Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Fact, motivation, and PolitiFact's inconsistency

One of the oldest legislative tricks involves introducing a bill that will not pass so that one party can slam the member of the opposing party for not supporting one part of the bill.

We've seen the Democrats use that technique to terrific effect with the "Violence Against Women Act." And Republicans do the same type of thing to Democrats.

A Democrat or a Republican might have motivations behind their opposition that undercut the message their opponents try to use against them.

But does PolitiFact treat these same types of campaign ads the same way for both parties?

It sure doesn't look like it.

PolitiFact Missouri today graded a Republican claim in this category "Half True."


Note how PolitiFact Missouri justifies its conclusion (bold emphasis added):
Greitens says Koster voted against a 2007 bill requiring the state to pay for rape victims’ medical exams.In reality, the bill did more than that.

Koster says he objected to wording that made it possible for convicted murderers to be granted parole by claiming they were victims of domestic abuse. Koster said the language made it possible for murderers to manufacture evidence to be released before the completion of their sentence.

Greitens is cherry-picking one part of the legislation to paint his opponent as soft on domestic abuse. We rate his claim Half True.
As we noted back in August, PolitiFact Florida gave a "True" rating to Democrat Patrick Murphy when he made a parallel claim about his Republican opponent:


And note how PolitiFact Florida justifies its conclusion:
Murphy said Rubio "voted against the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act."

Rubio voiced support for the original law, but he and some Republicans in both the Senate and House opposed certain provisions added to the bill pertaining to spending and federal oversight. Rubio voted against the bill in 2012 and 2013, but it passed with bipartisan support the second time.

Even though he had clearly stated his reasons why, Rubio still voted nay. We rate Murphy’s statement True.
Both cases feature the same type of deception, and PolitiFact's fact checkers take note of the deception in both cases. But the Republican gets a "Half True" rating while the Democrat gets a "True" rating.

This type of example isn't atypical. It's just another day at the office for PolitiFact's left-leaning fact checkers.


Afters

It's worth pointing out that our previous post shows PolitiFact Wisconsin using essentially this same illicit ad technique against Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.).
The next year, Johnson voted against a Senate amendment to affirm that human activity significantly contributes to climate change.

While all but one senator supported an earlier amendment affirming the existence of climate change, only five Republicans this time voted to acknowledge there is a human impact. The amendment, seen as a symbolic effort by the Democrats to force GOP senators to take a position, failed 50 to 49 (it required a 3/5 majority).
PolitiFact Wisconsin saw nothing wrong with using Johnson's opposition to the amendment as a solid evidence that Johnson thinks humans have no role in climate change even though the amendment did not narrowly address that issue.

Q: What's the difference between PolitiFact and the Democratic Party?
A: The Democratic Party doesn't claim to be nonpartisan.

5 comments:

  1. Greitens oversteps into a lie when he claims Koster "opposed protecting the women of Missouri" just because he voted a certain way on a certain bill. Murphy keeps it literal when he says Rubio "voted against the Violence Against Women Act." Exact words matter, hence the rating difference.

    Koster arguably has a better excuse for his opposition (the bill, as written, could result in the release of convicted murders in a flimsy process) than Rubio (funding and spending details, lower state power).

    The truth-o-meter by itself can't express these details from the article. It would be better if the short note summarizing the fact-check was always presented with the truth-o-meter. For Rubio, it says "Rubio opposed elements of the bill — twice". For Koster, it says "Cherry picks one part of the legislation". Both of these notes warn you that they only opposed small details in the bill.

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  2. Takata Miyagawa wrote:

    **Greitens oversteps into a lie when he claims Koster "opposed protecting the women of Missouri" just because he voted a certain way on a certain bill. Murphy keeps it literal when he says Rubio "voted against the Violence Against Women Act." Exact words matter, hence the rating difference.**

    The justification you describe sounds reasonable at first blush, except for the fact that PolitiFact Missouri uses not one word to make the argument you're making.

    If exact words matter, as you say, why can we not judge PolitiFact's reasoning according to the words PolitiFact uses? The summary paragraphs of the two stories offer fairly complete condensations of the reasoning PolitiFact used in its stories. That reasoning is inconsistent, as we pointed out.

    **Koster arguably has a better excuse for his opposition (the bill, as written, could result in the release of convicted murders in a flimsy process) than Rubio (funding and spending details, lower state power).**

    Is that argument in PolitiFact Missouri's story? If not, does it count toward PolitiFact Missouri's reasoning in backing its ruling?

    **The truth-o-meter by itself can't express these details from the article.**

    Neither, apparently, can the stories themselves stress those details. Your defense of PolitiFact is a post-hoc rationalization. It is not based in the words PolitiFact used to justify its rulings.

    **It would be better if the short note summarizing the fact-check was always presented with the truth-o-meter. For Rubio, it says "Rubio opposed elements of the bill — twice". For Koster, it says "Cherry picks one part of the legislation". Both of these notes warn you that they only opposed small details in the bill.**

    Right. That way PolitiFact can emphasize cherry-picked elements of the stories to its readers? The notes both point toward essentially the same deception: Leaving out the information that led the legislators to oppose the bills they opposed. Greitens gets "Half True" for that deception. Murphy gets a "True."

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    Replies
    1. And it's worth noting that PolitiFact will later log each of these rulings on the "Truth-O-Meter" scorecard for each candidate.

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  3. These aren't Politifact's arguments. They're mine, for how you can start with the two seemingly similar quotes Politifact started with, and reach the two different conclusions they reached, while following the same rules for each claim. Greitens gets half-true for clumsy wording, while Murphy gets true for keeping it literal.

    In both cases, the short note under the meter shows the most important detail that the meter can't show.

    -and yes, Politifact would be better if it didn't display politician's "scorecards" anywhere on its site.

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    1. **These aren't Politifact's arguments. They're mine, for how you can start with the two seemingly similar quotes Politifact started with, and reach the two different conclusions they reached, while following the same rules for each claim.**

      That is, as I pointed out, a post-hoc rationalization of PolitiFact's findings. Moreover, the rating Murphy appears to forgive Murphy for leaving out something significant (see definition of "Mostly False"). Rather than trying to justify PolitiFact's rulings after the fact, why not just take PolitiFact founder Bill Adair at his word that the ratings are subjective?

      Certainly the ambiguities in the "Truth-O-Meter" definitions demand subjective judgments absent a set of unpublished objective criteria.

      Delete