Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Weekly Standard: 'Will PolitiFact Ever Correct Its Biggest Obamacare Error?'

Just a few weeks ago, I was lamenting the decreased volume of criticism directed at PolitiFact.  But as Obamacare promises continue to crash and burn, picking on PolitiFact is back in style.  And few do it better than The Weekly Standard's Mark Hemingway:
PolitiFact has a pretty terrible and rather partisan history of Obamacare fact checks. However, there's one, in particular, about Obamacare that remains especially puzzling. It's the "half-true" rating the organization gave when President Obama promised that, If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance under Obamacare. This was not a casually tossed-off statement by the president, either. It was made repeatedly and quite deliberately in an attempt to sell America on Obamacare.
Treat yourself to reading every word.  Hemingway nails it, and his conclusion is not to be missed.

Knee Deep in PolitOffal

It's been said before but I'll repeat it / Don't you feel like you've been cheated?
It's been shoved down your eat it / They say it's believe it,
There is one thing I will never do...Trust you.
-NoMeansNo, "Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed"

It's getting more difficult to notice the difference between PolitiFact and Obama's campaign group OFA with each passing rating. The latest installment of PolitiFact's propaganda is a truly stunning piece of spin:

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Fear not, Truthseekers: PolitiFact fills us in on their target:
In this fact-check, we wanted to dig into what’s happening to the American health insurance system to see what policies are being canceled, how many, why and how you might be affected.
And what unarguable facts did they uncover?
Before the health care law was passed, the individual market was widely considered a mess. Insurers could turn you down for pre-existing conditions, and none of the insurance was standardized, so if you bought a policy, it wasn’t always crystal clear what you were getting.
Let's parse that paragraph line by line. Who considered the individual market a mess? The roughly 15 million people that voluntarily made up that market? By what objective standard is it a fact that insurance companies turning down people with pre-existing conditions a bad thing? It's actually a very good thing for the people without said pre-existing conditions. The final, and most offensive of the newspeak is this: "...none of the insurance was standardized..."

GASP! PEARLS GRASPED! People had to choose between different insurance plans! THE HORROR! What if they made the wrong choice? How can people make decisions about what product best fulfills their needs without PolitiFact or Obama telling them what's best for them?!

The point that insurance policies weren't standardized goes to the heart of the ObamaCare debate. The fact that people have less choice now about what coverage they must pay for is precisely the reason insurance companies find themselves canceling hundreds of thousands of policies. It's why parents are now forced to pay for mental health and drug counseling coverage for their toddlers. It's why menopausal women are forced to have birth control coverage. But don't let that bother you. PolitiFact tells us it's a fact that standardization is a good thing.

This "standardization" point makes even less sense when you realize offering people "more choices" has been one of Obama's biggest selling points for the ACA (a claim PolitiFact has yet to rate).

But finally, we get to PolitiFact's most insulting and dishonest sentence in the entire article:
Experts told us there is no precise data to determine how many people will be forced to change health care plans, but they generally agreed the number will be small this year.
Hopefully the 300,000 people in Florida, 279,000 in people in California, 140,000 in Michigan, or the 800,000 people in New Jersey whose health insurance policies were cancelled as a result of the ACA, can take comfort in knowing experts considered their numbers "small." (A term, by the way, that PolitiFact determined using some unknown, but surely objective, measurement.)

This offal served up by PolitiFact is about as shameless a shilling for Obama's signature law as can be. Rather than clarify the truth, PolitiFact only clouds the issue with diversions and partisan commentary. Editor Aaron Sharockman is either hopelessly incompetent or is enveloped in a painful lack of self-awareness. One wonders what kind of denial is going on in the offices of PolitiFact to miss such obviously biased writing and letting it see print. PolitiFact is an embarrassment to journalism.

Bryan adds:

The farce is strong with this one.

It's pretty obvious in context that Axelrod's sparring partner, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), was referring to policies changing, not to loss of insurance.  Axelrod switched tracks on Coburn to talk about cancellations.

That's a patented technique of misdirection, and PolitiFact either didn't notice or didn't care.

"Bryan adds" Update, Oct. 30, 1:35 p.m. EDT

Jeff sent me this article via email a few minutes ago:
[T]he sad reality is that David Axelrod himself also is dead wrong: it’s more accurate to say that the president’s pledge will be shattered for a solid majority of Americans with private health insurance coverage.

More precisely, of the 189 million Americans with private health insurance coverage, I estimate that  if Obamacare is fully implemented, at least 129 million (68%) will not be able to keep their previous health care plan either because they already have or will lose that coverage by the end of 2014.
Axelrod moves goalposts.  PolitiFact smiles and nods.

Edit: 10-30-13 1851PST: In final paragraph, removed extra "the," added missing "a" and "in.") -Jeff

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More PolitiPundit

We've written before about (former PolitiFact editor) Bill Adair's desire to have it both ways with regard to PolitiFact's ratings. When cornered by skeptics, Adair usually defended himself by saying "PolitiFact rates the factual accuracy of specific claims; we do not seek to measure which party tells more falsehoods." However, when preaching to his flock he would proclaim PolitiFact's ratings create "report cards for each candidate that reveal patterns and trends about their truth-telling." and the tallies of those ratings "provide interesting insights into a candidate's overall record for accuracy."

Either the ratings are scientific measurements or they're not, and they're either revealing patterns or they're not. PolitiFact cannot promote the cumulative results of its ratings as indicative of a person's honesty while simultaneously hiding behind a mask of random curiosity.

Apparently new editor Holan has bought into this contradiction with her eyes wide shut. It also appears Holan has convinced herself and her staff that they can don a magical cloak of objectivity when checking pundits as well as they do with politicians. PolitiFact's selection bias is only poised to be more evident when checking pundits than it is with public servants. Pundits, by definition, deal in nuance and opinion.

But the real howler with this PolitiPundit announcement was the apparent lack of self-awareness in this line (emphasis added):
Although PolitiFact has done occasional fact-checks of pundits and talk show hosts, the new venture will mark the first time that staffers have been dedicated to checking media figures.
I bet the best part of being the Unquestionable Arbiter of Facts is you get to decide what words like "occasional" mean. Are Rush Limbaugh's 17 ratings an occasional event? What about Glenn Beck's 23 ratings, or Rachel Maddow's 16? I suppose Sean Hannity's eight ratings or Bill O'Reilly's 10 count as rare?

It's been common practice for PolitiFact to rate pundits and commentators since its inception. The only thing new here is the devotion of additional resources to its fact checking farce.  I'll go out on a limb and predict PolitiPundit will be an even bigger embarrassment than their flagship site.

Bryan adds: 

Some new readers might wonder:  What's the big deal with PolitiFact being a bit imprecise?  "Occasional" covers a good bit of ground, so what's the big deal?

PolitiFact has often downgraded political figures and pundits for rhetorical imprecision.  It's hypocritical.  To mimic PolitiFact's typical judgmental tone:

PolitiFact left a misleading impression by saying it "occasionally" rates pundits.  The facts show otherwise, so the statement tells a partial truth but leaves out important details.  That meets our definition of "Half True."

The Burger King of Fact Checking

Some of the best anecdotal evidence of PolitiFact's liberal bias can be found by comparing its treatment of various statements. While PolitiFact's standards are laughably inconsistent, the victims of its inconsistency are overwhelmingly on one side of the political spectrum. Check out this recent rating PolitiFact published on Marco Rubio:

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Here's PolitiFact's reasoning for Rubio's "Mostly False" rating:
Rubio appears to be making the case that he would have liked to have achieved his goals without having to shut down the government, and that he would have been happy to fund the government fully if doing so was paired with provisions defunding or delaying Obamacare. He may have felt that way, but both of the specific claims he makes are problematic.

His claim that "I never was in favor of shutting down the government" is undercut by two separate comments in which he supported a strategy of opposing Obamacare even if that meant rejecting a bill that would have kept the government open. And on the question of whether he "voted to fund the government fully," he arguably may have done so once, but took the opposite position nine times.

Given the political realities of the budget battle, Rubio's words and actions suggest he wanted Obamacare defunded more than he wanted to keep the government open.
Set aside for a moment that it's impossible to determine the  factual accuracy of Rubio's feelings. And let's forget the reality that if Rubio "voted to fully fund the government" even once, as PolitiFact admits he did, then his claim is an actual fact. For now, we'll just point out PolitiFact's logic: If Rubio had really wanted to keep the government open, he wouldn't have been so supportive of the specific tactics used.

For comparison, let's have a look at a different Rubio rating PolitiFact published back in February:

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Back in those days, things were different for the Fact Chumps:
Rubio said the defense cuts known[sic] that are part of sequestration were Obama’s "idea in the first place."

That doesn’t tell the whole story -- particularly the fact that Obama does not favor these cuts. The White House proposed them as a means of driving the two sides to a compromise over the deficit, not as a real-world spending plan.
You see, in PolitiFact's world, the fact that the sequester cuts were "Obama's idea in the first place" is somehow less of a fact because Obama had good intentions. It was just a negotiating tool! Those coots in the GOP weren't supposed to call his bluff! 

In one case, Rubio bears the full responsibility for his actions, regardless of his stated motivations. Obama, on the other hand, bears no burden for his negotiating tactics if they don't turn out the way he wanted.

Facts are not like Burger King hamburgers.  You cannot have them your way.

What this all points out (again) is that PolitiFact operates more as a liberal op-ed than an actual fact checking unit. PolitiFact applies its standards inconsistently to fit whatever narrative they want to push. It's uncomfortable to accept Obama's role in the sequester, so they mitigate it. But they're not about to let Rubio get away with pretending he didn't want to shut down the government.

This is just another example in a long history of PolitiFact's incoherent and sometimes contradictory rulings. Until PolitiFact can adhere to a consistent set of standards it should be considered liberal punditry.

Monday, October 28, 2013

PolitiFact: We're not social scientists, but you sure can tell plenty about a candidate from our 'candidate report cards'

PFB editor Jeff D. took notice that new PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan recently affirmed PolitiFact's minimalist admission of its practice of selection bias (bold emphasis added):
PolitiFact's goal is not to end inaccuracy in political discourse, just to point it out for voters' information, Holan says. And the site doesn't cover everything politicians say, either in ads or interviews. "We're journalists. We pick statements based on what we think is most newsworthy,'' Holan says. "We fact check things that make people go 'Hmmm, I wonder if that's true.''
Not at all to our surprise, PolitiFact's announcement of its "PolitiPundit" project, dedicated to fact checking media figures and pundits the PolitiFact way, reiterates PolitiFact's intent to keep right on publishing "report cards" for the people and organizations it fact checks. 

It's the same old mixed message from PolitiFact:  No, it doesn't use basic scientific methods in choosing its stories.  Yes, readers should treat PolitiFact's "report cards" as though PolitiFact uses scientific methods.

"Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss."
--The Who

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hoystory: "Fact checking frauds"

Self-described "reformed journalist" Matthew Hoy's disgust with PolitiFact only occasionally bubbles over into blog posts at his blog, Hoystory, but this week we have a double helping.

Hoy starts out by pulling the rug out from under PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" rating of Jeb Hensarling's claim that Congress leaves itself as the only ones not receiving subsidies on the "Obamacare" exchanges.

The point Hensarling was making, which is obvious to anyone with half a brain (which explains Politifraud’s problem), was not that no one was getting subisides, but that Congressional staffers, many of whom make north of $100,000 a year, would be the only ones at that income level who get subsidies from the federal government.

And Hoy continues by pointing out PolitiFact's failure to apply its own standards consistently in rating "False" an obvious use of hyperbole, this time when conservative bloggers mocked the Obama administration for closing the ocean as a result of the partial government shutdown:

In their effort to protect their lord and savior, Barack Obama, from himself, Politifarce conveniently disregarded two of  their own rules on what statements deserve their attention:
In deciding which statements to check, we ask ourselves these questions:
  • Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.
  • Would a typical person hear or read the statement and wonder: Is that true?

Visit Hoy's Hoystory blog for the whole takedown, and let this serve as a reminder that PolitiFact's problems are legion. We don't have the hours in the day to expose them all, so we're grateful to people like Hoy who take the time to expose PolitiFact's errors and distortions.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Out: Bill Adair. In: Angie Drobnic Holan

Yesterday, PolitiFact announced that Angie Drobnic Holan will replace Bill Adair as the organization's chief editor.  Adair, despite his difficulty in coming to grips with the concept of selection bias, was recruited by Duke University into the halls of academia.

What does this mean?

Well, it gives us an opportunity to see how PolitiFact performs with and without Bill Adair.  We expected/hoped to see some improvement in PolitiFact's performance when Adair departed.  But we got the impression that PolitiFact was even worse after Adair moved on to Duke.  Is it the effects of a rudderless ship, or do we have an early preview of the new PolitiFact since Holan has already assumed much of Adair's role?

We're inclined to give Holan a clean slate.  But we don't have our hopes up.  Holan's been inside the PolitiFact bubble since its initial inflation, and we have plenty of evidence of her participation in various PolitiFact missteps (more).

Comical note:

About an hour before PolitiFact published its announcement about Holan, I emailed J.D. saying "When are they announcing Holan's new role as PF head editor?"

Am I psychic?  No.  The timing of my question was hilariously coincidental, but I'd noticed a recent increase in search engine queries including Angie Drobnic Holan in the search terms.  It made sense to take that information as a sign that leaks had started to occur.

J.D. adds:

I'll go on record as saying PolitiFact has become brazenly more partisan since Adair's departure, something I didn't think was possible. I'm not sure if Adair was actually a half decent editor or simply better at hiding the St. Petersburg Obama Fan Club's bias. Either way the results have been comically awful. Whatever leash Adair was holding on Jacobson has been cut loose by Holan.

Regardless, we look forward to critiquing Holan's tenure as the Undisputed Arbiter of Fact. We'd also like to congratulate Bill Adair for the unforgettable impression he's making on Duke University's future Pulitzer winners.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The partisan view of bipartisanship

PolitiFact offers us implicit instruction in the partisan view of bipartisanship:

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PolitiFact says "bipartisan" doesn't mean just one or two votes from one partisan group.  What does the dictionary say?
representing, characterized by, or including members from two parties or factions: Government leaders hope to achieve a bipartisan foreign policy.
Cruz is correct using the loosest definition of "bipartisan."  Why would PolitiFact fail to recognize that in its rating?  The rating arbitrarily discounts a clear element of truth in Cruz's statement.

In contrast, when President Obama claims Democrats and Republicans voted to keep the government open, PolitiFact finds that no Republicans supported the final bill that would have prevented a partial government shutdown.

Is Cruz objectively misleading his audience more than Obama misleads his?  Look in vain for the evidence in the fact checks of Cruz and Obama.