after the fact how we've done."
Even if PolitiFact Ohio applies its evaluation standards consistently to all its stories, balanced treatment need not result. In fact, it probably won't result.

It won't result because selection bias will occur without active steps taken to avoid the problem.

Select nine stories likely to make Democrats look bad while selecting one that will likely made Republicans look good will not achieve balance regardless of applying identical standards in the evaluation--not that we at PolitiFact Bias believe PolitiFact applies its standards consistently.

Newsflash for Higgs:  Every writer and editor at PolitiFact likely has a sense of how the stories break down by party.  The "remarkably even" count that results at PolitiFact Ohio helps prove the point.

PolitiFact markets its stats as candidate report cards and the like, but the real value of PolitiFact's numbers comes from the insights we obtain into PolitiFact's behavior--not the behavior of those featured in the stories.

Correction:  Changed the first of two consecutive instances of "the" to a "from" in the concluding paragraph.  Hat tip to Jeff Dyberg for catching the the error.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

NPR and truth-hustler guests Adair and Nyhan

Crossposted from Sublime Bloviations.

National Public Radio brought two of my favorite truth-hustlers on its "All Things Considered" program.   I refer to Bill Adair and Brendan Nyhan.

(clipped from 4/29/12)
Bill Adair serves as founding editor for Politico PolitiFact, a fact-checking operation started by a left-leaning Florida newspaper.  PolitiFact sacrifices journalistic objectivity in part for the sake of its marketing gimmick, called the "Truth-O-Meter."

Political scientist Brendan Nyhan mangles facts from the realm of academia.  Nyhan has tried to show that partisans don't accept facts that contradict their ideology.  His research often uses facts that beg the question (more on Nyhan), suggesting that Nyhan falls victim to his own research goal.

The relevant radio program segment deals with a column from Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke, who bemoaned the state of truth following Rep. Allen West's statement, using Huppke's paraphrase, that "as many as 81" members of the Democratic Party are members of the Communist Party.

Huppke gets some kind of award for irony.  Journalists took West out of context.  West was jokingly, though to make a seriously point, referring to the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  The context makes that absolutely clear.

Stories like these are to Adair and Nyhan what the Trayvon Martin case is to Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton.  The media want the narrative that the former two spin and so seek them out for commentary when these issues make the news.  Adair and Nyhan are the truth-hustler counterparts to race-hustlers.

Adair shows up to remind us how great it is that Politico PolitiFact is there to save the day, if only we can place sufficient trust in its work.

Adair (transcript mine, from the NPR audio):
"What's funny is sometimes I'll get an email that'll say 'You guys are so biased.'  But I won't know who we're supposed to be biased in favor of, because we get criticized a lot by both sides.  And I think that's just the nature of a very rough-and-tumble political discourse."
Funny is Adair still using the "we get criticized from both sides" dodge to avoid the issue of bias.  Fortunately a journalist asked Adair exactly the right question earlier this year with equally hilarious results.

PolitiFact's system is perfect for filtering the truth according to media ideology.

Academia, unfortunately, carries an ideological slant somewhat akin to that found in the U.S. media.  Nyhan perhaps represents one of academic liberalism's top leaders in the war over political truth. 

NPR brought forth an old example of Nyhan's supposed "backfire" effect, where a correction of a falsehood leads to stronger belief in the falsehood. Though Nyhan's own research  (see descriptions of "Study 2") appears to show that the phenomenon does not occur with clear corrections, that hardly dampens mainstream media enthusiasm for the idea.  They can claim they're doing a great job but the audience is the problem.

There is something of an information crisis, but Adair and Nyhan probably do as much damage as good in addressing the problem.  We're not getting the best information from either journalists or academia.  Journalists typically do not have the expertise to sift through complex issues of truth.  Academics have shifted left ideologically and do an inadequate job of critically reviewing the journals that ought to provide our best sources of trustworthy information.

We don't have a reliable gatekeeper for our pool of information.  And it's hard to come up with good solutions to the problem.
Test everything. Hold on to the good.
--Paul the Apostle, 1 Thess. 5:21