Wednesday, December 24, 2014

PolitiFact editor explains the difference between "False" and "Pants on Fire"

During an interview for a  "DeCodeDC" podcast, PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan explained to listeners the difference between the Truth-O-Meter ratings "False" and "Pants on Fire":

Our transcript of the relevant portion of the podcast follows, picking up with the host asking why President Barack Obama's denial of a change of position on immigration wasn't rated more harshly (bold emphasis added):
Why wouldn't that be "Pants on Fire," for example?

You know, that's an interesting question.

We have definitions for all of our ratings. The definition for "False" is the statement is not accurate. The definition for "Pants on Fire" is the statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. So, we have a vote by the editors and the line between "False" and "Pants on Fire" is just, you know, sometimes we decide one way and sometimes decide the other. And we totally understand when readers might disagree and say "You rated that 'Pants on Fire.' It should only be 'False.'" Or "You rated that 'False." Why isn't it 'Pants on Fire'?" Those are the kinds of discussions we have every day ...
One branch of our research examines how PolitiFact differentially applies its "Pants on Fire" definition to false statements by the ideology of the subject. Holan's description accords with other statements from PolitiFact regarding the criteria used to distinguish between "False" and "Pants on Fire."

Taking PolitiFact at its word, we concluded that the line of demarcation between the two ratings is essentially subjective. Our data show that PolitiFact National is over 70 percent more likely to give a Republican's false statement a "Pants on Fire" rating than a Democrat's false statement.

We don't necessarily agree with PolitiFact's determinations of what is true or false, of course. What's important to our research is that the PolitiFact editors doing the voting believe it.

Holan's statement helps further confirm our hypothesis regarding the subjective line of demarcation between "False" and "Pants on Fire."

We'll soon publish an update of our research, covering 2014 and updating cumulative totals.

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