Friday, January 31, 2014

Media Trackers: "Cleveland Plain Dealer Announces Death of PolitiFact Ohio"

Jason Hart and Media Trackers takes note of the Cleveland Plain Dealer shuttering its PolitiFact Ohio franchise:
Cleveland Plain Dealer parent Northeast Ohio Media Group (NEOMG) announced in a January 24 story that the Plain Dealer and are ending their partnership with farcical “fact-checking” outlet
Hart goes on to summarize PolitiFact's ignominious history.  It's recommended reading for those who missed Hart's (and PolitiFact Bias') earlier reporting on PolitiFact Ohio.

Writing on the same subject, former Plain Dealer editor John Kroll points up one of the problems that dogs PolitiFact nationally:
Even if one could parse out the differences, the Truth-O-Meter mixed apples and oranges. Its ratings are a combination of both whether a statement is true and whether it was misleading. Where the balance between those two values was struck in picking a rating was crucial. And as far as I could tell, looking at PolitiFact ratings from the national site as well as local ones, the final choices were coin flips. Much-debated coin flips conducted by honest journalists trying to be fair — but coin flips, nonetheless.
Kroll's piece is also worth a read.

Note, Feb 7, 2014:
Our thanks to William A. Jacobson and Legal Insurrection for making this the "Post of the Day" for Feb. 7, 2014.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

PolitiFact makes its set of gender wage gap stories even less coherent

In a 2013 article, "PolitiFact and the 77-cent solution," we pointed out PolitiFact's inconsistency on gender gap claims.  There's a wage gap between men and women, primarily created by different job choices, and that gap is acceptably represented by the $.77 figure.  The Department of Justice estimates that about 40 percent of the $.23 shortfall, about $.09, occurs as a result of discrimination.

For claims about a gender wage gap in the range of $.77 on the dollar, PolitiFact's seven ratings at the time ranged  from "Half True" to "True."  In addition, Mitt Romney accurately claimed men make more than women in Obama's White House and received a "Half True" rating.

For claims where that gap was said to apply to the same work, PolitiFact gave two "Mostly False" ratings, including one to President Obama.

President Obama used the 77-cent figure during his State of the Union address.  And PolitiFact was on it, giving the president a "Mostly True" rating.

What did Obama say?  PolitiFact reports:
During his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama made a claim about pay for women in today’s economy.

"You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns," Obama said. "That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work."
We think when Obama says the 23-cent gap is "wrong" and "an embarrassment" leading to a call for equal pay for equal work, it strongly implies the president is claiming the 23-cent gap occurs as a result of gender discrimination.

We don't see any other reasonable way to interpret the statement.

PolitiFact doesn't see it that way:
We struggled a bit with how to classify the claim Obama made in the State of the Union, since his phrasing was somewhat ambiguous. He used the more accurate formulation, but he then followed up two sentences later by saying, "Women deserve equal pay for equal work." Did Obama’s "equal pay for equal work" line suggest that he believes the 77-cent pay differential refers to statistical comparisons of "equal work"? Or was this sentence simply a philosophical statement that was distinct from the statistical claim?

Ultimately, we decided that Obama’s statement that "women deserve equal pay for equal work" was aspirational rather than a part of his statistical claim, so we’re judging him on his claim that women "make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns."
What purpose does the 77-cent figure serve in the president's speech other than to show the relevance of his call for equal pay for equal work?

Why would a 23-cent gap be wrong if it occurs on the basis of the free-market choices of employees and not gender discrimination?

It's obvious President Obama was making a sly version of the claim he made that PolitiFact rated "Mostly False":  He implied that the gap exists based on gender discrimination.

PolitiFact didn't want to see it.

PolitiFact: half mostly false, therefore false

It's PolitiFact potpourri!

We've had something like this happen at least once before, with Mitt Romney the focus of the fact check.  This time, PolitiFact was testing a viral claim making the rounds on Facebook:
The post has an element of truth but takes information out of context and requires a good deal of clarification. We rate this claim False.
The problem's so obvious that one would think layers of editors would be all over it.

Here's how PolitiFact defines "False":
FALSE – The statement is not accurate.
Here's how PolitiFact defines "Mostly False"(bold emphasis added):
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
This is how PolitiFact defines "Half True" (bold emphasis added):
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
And here's how PolitiFact defines "Mostly True" (bold emphasis added):
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
PolitiFact rates a statement "False" because it matches parts of PolitiFact's definitions of "Mostly True," "Half True" and "Mostly False."  And that kind of sums up the problem with PolitiFact.

Rocket science it's not.  Subjective it is.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Nothing To See Here: the Wendy Davis biography

Over the years, PolitiFact looked into what it said were biographical inconsistencies by Marco Rubio, Ken Lanci and President Obama (among others).

Democratic candidate for governor of Texas, Wendy Davis, the media-annointed darling of the filubuster, has run into some controversy now that it has come out some of the details of her biographical self-description were less than accurate.

Here's how Davis put it for Generation TX:
“I was raised by a single mom. There were four children in our family, and my mother only had a sixth-grade education. And it was really a struggle for us. I went to a very large high school. We had one college counselor, and I was one of those kids who just sort of fell through the cracks.”
What's more, PolitiFact Texas fact checked Texas Governor Rick Perry when he made a statement about Davis being a teen-aged mother "born into difficult circumstances."  PolitiFact Texas' "Half True" rating of Perry included the following:
But in 2012, Davis gave sworn testimony about her life in a lawsuit brought before a panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C. "When I was only 18 I got married," Davis said, according to a transcript of her Jan. 20, 2012, testimony. "I had a baby, I got divorced by the time I was 19 years old. And I had started working, I actually started working when I was 14. I was raised by a single mother. My mother only had a 6th grade education. My parents divorced when I was 11 years old."'s John Sexton duly noted that PolitiFact was blaming Perry for Davis' half-truth.

We're curious to see if PolitiFact, particularly PolitiFact Texas, will revisit the Davis biography and eventually hold her responsible for Perry's inaccuracy.

Nothing to see here?

Hat tip to PolitiFact Texas' parent paper, the Austin American-Statesman, for making the Generation TX material easy to find.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Research update: The "Pants on Fire" bias in 2013, plus analysis of the PolitiFact states

With 2013 completely in the rear-view mirror, it's time again to update our research study of the bias in PolitiFact's use of its "Pants on Fire" rating.

We've spent considerable time making the explanation of the study clear and providing plenty of easy-to-read graphs and tables.  Feel free to post questions to us in the comments section or contact us by email (email address link at the bottom of the page).

We used Google's presentation format to produce something like a short e-book.  Read it as an embed below or click on this link to read it full screen and/or download it as a .pdf file.