Thursday, October 20, 2016

Demolition=construction? Yup, says PolitiFact

Bless PolitiFact's heart. Those fact-checking journalists just don't seem to realize that they're having trouble setting aside their biases. Unless they do realize it and wantonly lie in their fact checks.

This is actually the third in our series on PolitiFact's debate-night blogging. We broke with the tradition of mentioning that in the title to bring attention to PolitiFact's fundamental error in the case we will examine.

During the third debate, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said her Republican opponent, Donald Trump, used undocumented workers to construct the Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Let's let PolitiFact's Linda Qiu tell it:
Clinton: "He used undocumented labor to build the Trump Tower."

This is True. Between 1979 and 1980, Trump hired a contractor to demolish a Manhattan building to make way for the eventual Trump Tower. That contractor in turn hired local union workers as well as 200 undocumented Polish workers to meet the tight deadlines.
According to Qiu and PolitiFact, demolishing a building is constructing a building. Or at least not different enough to make a difference in the rating. We assume that if Clinton had said Trump used undocumented workers to demolish the building that once stood where Trump Tower now stands that the claim could rate no higher than "True" on PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter." One version of the claim is no more accurate than the other by "Truth-O-Meter" standards.

We can't pass up the opportunity to remind our readers that PolitiFact prides itself on paying careful attention to the way politicians use words:
Words matter – We pay close attention to the specific wording of a claim. Is it a precise statement? Does it contain mitigating words or phrases?
That's a joke, right?

Contrary to PolitiFact, "demolition" and "construction" do not carry the same meaning. The construction of a new building will typically not start until after the complete demolition of the building occupying the site of the proposed new construction. If undocumented workers demolished the building the Trump Tower replaced, then they finished their work before construction of the Trump Tower began. If they finished their work before construction began, then it is misleading at best to say they helped construct the Trump Tower.

How can a fact checker botch something that obvious?

5 comments:

  1. Honestly, I can see the argument for demolition=construction, and I don't think it was PolitiFact's worst impropriety in this particular fact check. The construction of a building in the place of another building definitively requires first the demolition and clearing of the previous building.

    I think attributing the actions of a third party (the contractor) to Trump, as though it was directly Trump's action, and therefore Trump's faux pas, is dishonest, and is PolitiFact's more egregious sin.

    Cheers, Justin.

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  2. "Unknown"/Justin wrote:

    **Honestly, I can see the argument for demolition=construction, and I don't think it was PolitiFact's worst impropriety in this particular fact check.**

    We do not think there is any type of argument for "demolition=construction" to justify a "True" rating if it is also true that PolitiFact pays "close attention to the specific wording of a claim."

    **The construction of a building in the place of another building definitively requires first the demolition and clearing of the previous building.**

    Right, but in New York you'd need one permit from the city for the demolition and then another separate permit for construction. If they were the same thing then one permit should suffice, right?

    **I think attributing the actions of a third party (the contractor) to Trump, as though it was directly Trump's action, and therefore Trump's faux pas, is dishonest, and is PolitiFact's more egregious sin.**

    Probably right, but showing a difference between "demolition" and "construction" makes a much more obvious case for the average reader.

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  3. I agree with your conclusion, that the "True" rating was a stretch. A leap even (like Superman leaping a tall building). I also agree that demolition, etymologically, is a separate word from construction. And, I was not meaning to imply, by my disagreement, that PF got it right .

    I respectfully disagree with your assumption that the average reader would see this, specifically, as an/the obvious flaw (not that I speak for the average reader, or any reader other than myself). Nor do I see the permit requirements as evidence of their dissimilarity. If you are demolishing a large building with explosives, of course it will require a different permit, because of the hazardous nature of explosives, not necessarily because of the difference in definition between the words demolition and construction. As an activity, demolition is more like the inverse of construction.

    I've been a silent reader for some time now, and I appreciate the work that you do here, and over at ZebraFactCheck. It's just a quibble over this specific check, and not a condemnation of your work overall. Thanks.

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    1. Justin Veniet wrote:

      **If you are demolishing a large building with explosives, of course it will require a different permit, because of the hazardous nature of explosives, not necessarily because of the difference in definition between the words demolition and construction.**

      You need a separate permit even if you plan to demolish the old building with a hammer. Not every building demolition requires explosives.

      **As an activity, demolition is more like the inverse of construction.**

      Right. And that distinction is something that people tend to understand without much explanation.

      We appreciate you reading and commenting.

      Cheers.

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