Friday, February 15, 2013

PolitiFact Oregon: Making pretzels out of PolitiFact's principles

Remember PolitiFact's principles?

No worries.  PolitiFact doesn't either.  At least not enough to update its statement of principles when editor Bill Adair adds to them.

PolitiFact originally published its statement of principles on Feb. 21, 2011.

On Jan. 25 last year, in "Tuning the Truth-O-Meter," Adair wrote:
About a year ago, we realized we were ducking the underlying point of blame or credit, which was the crucial message. So we began rating those types of claims as compound statements. We not only checked whether the numbers were accurate, we checked whether economists believed an office holder's policies were much of a factor in the increase or decrease.

We give a lot of Half True ratings because the numbers are often right, but experts repeatedly tell us that the policies of a single executive have a relatively small impact in a big and complex economy.
Going back one year before Jan. 25 last year, we get to approximately January of 2011--not at all far from the time PolitiFact published its statement of principles.

With the credit/blame issue missing from its statement of principles, who can blame PolitiFact Oregon for ignoring it?

We will.  Fact checkers ought to avoid inconsistency in their rulings.

PolitiFact Oregon uncritically accepts the underlying argument

PolitiFact Oregon fact checked a claim by Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in support of the Violence Against Women Act.
(S)upporters like Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.,  have been talking about the law’s benefits.

Here’s what Merkley said Feb. 7 during a conference call with reporters: "Since 1994 when VAWA was first passed, incidents of domestic violence have dropped more than 50 percent."

That seems to be a pretty strong selling point and as the bill moves toward a final vote in the Senate it’s something that will be repeated and emphasized during debate.
The statistic is only a strong selling point for the VAWA if the VAWA has a substantial effect on the decrease in domestic violence.  That's Merkley's underlying argument.  PolitiFact Oregon fact checks only the statistic and implicitly accepts the underlying argument without any critique at all, giving Merkley a "True" rating for his statement.

There's no question Merkley was crediting the VAWA for the the change.  PolitiFact notes Merkley was "talking about the law's benefits" before breathlessly reporting that it "seems to be a pretty strong selling point."

That's the way you do the fact check if you're biased toward Merkley's point of view.  And unwilling to let your standards for fact checking get in the way.

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