Tuesday, February 6, 2018

PolitiFact: One standard for me, and another for thee

On Feb. 5, 2018, PolitiFact published an article on cherry picking from one of its veteran writers, Louis Jacobson. Titled, "The Age of Cherry-picking," it led with a claim of fact as its main hook:
These days, it isn’t just that Republicans are from Mars and Democrats are from Venus. Increasingly, politicians on either side are cherry-picking evidence to support their version of reality.
With cherry-picking on the increase, and with both sides using it more, certainly readers would want to see what PolitiFact has to say about it.

But is it true? Is cherry-picking on the increase?

One had to read far down the column to reach Jacobson's evidence (bold emphasis added):
So is there more cherry-picking today in political rhetoric than in the past? That’s hard to say -- we couldn’t find anyone who measures it. But several political scientists and historians said that even if it’s not more common, the use of the tactic may have turned a corner.
Seriously?

If a writer tries to hook me into reading a story based on the claim that cherry-picking is on the increase, then takes over 20 paragraphs before getting around to telling me that no good evidence supports the claim, I want my money back.

This isn't hard, fact checkers. If it's hard to say if there is more cherry-picking today in political rhetoric than in the past, don't say "Increasingly, politicians on either side are cherry-picking evidence to support their version of reality."

Don't do it.

Even a Democrat probably couldn't entirely get away with a claim so poorly supported by the evidence, thanks to PolitiFact's occasionally-applied principle of the burden of proof:
Burden of proof – People who make factual claims are accountable for their words and should be able to provide evidence to back them up. We will try to verify their statements, but we believe the burden of proof is on the person making the statement.
We used Twitter to needle PolitiFact over this issue, surprisingly drawing some response (nothing of substance). But the exchange ended up productive when co-editor Jeff D, who runs the PFB Twitter account, contributed this summary:
That about sums it up. One standard for me, and another for thee.



Update Feb. 7, 2018: Supplied URL to PolitiFact's article on cherry picking, added tag labels.

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