Monday, December 7, 2015

PolitiFact making up "watch list" fact?

In a recent fact check of Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), PolitiFact gave Rubio a "Mostly False" rating. PolitiFact appears to have awarded Rubio that rating based on a fact it created out of thin air.

Rubio appeared on the CNN program "State of the Union," addressing the defeat of an amendment that would grant the U.S. Attorney General the power to prevent people suspected of terrorism from buying guns. Rubio said people could have the same name as persons on terrorism watch lists, leading to the possibility that 700,000 Americans might have been affected by the amendment.

PolitiFact mostly ignored Rubio's argument to focus on the number of Americans appearing on the lists, irrespective of name-matching:
Rubio’s count is way off. The number of Americans on the consolidated terrorist watch list is likely in the thousands, not hundreds of thousands.
PolitiFact doesn't address name-matching, abundant in the original context of Rubio's remarks, until very late in the story:
It’s more likely that a person would have the same name as someone who is on the list, and that person could run into problems at the airport if a security agent makes a misidentification, (Martin) Reardon said. This happened to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who once wasn’t allowed to fly because he had a similar name to the alias of a suspected terrorist on the no-fly list.

But the problem of same names is less common than it used to be, and there is a reasonably efficient redress process for people to appeal to the government to get their name removed from the terrorist watch list, (Timothy) Edgar noted.

"That shows that the redress process is not a sham, but it also shows that a fairly significant number of people are put on the watchlist by mistake," he said.

Still, it’s nowhere close to 700,000 Americans.

"It's nowhere close to 700,000 Americans"

We find no evidence that PolitiFact estimated the number of Americans whose names might match those on the terrorism watch list. The story simply shows PolitiFact obtaining a professional opinion from Edgar that the name-matching problem isn't as bad as it once was.

What's the estimate of the number of Americans susceptible to the name-matching problem? Isn't that necessary to justify saying 700,000 isn't even close?

If PolitiFact obtained an estimate of the number of Americans potentially affected by the name-matching problem, that estimate belongs in the fact check. And the comparison between that number and the number Rubio used should serve as the basis for the fact check.

Fact checkers who can't figure that out are not worthy of the name "fact checkers."

Did we mention Lauren Carroll wrote this story? Katie Sanders edited the story? And it was reviewed by PolitiFact's "Star Chamber"?

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