Friday, April 26, 2013

PolitiFact in Mathmagic Land

A reader pointed us to yet another marvelous example that helps show how PolitiFact applies an irregular set of standards.

PolitiFact Georgia investigated Democrat state senator Vincent Fort's charge that Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, has appointed blacks to government positions less than 3 percent of the time.  PolitiFact said the actual number was a little over 7 percent.  So the claim was only "Half True":
The senator’s overarching claim that Deal has appointed a relatively low percentage of minorities has merit. But he was wrong by a handful of percentage points. It was based on an incomplete sampling of Deal’s total appointees.

We rate the claim Half True.
The lawmaker, state senator Vincent Fort,  received a "Half True" because of the truth of his underlying point, that the percentage of black appointees was low.  And he was wrong by "only a handful of percentage points."

Compare the treatment Fort received to Grover Norquist's fate at the hands of PolitiFact Virginia back in February.  Norquist said Virginia uses less than 1 percent of its budget surplus on roads.  The actual number was about 7 percent, so Norquist was off by a handful and committed an error of about 86 percent.  Compare that to Fort's error of about 43 percent.  Norquist's rating from PolitiFact Virginia?  "False."  Norquist received no credit at all for an accurate underlying argument that Virginia doesn't spend much of its budget surplus on roads.

Perhaps Fort could claim Deal has appointed zero blacks and still get a "Half True" from PolitiFact because of the accuracy of his same underlying point.  There's no way to know based on PolitiFact's grading system.  It's all up to the subjective impressions of PolitiFact's star chambers.

It's a crazy way to fact check.  Matt Bryant scores a touchdown!  No, it was just a field goal. Half True.

Jeff Adds:

It's hard to avoid the reality that PolitiFact is an editorial site with articles like this. The final rating is based on the editors' arbitrary standard of however much a "handful" is. Not to mention that Fort named a specific figure, 3 percent, that was unarguably wrong. Whether or not Fort's underlying argument is a good one is clearly the stuff of an editorial. His figures were incorrect, and a fact check, by definition, should be limited to that.

Then again, maybe they cut Fort some slack because they assumed he was citing figures from memory?

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