Monday, September 12, 2016

PolitiFact looking VOXier every day! (Updated)

Remember how Ezra Klein took his Washington Post Wonkblog act independent, starting the fact-challenged left-wing 'splainer site VOX?

PolitiFact is taking pages from the VOX playbook.

PolitiFact has always had VOX's ability to get things remarkably wrong, so the latest new sign of Voxiness comes from PolitiFact stories that venture into 'splaining instead of fact-checking. The item that especially caught our eye was one saying Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is incorrect for saying the United States should have taken Iraq's oil.

Trump's suggested policy on Iraq's oil is a choice with a moral, right/wrong dimension. As such PolitiFact's condemnation of the proposal amounts to moralizing. And isn't that exactly what we want from fact checkers?

We suspect the real reason PolitiFact is delving into overt PolitiSplaining has to do with its desire to share parts of expert interviews like this one:
"Insofar as Mr. Trump's proposals are coherent enough to be subject to analysis and judgment, they appear to be practically impossible, legally prohibited, and politically imbecilic," said Barnett Rubin, associate director of New York University’s Center on International Cooperation.
PolitiFact didn't say that about Trump! It was the expert! The expert did it! Was PolitiFact supposed to not print such a memorable quotation?

At PolitiFact Bias, we have long charged that PolitiFact's fact-checking routinely crosses the line from objective reporting into the realm of opinion journalism. An interview posted recently at Poynter.org, which owns PolitiFact through the Tampa Bay Times, underscores the accuracy of our assessment. Brad Scribner interviewed Lucas Graves, a recognized expert on fact-checking who did intern stints at PolitiFact and FactCheck.org. Scribner asked Graves about the relationship between fact-checking and the traditional "opinion page" in newspapers.

Graves:
It’s actually a misnomer to call the opinion page the opinion page. Really it’s the argument page. People are laying out fact-based arguments. We often confuse that sense of opinion with opinion as taste — where there’s no objective way to say which flavor of ice cream is better, but that’s not true of the kinds of points being made on the opinion page. They do involve facts — facts arrayed into arguments — and those arguments require interpretation. But any important or interesting factual question usually requires interpretation.

PolitiFact founder Bill Adair once called fact checking "reported conclusion journalism" and that’s a really good description.

 Find the whole interview at Poynter's website.


Update/Afters Sept. 12, 2016

We quoted PolitiFact's gem of a quotation from expert Barnett Rubin in our post above. It was quite uncomplimentary to Trump, so much so that we felt it reasonable to question Rubin's neutrality on that basis alone.

In our opinion, PolitiFact did Rubin no favors by quoting him.

We looked up Rubin's record on the FEC database. No surprise: He donates to Democrats.


Is it fine that PolitiFact does not inform its readers about stuff like this?

We wouldn't have that big a problem with it if it didn't represent such a marked pattern.


Correction Sept. 13, 2016: Our final mention of Barnett Rubin misspelled his last name as "Rubion." We apologize for the error, which is now corrected. Same day additional correction: The problem was worse than we noticed: We called Barnett Rubin "Barret" Rubin. We treble our apology.

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