Friday, September 27, 2013

Right Wisconsin: "Kooyenga Rips PolitiFact Rating" (Updated)

State representative and C.P.A Dale Kooyenga responds via Right Wisconsin to PolitiFact's "Mostly False" rating of his statement that the legislature has used GAAP accounting principles for the past two years.

We're not professional accountants, but it looks like Kooyenga has a good case that PolitiFact Wisconsin's Dave Umhoefer gave his statement an unreasonable interpretation.
I have spoken to dozens of CPAs about your rating - they all agree your rating is simply wrong.  I would be happy to arrange a meeting with several CPAs from academia and the private sector to resolve the misinformation you printed in today's paper.  Ironically, your rating is simply wrong and I hope you are willing to revisit this matter. 
Read the whole thing, and then go get yourself some popcorn.

Update 9/27/2013

The MacIver Institute's MacIver News Service updates the story with a news video:

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.

Friday, September 20, 2013

PolitiFact unpublishes its judgment of the Gingrich/O'Malley match on CNN

The title says it all.  PolitiFact's article, judging by PolitiFact's Twitter feed, lasted about an hour.  PolitiFact, so far as we can tell, only informed its Twitter audience about the status of the article:  

Those trying to link to the article via PolitiFact's Facebook page get a "Page not found" message.

This has happened before.  It's past time for PolitiFact to come up with a better method for handling these situations.

We'll look forward to comparing the old and new versions of the article, of course.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

PolitiMath at PolitiFact Florida

For some time we've been interested in how PolitiFact handles the magnitude of error for numbers claims.  We refer to ratings that apparently rely on some degree of numerical error as "PolitiMath," and it serves as one tool helping us assess PolitiFact's inconsistency.  It can also give us another sign that PolitiFact allows ideological bias to affect its rulings.

PolitiFact Florida provides us an excellent test case this year with a pair of fact checks that appear to betray inconsistency.

Charlie Crist and the Ineligible Voter List 


On Sept 12, PolitiFact did a fact check on former Republican and former Governor Charlie Crist of Florida.  Crist claimed that out of over 100,000 people the state of Florida thought were ineligible to vote, less than 10 were eventually found ineligible.

PolitiFact ignored Crist's deception in framing the state's list, which was a list of people it suspected might be ineligible to vote.  The lists, as PolitiFact noted, were pared down to 2,600 names and then turned over to local elections supervisors for investigation, precisely because those on the list were merely suspected of ineligibility.  And from that list of 2,600 names PolitiFact reported that "about 85 noncitizens" were removed from Florida's voter rolls.

Crist's "under 10" figure, charitably interpreted as nine, represents a 87.1 percent error compared to the PolitiFact estimate.  The calculation takes the difference between the correct number and the incorrect number and divides the difference by the correct number ((85-9)/85).  If that's not clear, go here or here.

PolitiFact ruled Crist's claim "Mostly False."

Will Weatherford and the College-ready Florida High School Graduate

On Sept. 11, PolitiFact did a fact check on Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.  Weatherford, during a speech, said only one out of three Florida high school graduates qualify as "college-ready."  Weatherford repeated the claim twice during the speech.

PolitiFact said it heard from Weatherford spokesman Ryan Duffy, who said Weatherford misspoke.  Duffy also tweeted:
Weatherford's "one in three" number, read strictly, represents a 48.6 percent error compared to the number PolitiFact presented as accurate ((65.7-33.3)/65.7).

PolitiFact ruled Weatherford's claim "False."

Explaining the discrepancy?


We can think of one mitigating factor that could help justify giving Crist a better "Truth-O-Meter" rating than Weatherford:  Out of 180,000 names (or 2,600), the difference between "less than 10" and 85 doesn't make a great deal of difference.

On the other hand, where Crist received some credit for his underlying point, Weatherford received no credit at all for his underlying point, that the number of Florida high school graduates unprepared for college is way too high.  Add to that a very plausible case, despite Weatherford repeating himself, that he simply misspoke.

We don't see a plausible justification for giving Weatherford a lower rating than Crist.


Is it just me or do the Miami Herald's Marc Caputo and PolitiFact's Katie Sanders seem a tad snarky in their Twitter communications with Weatherford's spokesperson?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Bill Clinton enthralls PolitiFact with the magic of ObamaCare

Former President Bill Clinton was a great liar.

He hasn't lost it.

What made the former president from Arkansas such a fine liar?  Part of it was his sincerity.  He seemed so sincere that people wanted to believe him.  Apart from that, Clinton had a gift for saying things that were true but seriously misleading.

This week Clinton showed that he can bamboozle fact checkers with little effort.  Whether PolitiFact bought his act because of his sincerity or perhaps it was just their admiration for President Barack Obama's signature legislation, also known as ObamaCare, we don't know.  But it's pretty amusing how the fact checkers missed the obvious.

Let's pick up PolitiFact's story, already in progress:
Clinton went on to cite data from recent polling by the Commonwealth Fund showing that "large numbers of young people aged 26 and younger have already enrolled in their parents' plans. And interestingly enough -- if I were you guys, I'd promote this, (saying) these Republicans are the personal responsibility party -- there are more young Republicans enrolled in their parents' plans than young Democrats."

The irony that young supporters of the GOP -- the party that has repeatedly tried to repeal or defund Obama’s law -- are actually using this part of the law more than young Democrats are led to chuckles in the audience.
Those GOP hypocrites!  Right?

PolitiFact researches the Commonwealth Fund poll data Clinton cited, and sure enough he was exactly right.  And just to make sure we understand the depth of the Republican hypocrisy, PolitiFact helps Clinton out a bit by clarifying his point (bold emphasis added):
So, Clinton was right -- 63 percent of young Republicans, compared to only 45 percent of young Democrats had signed on to their parents’ plan, something they couldn’t have done without passage of Obama’s law.
Based on this evidence, along with statements from the study's lead author and Obama donor Sara R. Collins, PolitiFact gave Clinton's statement a "True" rating.

But there's a reason Clinton carries the nickname "Slick Willy," and there's also a reason why people often ridicule PolitiFact's rulings.  There's a catch that PolitiFact failed to catch.

As Obvious as the Nose on Clinton's Face


Clinton was right to a point about the findings of the survey.  More young Republicans than Democrats signed up or renewed under their parents' insurance policies.  But PolitiFact was exactly wrong to claim that the survey found 63 percent of the Republicans in the survey couldn't sign up under their parents' plans without the ACA.  The study makes that clear (bold emphasis added):
In March 2013, the survey finds that an estimated 15 million young adults ages 19 to 25 had enrolled in a parent’s insurance policy in the prior 12 months—more than half (51%) of that age group—up from the 13.7 million young adults estimated in November 2011 to have enrolled in the prior 12-month period (Exhibit 3, Table 1). Of these 15 million young adults, we estimate that roughly 7.8 million likely would not have been eligible for coverage under their parents’ employer plans prior to the Affordable Care Act, an increase of 1.1 million from November 2011.
So of the Democrats, Independents and Republicans who make up the percentages Clinton and PolitiFact cited, about half were eligible for inclusion under their parents' policies without the ACA.  PolitiFact's reporting is wrong on this point, and the error has obvious implications for Clinton's underlying point.

How Many Hypocrites?


What part of the 63 percent of young Republicans signed up for insurance under their parents' policies were eligible thanks to the ACA?

We don't know.  The survey doesn't inform us on that point.

We don't know how many young Republicans are hypocrites.  And we don't know whether the Republican hypocrites outnumber the ideologically pure Democrats who signed up under their parents' insurance thanks to the ACA.

In Clinton's Defense


Though we don't know that Clinton got his information on the survey directly from the Commonwealth Fund report, it's appropriate to note that the report encourages the conclusion he suggested even if it lacks the data to back the conclusion:
While public opinion polls have consistently shown a partisan divide in views of the health reform law, the survey finds that young adults who identified themselves as Republicans enrolled in their parents’ policies in greater numbers than young adults who identified themselves as Democrats. In March 2013, 63 percent of Republican young adults had enrolled in a parent’s policy in the past 12 months, compared with 45 percent of Democrats.
If the study has the numbers to back up the contrast between Republican opposition to the ACA and Republican embrace of its benefits, then the study should feature those supporting numbers.  Or maybe Commonwealth Fund is just confirming its reputation for a leftward lean.

How Did PolitiFact Miss It?


The meat of the Commonwealth Fund's survey leads with "Exhibit 1," which explains that half of the young Americans signed up for insurance under their parents' policies did not need the ACA to obtain the opportunity.  How does a fact checker miss it?

This is another case where the error is so astonishing that it seems difficult to explain without PolitiFact's predisposition (that is, bias) in favor of the health care law and/or Clinton.

Friday, September 6, 2013

PolitiFact and Obama's red line on Syria

PolitiFact published one of its hilariously non-committal "In Context" items in honor of President Obama's waffled messaging on the chemical weapons "red line" in Syria.

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey addresses the fact checking on Obama's "red line," mostly in terms of the fact checks from the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and

We recommend Morrissey's article and agree with his take on PolitiFact.

I disagree with the decision not to assign Pinocchios, but the column is an interesting read, and he’s miles ahead of Politifact.

Read all about it at Hot Air.

Jeff adds (Sept. 10, 2013):

It's worth noting that Sean Davis of Media Trackers preemptively debunked PolitiFact's cowardly evasion when he posted a collection of "red line" references the day prior to PolitiFact's rating op-ed. Davis' piece included this nugget from an unnamed White House official:
“We go on to reaffirm that the President has set a clear red line as it relates to the United States that the use of chemical weapons or the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist groups is a red line that is not acceptable to us,” the official said according to a White House transcript of the call. “[N]or should it be to the international community."
As Davis notes;  "The final phrase of that statement and its use of the word “should” suggests that the White House was well aware that its red line had not yet been accepted by the international community." This explicit acknowledgment of Obama's ownership of the "red line" somehow escaped PolitiFact's scholarly investigation.

Read Davis' short piece here