Sunday, September 11, 2016

PolitiFact Florida flip-flops on subjectivity of congressional ineffectiveness

PolitiFact's patina of reliability--perceived mostly by liberals--relies on people not paying close attention.

PolitiFact Florida gives us our latest example of unprincipled fact checking.

The conservative American Future Fund ran an ad attacking Florida Democrat Patrick Murphy, who is running for the senate against incumbent Republican Marco Rubio. The ad said Murphy had been rated one of the nation's least effective congressmen:
In the ad, American Future Fund says, "Patrick Murphy was named one of America's least effective congressmen."
It's completely true that Murphy was named one of America's least effective congressmen. InsideGov produced a set of rankings, and Murphy was rated one of the least effective.

Flip-flop

PolitiFact Florida rated the ad's claim "Mostly False" because InsideGov's system for rating effectiveness fails to take enough factors into account:
The main problem with this ranking is it’s based on a single measure: the percentage of bills sponsored by each member over their time in office that went on to pass committee. That’s not a sufficient way to rate the effectiveness of a member of Congress.

Congressional experts have repeatedly told us that there are many other ways to evaluate the effectiveness of a member beyond getting a sponsored bill passed in committee.
 Got it? A reliable measure of congressional effectiveness needs to take more factors into account.

But when PolitiFact Florida decided not to rate Democrat Alan Grayson over a similar claim about Murphy based on the same YouGov ranking during the Democratic primary, the fact checkers had another approach to the issue:
We’re not going to rate Murphy’s effectiveness as a legislator, because that’s a subjective measure.
To be fair to PolitiFact Florida, without doing it any favors, it started its flip-flop during the fact check of Grayson by pointing out that it's not enough to rate effectiveness using one criterion for measurement.

It apparently does not occur to the folks at PolitiFact Florida that if effectiveness is subjective then it doesn't matter how many criteria one uses. One is as good as a billion.

Congressional effectiveness vs. Trump-caused bullying in schools

We can't help but compare PolitiFact Florida's rating of American Future Fund to the "Mostly True" rating PolitiFact gave Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for her claim about a "Trump Effect" on our schoolkids.

Both AFF and Clinton credited the claim to a third source (YouGov and "parents and teachers," respectively).

The AFF claim was literally accurate; Clinton's less so (Zebra Fact Check found no anecdote from the source Clinton named to match her claim).

Both claims were credited to dubious sources (AFF's to the simplistic YouGov ratings, Clinton's to a handful of anecdotes--23, estimated--from an unscientific poll of nearly 2,000 teachers).

AFF received a "Mostly False" rating. Clinton received a "Mostly True" rating.

We suggest there is no one set of nonpartisan principles that would allow PolitiFact to justify both ratings. The disparity in these ratings shows unevenly applied principles, or else a lack of principles. The conservative AFF correctly said an untrustworthy source made a certain claim and received a "Mostly False" rating. The liberal candidate semi-correctly said an untrustworthy source made a certain claim and received a "Mostly True" rating.

It doesn't pass the sniff test.

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