Thursday, March 23, 2017

Rorschach context

It seems as though the liberal bloggers (aka "mainstream fact checkers") at PolitiFact treat context like a sort of Rorschach inkblot, to interpret as they see fit.

What evidence prompts these unkind words? The evidence runs throughout PolitiFact's history, but two recent fact-checks inspired the imagery.

The PolitiFact Florida Lens

In our previous post, we pointed out the preposterous "Mostly True" rating PolitiFact Florida gifted on a Florida Democrat who equated the raw gender wage gap with the gender wage gap caused by sex discrimination. The fact checkers did not interpret words uttered in context, "simply because she isn't a man," as an argument that the raw wage gap was entirely the result of gender discrimination. Perhaps it wasn't specific enough, like saying the difference in pay occurred despite doing the same work ("Mostly False")?

Whatever the case, PolitiFact opted not to accept a crystal clear clue that it was checking a claim that mirrored one it had previously rated "Mostly False" and rated the similar claim "Mostly True."

The PolitiFact California Lens

A recent fact check from PolitiFact California makes for a jarring contrast with the PolitiFact Florida item.

California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted that Republican Jason Chaffetz had treated the cost of an iPhone to the cost of health care "as if the 2 are the same." Newsom was making the point that health care costs more than an iPhone, so saying the two are the same misses the mark by a California mile.

But did Chaffetz say the costs are the same?

First let's look at how the PolitiFact California lens processed the evidence, then we'll put that evidence together with some surrounding context.

PolitiFact California:
We also examined Newsom’s final claim that Chaffetz had compared the iPhone and health care costs "as if they are the same."

Chaffetz’ comments, particularly his phrase "Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice," leave the impression that obtaining health care is as simple as sacrificing the purchase of a smartphone.
It's worth noting at the outset that PolitiFact California's key evidence doesn't mention the iPhone and does not even imply any type of cost comparison. The only way to adduce Chaffetz's quotation as evidence of a price comparison would have to come from the context of Chaffetz's remarks. And a fact-checker ought to explain to readers how that works, unless the fact checker can count on his audience sharing his ideological bias.

Chaffetz (as quoted at length in the PolitiFact California fact check; bold emphasis added):
"Well we're getting rid of the individual mandate. We're getting rid of those things that people said they don't want. And you know what? Americans have choices. And they've got to make a choice. And so, maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest it in their own health care. They've got to make those decisions for themselves."
Chaffetz in no way offers anything approaching a clear suggestion that the cost of an iPhone equals the cost of health care or health insurance. His words about people having choices come right after he says the health care bill would eliminate the individual mandate. After that comes the mention of an iPhone costing "hundreds of dollars" that one might instead invest in health care. In context, the statement is just one example of a great number of choices one might make about paying for health care.

The PolitiFact California lens (like magic!) turns Chaffetz's words conveniently into what is needed to say the Democrat said something "Mostly True."

It's the bias, stupid.

We have PolitiFact Florida ignoring clear context to give a Democrat a more favorable rating than she deserves. We have PolitiFact California finding clear evidence from the context where none exists to give a Democrat a more favorable rating than he deserves.

Point out the absurdity to PolitiFact (as we did for the PolitiFact Florida flub) and somebody from the Tampa Bay Times will read the critique and no changes to the article will result.
How are they able to repeatedly overlook problems like these?

The simplest explanation? Because they're biased. Biased to the left. Biased to trust their own work (despite the incongruity with other PolitiFact fact checks!). And Dunning-Kruger out the wazoo.


Clarification: March 27, 2017: Added link to the PolitiFact California fact check of Gavin Newsom.

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