Sunday, February 14, 2016

Did PolitiFact do Internet research in the 3rd century?

In a Feb. 9, 2016 fact check of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, PolitiFact twice claimed its research took place in the 3rd century.
PolitiFact's source list shows that the bulk of writer Amy Sherman's research was done in February 2016. But on two occasions Sherman evidently went back in time about 1,800 years to do her research, both times apparently representing Internet research.

But seriously, why are we getting on PolitiFact's case over a pair of typographical errors?

That's simple. This is a test of PolitiFact's communications with its critics.

We contacted PolitiFact director Aaron Sharockman about messages we sent to PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan and PolitiFact Colorado writer Alan Gathright. We pointed out to Holan and Gathright that a fact check they produced skipped a critical step or two. The normal response from Holan to our criticisms, going back years, is silence. Gathright's new to PolitiFact, via the new Colorado franchise, so this was our first attempt to contact him.

Our message to Sharockman was sent following a message under the same heading forwarding to him our attempts to contact Holan and Gathright.

Sharockman recently used Twitter to express disdain at a critic who failed to contact PolitiFact before publishing a criticism:
Over the years, we've often attempted to obtain comment from PolitiFact about our criticisms. PolitiFact's favored response, by far, is none. In fairness to Sharockman, he's probably the easiest PolitiFact figure to draw out for a response. But Sharockman tends not to provide detailed responses, and even if he did we don't see how that excuses the rest of the PolitiFact crew.

Academic Lucas Graves (former and PolitiFact guest worker, left-leaning) addressed the way fact checkers reply to critics in the exhaustive overview of fact-checking he produced as his doctoral dissertation at Columbia University (bold emphasis added):
Fact-checkers anticipate criticism and develop reflexes for trying to defuse it. “We’re going to make the best calls we can, in a pretty gutsy form of journalism,” Bill Adair told NPR. “And when we do, I think it’s natural that the people on one side or the other of this very partisan world we live in are going to be unhappy.”  One strategy is to responding [sic] only minimally or in carefully chosen venues, and always asserting their balance, often by showing the criticism they receive from the other side of the spectrum.
We judge that Graves gives a highly accurate account of the strategy PolitiFact uses to address its critics, and we would highlight the "responding only minimally" element of the strategy Graves lays out.

Did PolitiFact do Internet research in the 3rd century?

No. But if PolitiFact fixes the typos in its resource list, then we at least have some evidence our criticism was received. And regarding the criticism we sent to Holan and Gathright, we will have more evidence that criticism was heard and ignored.

We think that's how PolitiFact rolls. Giving good explanations of its work to critics normally just does not count as a high priority.


  1. I found this site and have been reading it... there is no actual fact checking the fact checkers here like I had hoped. Just attempts to descredit without evidence behind it. >.>

    1. You resemble your own remark, Adam Colquitt. The post you're replying to links to our critique of PolitiFact failing in its fact check to look a the legal definition of "forcible rape." If that's not fact-checking the fact checkers then what do you call it?

  2. So where is the letter you sent to Politifact pointing out the typographical error? Your link points to a letter with unrelated criticisms.

    1. Josh Hughes asked:

      **So where is the letter you sent to Politifact pointing out the typographical error?**

      That letter, to editor Aaron Sharockman, is archived and thus far unpublished.

      **Your link points to a letter with unrelated criticisms.**

      No, the linked letter is the letter mentioned in the sentence, and our post explains how the two are related (we wrote to Sharockman about the other earlier letter). We thought it appropriate to link the sentence about the letter to Holan and Gathright to the letter we sent to Holan and Gathright. Too confusing?