Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The biased "True" rating for Michelle Obama's claim the White House was built by slaves

Over the years we've built up quite a bit of evidence of PolitiFact's bias, based largely on PolitiFact's inconsistent application of standards.

A PolitiFact fact check of Michelle Obama's speech to the Democratic National Convention supplies yet another strong example.


One could easily read Obama's statement to mean that the White House was built exclusively with slave labor. That was not the case, as the text of the fact check concedes. Not telling a significant part of the story often leads to PolitiFact rating a true claim "Mostly True" or worse.

Not this time (bold emphasis added):
Obama said the White House "was built by slaves." Strictly speaking, the White House was not exclusively built by slaves; it was built by a combination of slaves, free blacks and whites. But slaves were significantly involved in the construction of the White House, so we have no quarrel with the way Obama worded her claim. We rate it True.
Obama's claim was imprecise and people might be misled by it. However, PolitiFact has no problem with the way she worded her claim.

That's tossing principles on the scrap head, not that PolitiFact is consistent enough in applying its principles that they deserve the term "principles."

Need a comparison? There are many. How about this one?


PolitiFact's summary draws the perfect contrast:
Trump has a point here, but he should have used different words to make it. We rate his claim Mostly False.
PolitiFact has no problem with Obama's word choice. But Trump should have used different words to make his valid point.

These two political figures are not being judged according to the same standard.

Fact-checking. This is why so many cannot take PolitiFact's brand of fact-checking seriously. The great mystery is why the folks at PolitiFact think it is okay to check facts this way.

If they know it is not okay and yet do it anyway, well, that puts the problem in a different light.


Afters:

We often hear the excuse from PolitiFact's defenders that PolitiFact always justifies its ratings.

To those people, we ask if you would have accepted this explanation from PolitiFact:
Trump said Chevrolet in Japan "does not exist." Strictly speaking, there are some Chevrolet vehicles in Japan though the number is relatively small compared to the more popular makes. Since the number of Chevrolets is so small we have no problem with the hyperbolic way Trump worded his claim. We rate it True.
Always justifying the rating does not help if the justifications do not follow consistent principles.

15 comments:

  1. In other words "A man with a beard built the White House" is also true.

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    1. A men with a beard built houses (of course he worked with others), if he happened to built the White House, he did build the White House.

      Delete
  2. Your hypothetical doesn't really apply. Saying Chevy does not exist is a very strong statement that has no wiggle room. Saying that the White House was built by slaves is not such an extreme, and it's not at all inaccurate, and also it's not misleading anyone. She did NOT say the White House was built ONLY by slaves, and slaves DID build the White House. Maybe you should at least try a different comparison if you are trying to go with the line of reasoning that if Trump had made a similar statement, he would have been treated differently, because your hypothetical is simply not applicable.

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    1. Brie wrote:

      **Saying Chevy does not exist is a very strong statement that has no wiggle room.**

      Sure it does. Look up "hyperbole."

      **Saying that the White House was built by slaves is not such an extreme, and it's not at all inaccurate, and also it's not misleading anyone.**

      Huh? So the person who concludes that it was exclusively slaves who built the White House was not misled?

      **She did NOT say the White House was built ONLY by slaves, and slaves DID build the White House.**

      Does that distinction mean that those who conclude that the White House was built exclusively by slaves were not misled?

      **Maybe you should at least try a different comparison if you are trying to go with the line of reasoning that if Trump had made a similar statement, he would have been treated differently, because your hypothetical is simply not applicable.**

      Maybe you should consider the point we were making, which I will repeat for you now: "Always justifying the rating does not help if the justifications do not follow consistent principles."

      Do you disagree with that?


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    2. Of course I don't disagree with the final sentence of your blog post, but your evidence and supporting arguments don't really substantiate how the principles are being applied inconsistently in this situation. Obama did not cause anyone to have the wrong information (read: mislead) about anything.

      The purpose of my comment is not to take issue with the "point" you are trying to make; it's with the way that you fail to make your point.

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    3. Brie wrote:

      **Of course I don't disagree with the final sentence of your blog post**

      Good. We can work with that.

      **but your evidence and supporting arguments don't really substantiate how the principles are being applied inconsistently in this situation.**

      Then it is odd that you picked on an illustration from the "Afters" section, which was focused on illustrating the concept encapsulated by the final sentence (with which you say you agree).

      To support our contention that PolitiFact did not apply its principles to Mrs. Obama, we pointed out that her claim was imprecise. Imprecision usually counts against a person making a claim, because imprecision allows for misinterpretations. I gave an example of a possible misinterpretation (thinking it was exclusively slaves who built the White House). You seem reluctant to acknowledge the example, as you next comment illustrates.

      **Obama did not cause anyone to have the wrong information (read: mislead) about anything.**

      How would you know that? Which is more accurate:
      Slaves built the White House.
      Slaves and non-slaves built the White House.

      The less accurate version is true and there's nothing significant missing (PF's definition of "True")? Such as the fact that non-slaves built the White House, too?

      **The purpose of my comment is not to take issue with the "point" you are trying to make; it's with the way that you fail to make your point.**

      You won't succeed in supporting your point if you take the illustration showing one point as the support for a different point.

      You would have missed the point of the illustration.

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    4. I took the statement to mean just exactly what she said, 'Slaves built the White House' and was really put off by it. I knew what she was implying and all it did was cause a greater divide between races. Race baiting at it's finest and highest level.

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  3. I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw PolitiFacts rating of "True" and thought that it was biased. What if Trump responded to Michelle Obama saying "The White House was built by free-men from Virginia, Maryland, Ireland, and Scotland"? You know it would get rated as "Mostly False" or "Half True." Don't be so naive. It is a bias. Obama's statements were not 100% true and they are misleading.

    According to 'https://www.whitehousehistory.org/questions/did-slaves-build-the-white-house' "Enslaved people quarried and cut the rough stone" it is then mentioned that "that was later dressed and laid by Scottish masons." So wouldn't it be more accurate to say that Scottish masons built the White House?

    Now add to that, the fact, that most of the Interior and some of the Exterior have been rebuilt since then (more than once) doesn't that even further reduce the amount of White House that was "built" by slaves? I put built in quotes because it doesn't seem clear how much of the actual _building_ the slaves did.

    It just seems that using a consistent principle, her statements should be at best "Half True"

    And just as a reminder, her statement was "I wake up every morning in a house built by slaves."

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    1. Good points, Penguin.

      I guess PF gave her a pass on the "every morning" thing. But "Mostly True" since they only vacation occasionally. Unless their place in Hawaii was also built by slaves.

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    2. Blacks were also not the only slaves. So I guess it's even true that Michelle wakes up in a house built by white slaves

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. Im always curious why, primarily conservative Americans, have sych discomfort talking about slavery. Slavery is often sugar coated as if slavery wasnt really that bad. Its pretty pathetic really. My curiosity isnt wondering why conservs sugar coat the past, racism obviously, im curious why are you racist? Being racist is stupid and a waist of time.

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    1. "Unknown" wrote:

      **Im always curious why, primarily conservative Americans, have sych discomfort talking about slavery.**

      Huh. I'd never noticed.

      **Slavery is often sugar coated as if slavery wasnt really that bad. Its pretty pathetic really.**

      Huh. So how is that relevant to our post? Where did we apply the sugar coating?

      **My curiosity isnt wondering why conservs sugar coat the past, racism obviously, im curious why are you racist?**

      What makes you think I'm a racist? I'm not in the habit of answering questions that contain a false premise.

      **Being racist is stupid and a waist of time.**

      So is making nonsensical comments. But you seem okay with that. Looking forward to hearing from you how we applied a sugar coating to slavery and what evidence you have to ask a question premised on our racism. Thanks.

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  6. This is refreshing. Initially, I thought Politifact was a trustworthy source, but sometime last year noticed how unfairly and inconsistently they apply their ratings based on their rating Fiorina's statements about the abortion videos, which they stunningly rated as mostly false by reasoning that the videos were disseminated by a pro-life organization that intentionally included material which was questionably fake. However, as Fiorina's comments were entirely about what she saw in the video and not about whether or not those images were real, it was outlandish that they gave her anything less than a mostly true rating then used their explanation space to report that the video imagery itself may be intentionally misleading.

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    1. We write about many examples, but at the same time there are many other examples we just don't have the time to cover.

      PolitiFact is awful. FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact Checker are better, but the sad fact is that you can't trust fact checkers.

      That might change if they learn to stick to objective facts and objective ratings while somehow getting outside their ideological bubbles. We don't see any sign that's happening.

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