Sunday, October 16, 2016

The problem with the "best chess fact-check ever written"

PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair, now a journalism professor at Duke University, used Twitter to heap praise on a recent PolitiFact fact check:

Here's the version from Share the Facts:

A fact checker ought to notice the problem right away. Indeed, the average reader likely sees a big hint about the problem in the Share the Facts version. The key part of the fact check is outside the quotation marks denoting what Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said.

We presume the fact check more than adequately shows that the United States boasts multiple Grandmaster level chess players. We question whether PolitiFact established as fact that Trump said the United States has no Grandmaster chess players.

Here's what Trump said, via PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
Trump was in the midst of criticizing international trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He said he supports the idea of bilateral agreements, saying that such deals would make it possible for the United States to threaten to withdraw, then renegotiate on more favorable terms before the agreement expired.

Trump went on to say that with multilateral pacts like the TPP, "you can't terminate -- there's too many people, you go crazy. It's like you have to be a grand chess master. And we don't have any of them."
Before fact-checking this statement from Trump, one must figure out what he meant. Was he saying that the United States has nobody evaluating its trade deals with skills parallel to a chess Grandmaster? Or was he saying the United States boasts no citizens who have attained Grandmaster rank in chess?

If Trump had added something like "Bobby Fischer was the last one," it would have gone a long way toward confirming what Trump was saying. But how can a fact checker justify assuming the "them" in Trump's statement refers to literal chess players and not figurative ones involved in international trade on the behalf of the United States?

PolitiFact routinely finds its way toward favoring one interpretation over others without bothering to acknowledge the other possibilities and without justifying its choice.

It's one approach to fact-checking that fact-checkers ought to avoid.

Is this fact check the best one ever on chess? If it's the only one, then we suppose we won't argue Adair's claim. But it's not a good political fact check if we value fairness, accuracy, relevance, and non-partisanship.


  1. Politifact took an analogy out of context and said it was literally untrue. All they want is to continue associating Trump with lies, and they've become utterly intellectually dishonest to do it.

    1. We consider PolitiFact may be right Trump was talking about U.S. chess Grandmasters. But we do not know. And we don't see a strong case from PolitiFact justifying its assumption.

  2. He said, its like you have to be a grand chess master which would imply he is talking about grand chess masters, if he had said you have to be like a grand chess master then it would imply more of a comparison, but the way he said it whether he mispoke how he wanted to say it or not, the way he said it he put the accentuation in being a grand master not like a grand master, simple english my friends, may not be what he meant to say but that is the only way to comprehend it if you follow simple english grammar rules, but when you have a guy who speaks like an elementary school student these type of confusing statements are bound to happen.

    1. It's like you have to be Beavis or Butt-head to concoct a defense of PolitiFact that makes less sense.

      You'd have to be like Beavis or Butt-head to concoct a defense of PolitiFact that makes less sense.

      Sorry, I see no significant difference in the two statements. You'd have to take out the "like" unless you, like, were like using "like" in, like, the way I'm using like right now. Like, Trump doesn't like do that, do that, does he?

      Even if you drop the "like" the context strongly suggests a non-literal comparison (simile).

      You'd have to be Beavis or Butt-head to suggest otherwise, right? See how that works?