Monday, September 23, 2013

Gingrich/O'Malley: The Fix is In

With our previous post we took note of PolitiFact taking the unusual though not unprecedented step of unpublishing a story while preparing a revised version.

PolitiFact didn't take long to publish its update.  The new version was published the same day.  And, if readers will pardon the pun, the fix is in.

PolitiFact rated a battle of stats between one of the hosts of CNN's new "Crossfire" show, Newt Gingrich, and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, focusing mostly on a statement from Gingrich.  In the original version of the fact check, PolitiFact rated Gingrich "False."  We find a relic of the original rating in the text of the new version:
One of the disputes focused on the two states’ population growth, with co-host Newt Gingrich suggesting that Texas was growing and Maryland shrinking because of their economic performance.
Originally, PolitiFact thought Gingrich was saying Texas' population had grown while Maryland's shrank.  Since both states grew, PolitiFact gave Gingrich the "False" rating.  Here's PolitiFact's telling of what Gingrich said:
Gingrich: "Let me ask you this. As an objective fact, in the five years you've been governor, Texas has gained 440,000 people. According to the U.S. Census, Maryland has lost 20,000. Now, if we're having all this upward trajectory, why is Texas doing 22 times better in population migration over the last five years than Maryland?"
In context, Gingrich makes clear he's talking about population migration, not population growth.  Granted, one might initially think he was talking about population growth since he doesn't specify population migration until the end.  That's a good excuse for O'Malley responding with stats that don't fit Gingrich's question, but it's a poor excuse for fact checkers having more time to consider context.

In the new version of its fact check PolitiFact upgraded Gingrich to "Half True."

Why "Half True"?  Supposedly because of this:
Essentially, they’re both right -- they just used different measurements. O’Malley is right if you use overall population figures, while Gingrich is right if you look at migration from other states. We’ll split the difference and call this one Half True.
They're both right, but Gingrich gets a "Half True" because O'Malley is right about a different figure.  PolitiFact apparently splits the difference between Gingrich's "True" and O'Malley's "True" and Gingrich gets a "Half True" as a result.

Does it make any sense at all to lower Gingrich's rating because O'Malley offered a competing statistic that was also true?  We're not seeing it.

This looks like nothing less than a post-hoc rationalization for not doing a full reversal and giving Gingrich a "True" rating.  To justify a lower rating PolitiFact should explain something about the missing context we need in order to understand what Gingrich was saying.

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