Thursday, November 12, 2015

PolitiFact turns liberal blogger into Obamacare expert (Updated)

"We go to original sources to verify the claims. We look for original government reports rather than news stories. We interview impartial experts."
--About PolitiFact

PolitiFact claims it interviews impartial experts. But is that the whole truth?

What if PolitiFact also interviewed partial experts, such as figures with a history of donating to one party or the other?

Or worse, what if PolitiFact arrogated to itself the privilege of elevating a liberal blogger to the status of trusted expert?

Would any conflict with PolitiFact's statement of its fact-checking procedure result?

Let's talk about Charles Gaba.

Charles Gaba

We ran across Gaba's blog quite some time ago. Gaba wrote blog posts claiming to represent the facts on the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare. We found Gaba's approach to his subject matter nakedly partisan, starting with the ObamaCare signup widget in the upper right hand corner of his blog. A Washington Post Wonkblog profile confirmed Gaba's personal partisanship:
He admits that he does have a rooting interest in seeing the law succeed – he’s a volunteer for the local Democratic Party. Still, he says he is just trying to figure out whether the law is working.

“I do think the good outweighs the bad, but I don’t think [Obamacare] is the greatest thing in the world," he said. "I’m a single-payer guy."
So basically neutral, right?

PolitiFact started to cite Gaba as an expert in February 2014:
Charles Gaba, a website developer and blogger in Michigan, has been tracking enrollment figures at his site. His most recent estimate from late February shows 2.6 million Medicaid sign-ups once you subtract those falling into three categories -- those who signed up in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, those who were previously eligible and who "came out of the woodwork" to sign up, and an estimate of the typical "churn" for Medicaid sign-ups in those states.
In March 2014, April 2014 and November 2014 PolitiFact listed interviews with Gaba for stories on the ACA but did not quote him.

An October 2015 PolitiFact fact check of Donald Trump finally quoted Gaba:
"Yes, some people in some plans through some carriers in some states are, indeed, looking at rate hikes of ‘35 to 50 percent’ if they stick with those plans in 2016," said Charles Gaba, who runs the popular blog, which tracks Obamacare enrollment.
To be fair, the expert quoted in PolitiFact's following paragraph, Gail Wilensky, was part of the President George H.W. Bush administration. On the other hand, PolitiFact mentions that in the story. Gaba's apparently just one of those "impartial experts" PolitiFact says it interviews.

Perhaps nobody objected, or perhaps Gaba did nothing to jeopardize his status as an impartial expert, so PolitiFact went to him again in November 2015:
Here are some of the provisions of the law and estimates of how many people have benefited from each. The estimates are from Charles Gaba, who has spent several years crunching the numbers for usage of the law at the blog
Is Gaba active in the Democratic Party and in favor of a national single-payer system? Sure. Though the Washington Post says he's "not a political operative" in the same article where it mentions the other facts. Credit to Newsbusters and P. J. Gladnick for highlighting that discrepancy back on March 20, 2014.

Our congratulations to Mr. Gaba for making the jump from liberal blogger to impartial expert.

We have PolitiFact to thank.

Update Nov. 20, 2015

Who can blame ActBlue for moving to support Gaba's supposedly non-partisan work documenting the truth about the Affordable Care Act?

Charles’s “ACA Signups” series was an incredible and hugely time-intensive undertaking that, as he explained in a recent diary, put a major strain on his life outside of Daily Kos:
“I'm absolutely swamped right now. … [K]eeping the site up to date has literally taken over my life. My business is suffering; my clients are losing patience; my family is starting to get concerned.” - Brainwrap, March 24
We don’t normally do this at Daily Kos, but Charles’s months-long contribution to the fight against right-wing lies about Obamacare was above and beyond. That’s why we’re asking Daily Kos readers to chip in as a way of thanking him for his work and to help him continue his “ACA Signups” series.
Kos diarist and PolitiFact's impartial expert. Nice work if you can get it.


  1. I enjoyed reading a lot of your writing, but in this case I think you're off the mark. Politifact doesn't claim to interview impartial experts. For example from my search, they've referenced the Heritage Foundation as an "expert" many times. Heritage openly refers to itself as "conservative research and analysis." It's not bias if they do it both ways.

  2. Ron Engel wrote:

    "I enjoyed reading a lot of your writing, but in this case I think you're off the mark. Politifact doesn't claim to interview impartial experts."

    Our article leads with a quotation from PolitiFact where it says PolitiFact interviews impartial experts. I've hotlinked "About PolitiFact" to make that more clear.

    "they've referenced the Heritage Foundation as an "expert" many times."

    True, and most often using the modifier "conservative" or "right-leaning" when referring to the organization. But Heritage and other think-tanks typically hire real experts. Charles Gaba is a blogger. He especially sticks out among PolitiFact's partial experts. Read Lucas Graves' dissertation for a taste of how PolitiFact and other mainstream fact checkers tend to view bloggers. They don't ordinarily cite blogs at all (Bob Laszewksi's blog is one exception, but he's a recognized insurance expert).

    Gaba's not an expert and he's not impartial. And PolitiFact does, in fact, say it interviews impartial experts. If you don't find it true take it up with PolitiFact.