Sunday, July 24, 2016

Sweet little PolitiLies

(Looks like the ill-timed and unintended press of a button resulted in a blank post under this title--so the initial publication of this content technically qualifies as an update)

Those who can be trusted in small things gain trust in handling larger things.

Hit play, then resume reading.

Mainstream journalists, including those at PolitiFact, often report things that are not true.

Case in point, as PolitiFact rules "Mostly True" Donald Trump's claim that the median household income has fallen by $4,000 since the year 2000:
While this statistic came amid a series of shots at President Barack Obama, the majority of the period Trump was referring to came under the presidency of George W. Bush, a Republican.
Since Trump was taking "a series of shots" at Obama, PolitiFact adds in missing context that we will shortly address. But PolitiFact's statement is pretext and not fact.

Here's Politico's transcript of the relevant segment of Trump's speech (is it coincidence that PolitiFact provided no hyperlink to the text of the speech?):
What about our economy?
Again, I will tell you the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper: Nearly Four in 10 African-American children are living in poverty, while 58% of African American youth are not employed. 2 million more Latinos are in poverty today than when the President took his oath of office less than eight years ago. Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely.

Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000. Our manufacturing trade deficit has reached an all-time high – nearly $800 billion in a single year. The budget is no better.

President Obama has doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion, and growing. Yet, what do we have to show for it? Our roads and bridges are falling apart, our airports are in Third World condition, and forty-three million Americans are on food stamps.
Trump's treatment of the economy does occur after a series of paragraphs related to a rise in violent crime. Trump's first general topic was crime. The second was the economy, represented by the quotation above. After the economy Trump moves on to foreign policy, in which he spreads blame between Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

It does not make any sense to suppose Trump's statistic was intended to lay all the blame for the lower media wage on Obama. Most people realize that Obama was not in office until 2009, years after the year Trump used as the median income baseline.

But PolitiFact riffs based on this misleading reading of Trump's claim:
During the first eight years of the span Trump referred to -- 2000 to 2008 -- Bush was president. And during Bush’s tenure, inflation-adjusted median household income declined by $2,411, which is more than half the total amount it fell between 2000 and 2014.

Since Obama took office, it has fallen by $1,656. That’s not a great legacy, but it’s worth remembering that slicing the numbers this way puts all of the Great Recession on Obama’s watch while also denying Obama 2015, when there was a slow but steady recovery, because data is not available.
So it's Bush's fault, and that dastardly Trump is denying Obama a year for which data is not available. PolitiFact often makes its own judgments based simply on available data. But if PolitiFact thinks Trump is doing what PolitiFact does, then Trump is doing something wrong. Apropos of that, the Washington Post Fact Checker rated Trump more harshly on this same claim, saying the latest data showed median household income has almost returned to the levels from 2000. But what Trump does wrong is okay when PolitiFact does it.

We would draw attention to two main aspects of PolitiFact's fact check of Trump.

First, PolitiFact's defense of Obama in the midst of a Trump fact check was rationalized. It wasn't really needed, since Trump himself excused Obama from full blame by using the year 2000 as a baseline. Everybody understands from that context that Obama is not responsible for everything that happened to median income since the year 2000.

Second, PolitiFact engaged in the same type of misdirection it blamed on Trump. PolitiFact wrongly says Obama gets all the blame for the Great Recession while blithely saying, and we quote, that "during Bush's tenure, inflation-adjusted  median household income declined by $2,411, which is more than half the total amount it fell between 2000 and 2014."

Here's the story that PolitiFact failed to tell, even though it was illustrated by the Federal Reserve chart embedded in its own story: Bush inherited a declining economy from President Bill Clinton. So Bush was dealing with a recession at the start of his tenure as president. Under Bush, inflation-adjusted income had recovered nearly to 2000 levels by 2007, before the Great Recession hit. So the drop in median income PolitiFact lays on Bush was overwhelmingly tied to the Great Recession.

Some type of averaging would provide a more reliable picture of trends under Bush and Obama than the one PolitiFact painted.

So PolitiFact made up the notion that Trump was pinning the drop in median household income on Obama to justify its own misleading editorial opposing Bush-era economic policy (and defending Obama-era policy). "Fact-checking."

Sweet. Restart the music video if desired.

Correction July 28, 2016: Performed a grammar fix on the WaPo hyperlinked sentence, eliminating "harsher" with a restructure of the sentence.


  1. Hi - saw this recently and would love to know if you have or can produce a rebut or fact check of it.

    1. We wonder what type of scientist would fall for PolitiFact's mumbo-jumbo statistics. Barrel does not seem forthcoming with details about his scientific education or career.

      If he's really got 125k Facebook shares for that steaming pile of excrement then maybe it's worth rebutting.

      Thanks for bring it to our attention.

  2. It just kills me how liberals will point to this article (and the Politifact website in general) as offering objective "proof" of any number of positions or statements. It's a bit like having the fox guard the henhouse, no?

    1. Yes, quite.

      We have a hidden crisis in our sources of "trusted" information. Trusted information tends to come from the government (usually pretty good, but vulnerable to corruption), universities and journals (biased left) and journalism (biased left). The latter two are working closely trying to figure out how to get the masses to believe what they're told. That would be wonderful if the media and journals were doing a good job of telling the objective truth. The fact is they are not. PolitiFact just happens to serve as a terrific example illustrating the point, and their "Truth-O-Meter" ratings are a godsend in that they actually help us make a strong case that PolitiFact has a strong liberal bias.

      We need to shake the country awake somehow. Something like active peer review is needed in public discourse. The secretive peer review used in scholarly journals has largely proved a failure.