Tuesday, December 12, 2017

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

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.




Afters

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?



Update Dec. 14, 2017: Jeff Adds:

I concur with Bryan's points above but wanted to add my gripes about PolitiFact's latest agitprop.

1) What exactly is "bipartisan evidence"? Can evidence be partisan? Can a fact have a political motive? If the nonpartisans at PolitiFact think so, it would explain a lot.

2) No decent editor should have allowed this line:
Sometimes he’ll state firmly there was "no collusion" between his campaign and Russia, an implicit admission that Russia did act in some capacity.
Huh? On what planet does denying Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians an implied admission the Russians interfered in the election? PolitiFact's argument is a non sequitur, if it even makes sense at all.

3) It seems to be an accepted truth on the left that Russian interference changed the outcome of the election, but is there any compelling evidence of that?
It seems unlikely — though not impossible — that Russia interference changed the outcome of the election. We at PolitiFact have seen no compelling evidence that it did so.
Talk about a buried lede!

The fact is currently the only evidence of Russian "interference" has been a disorganized social media campaign. There's been no evidence of vote tampering, no voting booth intimidation, no vote machine hacking. [Disclosure: I am frequent user of Twitter and Facebook but somehow overcame the onslaught of Russian brainwashing and did not vote for Trump.]

For PolitiFact to describe buying Facebook ads as "a threat to U.S. democracy" is Louise Mensch grade delusion. Further, Holan's assertion that Trump's refusal to acknowledge the "threat to democracy" is begging the question. She asserts as fact Russian interference, to whatever extent it existed, is a threat to America. Perhaps she could prove the threat is real before calling it a lie to deny it.

The premise of PolitiFact's argument rests comfortably in the swamp of liberal media where the words influence, interference, and election action all mean the same thing. Let's turn PolitiFact's trick back against it:
Trump could acknowledge the interference happened while still standing by the legitimacy of his election...
If the legitimacy of the election is a fact, then it's implied the Russians did not interfere in the election, since (using PolitiLogic throughout) if the Russians did interfere in the election, it would not be a legitimate election.

Perhaps PolitiFact chose the Russian "interference" story for their Lie of the Year because it hit so close to home. After all, misleading large swaths of impressionable users by exploiting social media to spread a political agenda with poorly written posts that don't hold up to scrutiny is PolitiFact's bread and butter.

It's hard for me to imagine PolitiFact editor Angie Holan ever persuading someone beyond her bubble that she is a convincing, coherent, and unbiased professional, but maybe that's just the vodka talking.

See you next year, comrades!

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