Tuesday, December 12, 2017

PolitiFact's lying "Lie of the Year" award for 2017

On Dec. 12, 2017, PolitiFact announced its 2017 "Lie of the Year." PolitiFact supposedly gave its award to a particular statement from President Trump.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
"This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won," said President Donald Trump in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in May.
PolitiFact Bias correctly predicted the winner. But even we hardly imagined the Olympic-grade gymnastics the editors of PolitiFact would perform in justifying their selection.

We thought PolitiFact would cross its fingers and hope the Mueller investigation would implicate Trump in some type of illegal collusion with the Russians.

Instead, PolitiFact turned Trump's statement into a complete denial that Russia interfered with the election. Instead of "Trump and Russia" like Trump said, PolitiFact trims the issue down to just "Russia."

No, seriously. PolitiFact did that. Let's start with the headline of its "Lie of the Year" announcement:

2017 Lie of the Year: Russian election interference is a 'made-up story'

Did Trump say anything in the winning statement about Russian election interference being a "made-up" story? We're not seeing it, and PolitiFact does not explain the connection. Maybe in context?

We looked to PolitiFact's original rating of Trump's claim for clues. That story suggested Trump was claiming that Democrats made up the Trump-Russia narrative. PolitiFact said James Comey's report of a "credible allegation" (or "reasonable basis to believe"!) was enough to "rebut" (refute?) Trump's charge that the narrative was made up.

How did PolitiFact know that the "credible allegation" was not made up and not by a Democrat? We do not know. PolitiFact will have to answer that one. We can only marvel at the idea that a "reasonable basis to believe" unequivocally serves as a foundation for stating something as fact.

Do we think PolitiFact's narrative that Trump completely denied Russian election interference stands up to scrutiny? We do not (Reuters, Jan 6, 2017):
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia engaged in cyber attacks during the U.S. presidential election and may take action in response, his incoming chief of staff said on Sunday.
In opposition to PolitiFact's reasoning, we think it much more reasonable to take Trump to mean that the narrative attempting to connect the Trump campaign to Russian meddling has no evidence to back it. If such evidence existed, it would have served to help justify the Robert Mueller investigation. Instead, Mueller was given the job of looking at a broad category of interactions ("collusion") for something that could justify criminal charges.

In fact, PolitiFact's description of what Trump said bears little resemblance to what he said.

PolitiFact (bait in red, switch in blue, highlights added):

Trump could acknowledge the interference happened while still standing by the legitimacy of his election and his presidency — but he declines to do so. Sometimes he’ll state firmly there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia, an implicit admission that Russia did act in some capacity. Then he reverts back to denying the interference even happened.
Declining to acknowledge the interference, supposing the Reuters story cited above counts for nothing, is not the same thing as denying the interference ever happened.

If PolitiFact had any clear statement from Trump denying Russia made any effort to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, PolitiFact would have been smart to include it (see the "Afters" section, below).

Lacking that evidence, we conclude that PolitiFact has exaggerated, one might even say "made up," the degree to which President Trump denies Russian election interference.


We say PolitiFact offered no unequivocal evidence Trump denied all Russian meddling in the U.S. election. But PolitiFact did offer evidence that it perhaps interpreted that way.

We think it fair to let PolitiFact make its case:
Facebook, Google and Twitter have investigated their own networks, and their executives have concluded — in some cases after initial foot-dragging — that Russia used the online platforms in attempts to influence the election.

After all this, one man keeps saying it didn’t even happen.

"This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won," said President Donald Trump in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in May.

On Twitter in September, Trump said, "The Russia hoax continues, now it's ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?"

And during an overseas trip to Asia in November, Trump spoke of meeting with Putin: "Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn't do that.’ And I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it." In the same interview, Trump referred to the officials who led the intelligence agencies during the election as "political hacks."

Trump continually asserts that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election is fake news, a hoax or a made-up story, even though there is widespread, bipartisan evidence to the contrary.
 We've covered PolitiFact's trading of "Trump and Russia" for just "Russia."

What "Russia hoax" was continuing? The hoax of Russian interference or the hoax of Trump and Russia collaborating to steal the election from its rightful winner?

If Trump says he thinks Putin's denials are sincere, does that likewise mean that Trump thinks nobody in Russia did anything to interfere with the U.S. election?

Who fact checks like that, not counting liberal bloggers?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Another partisan rating from bipartisan PolitiFact

"We call out both sides."

That is the assurance that PolitiFact gives its readers to communicate to them that it rates statements impartially.

We've pointed out before, and we will doubtless repeat it in the future, that rating both sides serves as no guarantee of impartiality if the grades skew left whether rating a Republican or a Democrat.

On December 1, 2017, PolitiFact New York looked at Albany Mayor Kathy M. Sheehan's claim that simply living in the United States without documentation is not a crime. PolitiFact rated the statement "Mostly True."

PolitiFact explained that while living illegally in the United States carries civil penalties, it does not count as a criminal act. So, "Mostly True."

Something about this case reminded us of one from earlier in 2017.

On May 31, 2017, PolitiFact's PunditFact looked at Fox News host Gregg Jarrett's claim that collusion is not a crime. PolitiFact rated the statement "False."

These cases prove very similar, not counting the ratings, upon examination.

Sheehan defended Albany's sanctuary designation by suggesting that law enforcement need not look at immigration status because illegal presence in the United States is not a crime.

And though PolitiFact apparently didn't notice, Jarrett made the point that Special Counsel Mueller was put in charge of investigating non-criminal activity (collusion). Special Counsels are typically appointed to investigate crimes, not to investigate to find out if a crime was committed.

On the one hand, Albany police might ask a driver for proof of immigration status. The lack of documentation might lead to the discovery of criminal acts such as entering the country illegally or falsifying government documents.

On the other hand, the Mueller investigation might investigate the relationship (collusion) between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives and find a conspiracy to commit a crime. Conspiring to commit a crime counts as a criminal act.

Sheehan and Jarrett were making essentially the same point, though collusion by itself doesn't even carry a civil penalty like undocumented immigrant status does.

So there's PolitiFact calling out both sides. Sheehan and Jarrett make almost the same point. Sheehan gets a "Mostly True" rating. Jarrett gets a "False."

That's the kind of non-partisanship you get when liberal bloggers do fact-checking.


Just to hammer home the point that Jarrett was right, we will review the damning testimony of the  three impartial experts who helped PunditFact reach the conclusion that Jarrett was wrong.
Nathaniel Persily at Stanford University Law School said one relevant statute is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

"A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime," Persily said. "And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime."
The conspiracy to commit the crime, not the mere collusion, counts as the crime.

Another election law specialist, John Coates at Harvard University Law School, said if Russians aimed to shape the outcome of the presidential election, that would meet the definition of an expenditure.

"The related funds could also be viewed as an illegal contribution to any candidate who coordinates (colludes) with the foreign speaker," Coates said.
Conspiring to collect illegal contributions, not mere collusion, would count as the crime. Coats also offered the example of conspiring to commit fraud.
Josh Douglas at the University of Kentucky Law School offered two other possible relevant statutes.

"Collusion in a federal election with a foreign entity could potentially fall under other crimes, such as against public corruption," Douglas said. "There's also a general anti-coercion federal election law."
The corruption, not the mere collusion, would count as the crime.

How PolitiFact missed Jarrett's point after linking the article he wrote explaining what he meant is far beyond us.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Not a Lot of Reader Confusion VII

We say that PolitiFact's graphs and charts, including its PunditFact collections of ratings for news networks, routinely mislead readers. PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan says she doesn't notice much of that sort of thing.

We're here to help.

This comes from the lead edge of December 2017 and PolitiFact's own Facebook page:

Somebody introduced a subjective PolitiFact chart in answer to a call for a scientific study showing the unreliability of Fox News. So far as we can tell, the citation was intended as serious.

We predict that no number of examples short of infinity will convince Holan that we are right and she is wrong. At least publicly. Privately, maybe.