Saturday, July 1, 2017

PolitiFact absurdly keeps "True" rating on false statement from Hillary Clinton

Today we were alerted about a story from earlier this week detailing a New York Times correction.

Heavy.com, from June 30, 2017:
On June 29 The New York Times issued a retraction to an article published on Monday, which originally stated that all 17 intelligence organizations had agreed that Russia orchestrated the hacking. The retraction reads, in part:
The assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency. The assessment was not approved by all 17 organizations in the American intelligence community.”
It should be noted that the four intelligence agencies are not retracting their statements about Russia involvement. But all 17 did not individually come to the assessment, despite what so many people insisted back in October.
The same article went on to point out that PolitiFact had rated "True" Hillary Rodham Clinton's claim that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies found Russia responsible for hacking. That despite acknowledging it had no evidence backing the idea that each agency had reached the conclusion based on its own investigation:
Politifact concluded that 17 agencies had, indeed, agreed on this because “the U.S. Intelligence Community is made up of 17 agencies.” However, the 17 agencies had not independently made the assessment, as many believed. Politifact mentioned this in the story, but still said the statement was correct.
We looked up the PolitiFact story in question. Heavy.com presents PolitiFact's reasoning accurately.

It makes for a great example of horrible fact-checking.

Clinton's statement implied each of the 17 agencies made its own finding:
"We have 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin, and they are designed to influence our election."
It's very easy to avoid making that implication: "Our intelligence agencies have concluded ..." Such a phrasing fairly represents a finding backed by a figure representing all 17 agencies. But when Clinton emphasized the 17 agencies "all" reached the same conclusion it implied independent investigations.

PolitiFact ignored that false implication in its original rating and in a June 2017 update to the article in response to information from FBI Director James Clapper's testimony earlier in the year:
The January report presented its findings by saying "we assess," with "we" meaning "an assessment by all three agencies."

The October statement, on the other hand, said "The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident" in its assessment. As we noted in the article, the 17 separate agencies did not independently come to this conclusion, but as the head of the intelligence community, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence speaks on behalf of the group.

We stand by our rating.
PolitiFact's rating was and is preposterous. Note how PolitiFact defines its "True" and "Mostly True" ratings:
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
It doesn't pass the sniff test to assert that Clinton's claim about "17 agencies" needs no clarification or additional information. We suppose that only a left-leaning and/or unserious fact-checking organization would conclude otherwise.

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