Sunday, June 26, 2016

More PolitiFingers on the scale: Loretta Lynch and LGBT hate crimes

Hat tip to journalist Dustin Siggins for bringing this item to our attention.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch received a "True" rating in a June 23, 2016 fact check by PolitiFact Florida. Lynch said members of the LGBT community are more often the victims of hate crimes than members of any other recognized community.

The "Truth-O-Meter" rating counts as an out-and-out gift to Lynch.

Our tipster, Dustin Siggins, pointed out that PolitiFact admittedly could only verify Lynch's claim according to a very incomplete data set:
An important caveat: There are several holes in the reporting of hate crimes to the FBI. Local law enforcement agencies voluntarily report their data to a state agency that compiles the information for the FBI. Some local agencies report no hate crimes or don’t submit a report.

A study by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 60 percent of violent hate crime victimizations were not reported to police in 2012.

A 2016 Associated Press investigation found that more than 2,700 city police and county sheriff's departments have not submitted a single hate crime report to the FBI during the past six years — about 17 percent of all city and county law enforcement agencies nationwide.
The caveat obviously wasn't important enough to drop Lynch's rating below "True."

So Siggins made a solid point about the quality of the data.

We were even more concerned about PolitiFact placing its focus on the "per capita" measurement of hate crimes.

There's simply nothing in Lynch's statement to suggest she was talking about a per capita measurement. PolitiFact reported that Lynch said she relied on a story in The New York Times for her information. And it's true that the Times' story focuses on per capita rates of hate crime.

But how does that excuse Lynch for the words she used?

We don't see how it could, and this type of imprecision frequently counts against the accuracy of a claim.

Compare a recent "False" rating PolitiFact gave to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump said Americans pay the highest taxes in the world. He may well have been talking about the U.S. corporate tax rate, which PolitiFact said in 2014 was one of the highest in the world. Trump did not explicitly say he was talking about the corporate tax rate, however. Would it, or should it, make a difference if his campaign had responded to PolitiFact saying he was talking about the corporate tax rate?

We think statements get their degree of truth from their immediate context. Later explanations may help point to a different dimension of that context, even potentially revealing a hidden angle to a fact checker. But the later explanation per se is irrelevant to the truth of the claim.

If Not Per Capita Then Not True

According to the words she used and according to the statistics PolitiFact used, the LGBT community is not the group most victimized by hate crimes. Blacks are more often victimized by hate crimes, as PolitiFact plainly admitted (bold emphasis added):
Another way to look at the data about hate crimes rather than per capita is the sheer number of crimes. By that measure, there were more hate crimes against African-Americans than LGBT residents. But that’s not surprising since African-Americans represent about 13.2 percent of the population according to the U.S. Census, while the LGBT community represents about 2.3 percent of the population, according to a survey done by the Centers for Disease Control (other surveys found a slightly higher rate.)
PolitiFact ignores its own evidence showing Lynch was wrong, implicitly modifies Lynch's comment to refer to the per capita measurement, and awards Lynch a "True" rating.

That's fact-checking?

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