Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Unreliable PolitiFact

PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan illustrates why we can't have good fact-checking from PolitiFact.

Holan was dispensing her sage advice to debate moderators, suggesting they do not rely on memory for their facts.

It was good advice, but her illustration showcased bad fact-checking:
Moderators who don’t keep research at hand are leaving themselves open to dodged questions and outright bluffing. Check out this exchange between Trump and moderator Becky Quick of CNBC from an October primary debate.

Quick: "You have talked a little bit about Marco Rubio. I think you called him (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator, because he was in favor of the H-1B visa."

Trump: "I never said that. I never said that."

Quick: "So this is an erroneous article the whole way around? … My apologies, I'm sorry."

Trump: "Somebody's really doing some bad fact-checking."

Actually, there was no need for Quick to apologize. She was right; Trump was wrong. Trump’s website has a line about Rubio being Zuckerberg’s personal senator. It’s still there.
Quick and Trump were talking past each other, and Trump was more right than Quick. We presume that Holan had time to think about what she was writing, but she still botched the facts.

1) Quick said Trump had talked a little bit about Rubio. If Quick had said Trump's website had used the line about Rubio being Zuckerberg's personal senator, then she would have been right.

2) Trump was reasonable to assume that when Quick said he had "talked" about Rubio that her example would involve something he talked about, not just something written on his campaign website.

3) If Trump did not talk about Rubio being Zuckerberg's personal senator, then Trump was right.

4) If Trump was right, then Holan was wrong to say Trump was wrong.

5) Quick was wrong, so Holan was wrong to say Quick was right.

It isn't good fact-checking to blithely equivocate between a person literally saying something and making that person responsible for something posted on a campaign website.

Holan should apologize.

The "elite" fact checkers stink at fact checking.




Hat tip to PolitiFact for providing us with a steady stream of illustrative material.

4 comments:

  1. Quick referred to an "article", before Trump stated that somebody is doing bad fact checking, so Trump had the chance to realize that Quick was referring to his general views, not simply something he said at that moment.

    However, if you with to question the fundamental metaphysical realities of the universe, why don't you start with asking Richard Dawkins why he considers the laws of nature to be reliable predictors of evolution in a non-intelligent universe.

    Oh, I'm sorry, I thought we were talking about reality. You're writing in line with Karl Rove's rejection of the fact based world, kind of like Gingrich telling an interviewer his view of Trump, while possibly at variance with facts, simply fits his feelings (and no, I'm not quoting, so if you want to prove me wrong by quoting Gingrich's exact words, well, in your universe I suppose that passes for fact checking. The only problem is, 99% of humanity doesn't live in your universe).

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  2. Don wrote:

    **Quick referred to an "article", before Trump stated that somebody is doing bad fact checking, so Trump had the chance to realize that Quick was referring to his general views, not simply something he said at that moment.**

    Any "article" Quick mentioned at that point would still refer to her source for Trump "talking" about something. If Quick wanted to ask about something on the Trump campaign website then she could do so clearly by prefacing her question with something like "Your campaign website says ..."

    It's not rocket science.

    **However, if you with to question the fundamental metaphysical realities of the universe, why don't you start with asking Richard Dawkins why he considers the laws of nature to be reliable predictors of evolution in a non-intelligent universe.**

    Your straw-grasping comment appeals to one of the fundamental metaphysical realities of the universe? I think you overestimate the strength of your argument.

    **Oh, I'm sorry, I thought we were talking about reality.**

    It's just plain reality that Quick asked about what Trump "talked" about, not what Trump's campaign website said. And it's just plain reality that your argument is less firm than overcooked pasta.

    Here's how easily Quick might have solved the problem:

    **Let's talk a little bit about Marco Rubio. I think your campaign website called him (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator, because he was in favor of the H-1B visa.**

    It's just plain reality that rephrasing the question as I've suggested would have clearly communicated what Quick intended to ask. Holan gives Quick credit for clarity she did not achieve. That's dishonest of Holan.

    Wake up and smell the coffee, Don.

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  3. I guess yeah she is technically wrong to make a claim that trump "said" but does it really make a difference? I'm technically not "saying" any of this. He has it on his website so one would assume that even if he hasn't actually "said" that statement it is one of his views. I don't understand why you wouldn't assume he's responsible for things posted on his own site. Unless he has no control over his staff and they just insert their own views onto his website. It seems a little stupid to dance around all these technicalities and say people suck at fact checking because of it.

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    1. Unknown wrote:

      **I guess yeah she is technically wrong to make a claim that trump "said" but does it really make a difference?**

      My post argues it does ("talking about," not "said").

      **I'm technically not "saying" any of this**

      Sure, but since I'm reading what you're writing there's available context to judge that when you write "saying" (or even "talking about," though the latter probably occurs more rarely) you're referring to what you've written. If, on the other hand, you and I had a context where I was likely to have heard you talk audibly, I would tend to take "talking about" to refer to communications that required your vocal cords.

      **He has it on his website so one would assume that even if he hasn't actually "said" that statement it is one of his views**

      It's fair to ask Trump whether he backs the view stated on his website. But it goes a bit far to assume that a candidate automatically backs everything on a campaign website or everything a campaign manager says. The fact is that candidates delegate. The candidate bears responsibility in a sense for the actions of those appointed to certain tasks, but the spokesperson's words do not thereby turn into the candidate's words.

      **I don't understand why you wouldn't assume he's responsible for things posted on his own site.**

      Neither do I. Why do you think I don't assume he's responsible for what's on his campaign website? Other than having literally written everything on the site or approving of everything on the site?

      **Unless he has no control over his staff and they just insert their own views onto his website.**

      How would Trump prevent his staff from inserting their own views onto his website? Other than by firing them after the fact or having other workers stop them? I don't think Trump is a god. Do you?

      **It seems a little stupid to dance around all these technicalities and say people suck at fact checking because of it.**

      Yeah, the last comment to this site I responded to was some guy who insisted that Fred Thompson's claim about Iraq's nuclear program was false because he said Iraq Study Group instead of Iraq Survey Group. Sometimes to defend PolitiFact the exact wording is critical. But sometimes to defend PolitiFact worrying about the exact wording is stupid.

      If Trump never said or wrote that Rubio is Mark Zuckerberg's personal senator then what *reasonable* complaint can you offer over Trump claiming he never said Rubio is Mark Zuckerberg's personal senator? I don't think you can offer one. And the blame for that falls on Quick for poorly designing her question, not on Trump for thinking "talking about" refers to him speaking (which he does plenty).

      It would be fair for Quick to make Trump responsible for what is posted on his website. She fumbled the opportunity with her needlessly ambiguous question. It's not hard to start with "Your campaign website says ..."

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