Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ted Cruz fully to blame for giving Obama too much blame?

Does PolitiFact show a left-leaning bias in the blame game?

We thought PolitiFact went a bit easy on President Obama in a State of the Union speech some time ago. Obama said businesses had created so many jobs. PolitiFact said Obama's claim was "Half True" but then later elevated the rating to "Mostly True" because the president did not take as much credit as PolitiFact had first believed.

No, of course there was no concrete explanation for why PolitiFact changed its opinion.

PolitiFact played the blame game again on March 16, 2016, this time with Ted Cruz.

Here's how it looked:


PolitiFact said Cruz said President Obama has been presiding over U.S. jobs going overseas. PolitiFact reasons that Cruz gives Obama too much blame and so rates Cruz's claim "Mostly False."

Whatever plausibility PolitiFact's rating carries from its headline and deck material ought to fade pretty quickly once readers stumble over what Cruz actually said (bold emphasis added):
[Meet the Press host] Chuck Todd played a clip of Obama saying the Republicans are significantly to blame for the angry tone of politics today.

Cruz responded, "You know, Chuck, Barack Obama's a world-class demagogue. That language there is designed to divide us. No, Mr. President, we're not angry at that. We're angry at politicians in Washington, including you, who ignore the men and women who elected you, who have been presiding over our jobs going overseas for seven years."

The part of Cruz’s comment that caught our eye was that Obama has "been presiding over our jobs going overseas for seven years." We decided to take a look. (Cruz’s staff did not respond to inquiries.)
To factually conclude that too much blame was placed, the fact checker needs a blame baseline. Knowing whether Cruz blamed the president too much requires the fact checker to reasonably gauge how much blame Cruz placed on the president.

We think Cruz made that very difficult for PolitiFact with the wording he used, for Cruz did not single out the president. Cruz first mentions anger at "politicians in Washington" and after that makes clear Obama is included in the group ("including you").

So how much blame is Cruz placing on Obama, based on what Cruz said? How is the blame divided up between "politicians in Washington" and President Obama?

We don't see any way for PolitiFact to make that determination without simply making an assumption. Cruz offered no guidance. There's nothing in the context that helps. At least in the earlier case featuring President Obama we have the context of the State of the Union address. Presidents use that address to implicitly play up the benefits of their policies.

PolitiFact apparently assumes Cruz is blaming the president particularly for some unspecified role in allowing jobs to go overseas. Cruz doesn't even specify how much blame falls on Washington politicians, let alone the president. It isn't even necessary to assume that the anger at Obama and other Washington politicians is justified anger.

Is this fact-checking? It's hard to see how it qualifies.

PolitiFact has no trouble at all, despite the ambiguous nature of Cruz's claim, finding that Cruz placed too much blame on Obama. And PolitiFact likewise has an easy time assigning blame to Cruz for wrongly assigning blame, ergo the "Mostly False" rating.

PolitiFact considered no Cruz blame on "Washington politicians" other than President Obama.

In a way, it's easy to understand why PolitiFact left the other Washington politicians out of its consideration. Keeping them in consideration makes the fact check even more difficult than doing one that places an unspecified degree of blame on Obama. Pretending Cruz did not spread the blame around makes it easier for PolitiFact to maintain the fiction that Cruz placed too much blame on Obama.

We hasten to point out that such an approach hardly qualifies as unbiased.

6 comments:

  1. Just to let you know, you aren't fooling anyone but the terminally stupid and willfully ignorant with your blog, i.e., this domain, and the time and money you spend on it, is a waste.

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    Replies
    1. If we could get a substantive criticism from you, William G. Hayes, we'd count our time and money well spent.

      I guess that makes us failures. ;-)

      Seriously, how about an example of us trying to fool people, one that you were too smart to fall for?

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    2. I see terminally stupid and willfully ignorant too, but there's no need to discuss your comment further William.

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    3. On this particular one, I was more noticing that reading the entire reasoning that Politifact provides shows more that you can't blame the outflow of jobs on the Presidency at all without having a substantive policy to point to. The next paragraph states:

      "We found that Cruz has a point that the United States has seen jobs go overseas during the seven years that Obama has been in office. However, this pattern was well under way before Obama became president -- and the trend has little to do with policy choices a president can make."

      Considering Cruz is making a point about such a nebulous group as "politicians in Washington" and Obama is both individually mentioned and the ONLY person he actually mentions individually, why is it unreasonable to say that he is blaming Obama? Did you want him to give a percentage? Maybe have him tell the exact number of politicians in Washington he is blaming and divide it evenly? How does your splitting of hairs from Politifact's site, who incidentally gave Cruz and his staff a chance to respond with a clarification, add anything to their fact check?

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    4. On this particular one, I was more noticing that reading the entire reasoning that Politifact provides shows more that you can't blame the outflow of jobs on the Presidency at all without having a substantive policy to point to. The next paragraph states:

      "We found that Cruz has a point that the United States has seen jobs go overseas during the seven years that Obama has been in office. However, this pattern was well under way before Obama became president -- and the trend has little to do with policy choices a president can make."

      Considering Cruz is making a point about such a nebulous group as "politicians in Washington" and Obama is both individually mentioned and the ONLY person he actually mentions individually, why is it unreasonable to say that he is blaming Obama? Did you want him to give a percentage? Maybe have him tell the exact number of politicians in Washington he is blaming and divide it evenly? How does your splitting of hairs from Politifact's site, who incidentally gave Cruz and his staff a chance to respond with a clarification, add anything to their fact check?

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    5. James Oakes, after considerable buildup, asked:

      **why is it unreasonable to say that he is blaming Obama?**

      It's not unreasonable to say he is blaming Obama. Our argument is that it is unreasonable to say Cruz blamed Obama too much when it is effectively impossible to pin down with any type of precision the degree to which Cruz blames Obama.

      **Did you want him to give a percentage?**

      If Cruz had offered a percentage that might have made PolitiFact's job easier. But that's PolitiFact's problem, not ours.

      As we pointed out in the article, it isn't necessary to assume Cruz blames Obama. Cruz says people are angry at Washington politicians (including Obama) and offers a reason why. For comparison, assume somebody asked why people were angry in 2004. And somebody said people were angry at Bush for lying us into a war with Iraq. Can't one make that observation without accepting the premise that Bush lied about Iraq? Is the reason for anger necessarily fact-based and rational?

      Stringing together assumptions isn't fact-checking, James.

      **How does your splitting of hairs from Politifact's site, who incidentally gave Cruz and his staff a chance to respond with a clarification, add anything to their fact check?**

      We add the missing admission that Cruz's statement isn't the type of statement that is verifiable. That answer doesn't accept your false premise that we're splitting hairs, but it does tell you what we're adding.

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