Thursday, June 13, 2019

Transparency: How to access PolitiFact's page of corrected or updated fact checks

It has long amused us here at PolitiFact Bias how difficult PolitiFact makes it for readers to navigate to its page of corrections and updates. There are pretty much three ways to navigate to the page.


Someone could link to it by hotlinking using the page URL.

This is the method PolitiFact uses to make finding the page seem easy-peasy in tweets or other messages. Works great!



The reader could use a search engine to find it

No, not the search function at the PolitiFact website. That will not get you there.

We're talking about a search engine like Google or DuckDuckGo. Search politifact + corrections + and + updates and reaching the page is a snap.


The reader could navigate to the page from PolitiFact's homepage. Maybe. 

This is the amusing part. We've already noted that using the "search" function at the PolitiFact website won't reach its dedicated page of corrected and updated fact checks (other corrections and updates do not yet end up there, unfortunately).

And without a guide such as the one that follows, most people browsing PolitiFact's website would probably never stumble over the page.

How To Do It

Step 1: On the homepage, move the cursor to the top menu bar and hover over "Truth-O-Meter" to trigger the drop-down menu
Step 2: Move the cursor down that menu to "By Subject," click on "By Subject"
Step 3: On the "Subjects" page, move the cursor to the alphabet menu below the main menu, hover over "c," click "c"
Step 4: Move the cursor to the subjects listed under "c," move cursor to hover over "Corrections and Updates," click "Corrections and Updates"

Done! What could be easier?

The key? Knowing that PolitiFact counts "Corrections and Updates" as a category of "statements" defined by PolitiFact as Truth-O-Meter stories. The list of corrections and updates consists only of fact checks. Corrections or updates of explainer articles, promise ratings and flip-flop ratings (etc.) do not end up on PolitiFact's page of corrections and updates.

What you'll find under "c" at PolitiFact.com



Afters


When I (Bryan) designed the Zebra Fact Check website, I put the "Corrections" link on the main menu.



It's not all about criticizing PolitiFact. It's also about showing better and more transparent ways to do fact-checking.

This isn't exactly rocket science. Anybody can figure out that putting an item on the main menu makes it easy to find.

There is reason to suspect that PolitiFact is less than gung-ho about publicizing its corrections and updates.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

More Deceptive "Principles" from PolitiFact

PolitiFact supposedly has a "burden of proof" that it uses to help judge Political claims. If a politician makes a claim and supporting evidence doesn't turn up, PolitiFact considers the claim false.

PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman expounded on the "burden of proof" principle on May 15, 2019 while addressing a gathering at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia:
If you say something, if you make a factual claim, online, on television, in the newspaper, you should be able to support it with evidence. And if you cannot or will not support that claim with evidence we say you're guilty.

We'll, we'll rate that claim negatively. Right? Especially if you're a person in power. You make a claim about the economy, or health, or development, you should make the claim with the information in your back pocket and say "Here. Here's why it's true." And if you can't, well, you probably shouldn't be making the claim.
As with its other supposed principles, PolitiFact applies "burden of proof" inconsistently. PolitiFact often telegraphs its inconsistency by publishing a 'Splainer or "In Context" article like this May 24, 2019 item:


PolitiFact refrains from putting Milano's statement on its cheesy "Truth-O-Meter" because PolitiFact could not figure out if her statement was true.

Now doesn't that sound exactly like a potential application of the "burden of proof" criterion Sharockman discussed?

Why isn't Milano "guilty"?

In this case PolitiFact found evidence Milano was wrong about what the bill said. But the objective and neutral fact-checkers still could not bring themselves to rate Milano's claim negatively.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
Our conclusion

Milano and others are claiming that a new abortion law in Georgia states that women will be subject to prosecution. It actually doesn’t say that, but that doesn’t mean the opposite — that women can’t be prosecuted for an abortion — is true, either. We’ll have to wait and see how prosecutors and courts interpret the laws before we know which claim is accurate. 
What's so hard about applying principles consistently? If somebody says the bill states something and "It actually doesn't say that" then the claim is false. Right? It's not even a burden of proof issue.

And if somebody says the bill will not allow women to be prosecuted, and PolitiFact wants to use its "burden of proof" criterion to fallaciously reach the conclusion that the statement was false, then go right ahead.

Spare us the lilly-livered inconsistency.

Friday, May 17, 2019

PolitiFact gives "policy trajectory" a "False" rating

Earlier this week PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman said PolitiFact does not rate opinions or predictions.

Also this week, PolitiFact Health Check, the PolitiFact partnership with Kaiser Health News, apparently contradicted Sharockman's claim.

Behold:


If it looks like PolitiFact is fact-checking a prediction, that's because PolitiFact is fact-checking a prediction.

More than one of PolitiFact's pool of four experts apparently saw it exactly that way (bold emphasis added):
But, Adler said, the structure of Trump’s claim — promising what his administration "will" do, rather than commenting on what it has done — leaves open the possibility of taking other steps to keep preexisting condition protections in place.

That’s true, other experts acknowledged. So far, the White House has postponed a legislative push until after the 2020 election — leaving a vacuum if the courts do wipe out the health law.
History shows that PolitiFact will not allow mere expert opinion to stand in the way of the hoped-for narrative. When experts offer opinions that do not fit comfortably with PolitiFact's conclusion, PolitiFact ignores them.

Hilariously, PolitiFact's conclusion uses language strongly suggesting an awareness that it is rating a prediction:
Our ruling

Trump said his administration will "always protect patients with preexisting conditions."

The White House’s policy trajectory does exactly the opposite.
What is "policy trajectory" if it is not a projection of what will happen tomorrow based on Trump administration policy today?

PolitiFact Health Check is not fact-checking Trump. It is rating a pledged policy position. PolitiFact could potentially address such cases with an expansion of its ratings of executive promises ("Trump-O-Meter" etc.).

But this so-called "fact check" makes Sharockman a liar if it isn't corrected somehow.

Monday, May 6, 2019

PolitiFact unfairly harms Joe Biden

On May 6, 2019, PolitiFact fact-checked a claim from Democratic Party presidential hopeful (and frontrunner) Joe Biden.

Biden said he was "always" labeled as one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.

PolitiFact rated Biden's claim "False." Perhaps the rating is fair. But PolitiFact's would-be paraphrase of Biden's claim, below, treats Biden unfairly.


We think there's room for one to count as a "staunch liberal" without always counting as a one of the most liberal.

PolitiFact, for purposes of its headline, changed Biden's claim from one to the other. In terms of its messaging, PolitiFact offers the opinion that Biden does not count as a staunch liberal.

We think fact checks should stick to the facts and not make headlines out of their opinions. PolitiFact's opinion, trumpeted above its fact check, unfairly harmed Biden.


Note: We have always said that PolitiFact's problems go beyond left-leaning bias. PolitiFact represents fact-checking done poorly. The bad fact-checking unfairly harms right and left, with the right getting the worst of it.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Prescient Sen. Warren, or Gullible PolitiFact?

PolitiFact claims it is "True" Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren saw the financial crisis of 2008 coming.


After announcing in the deck that it was true Warren saw the financial crisis coming, PolitiFact did what it does on occasion: It gave us a fact check that offered hardly any evidence in support of its conclusion.

Having written about this some on Twitter and Facebook already, I can tell our readers that some liberals aren't going to want to admit that Warren claimed she saw a particular crisis coming. But the crisis she supposedly foresaw wasn't merely a crisis for some number of subprime borrowers facing foreclosure. It wasn't just a crisis of predatory lenders preying on people.

It was the crisis that saw many banks failing, lenders not lending and millions losing their jobs.


PolitiFact left no doubt it understood Warren was saying she foresaw that particular crisis, leading with the following:
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned about the financial crisis of the 2000s before it happened, she claimed during a CNN town hall where she pitched herself as the best option for president in the 2020 election.
PolitiFact provided no reasonable evidence to show Warren saw that crisis coming. But it still somehow reached the conclusion it was true Warren saw the 2008 financial crisis coming.

We'll review the evidence PolitiFact quoted, the evidence PolitiFact linked and finally look at evidence PolitiFact did not bother to mention.

Sifting the Would-be Evidence 

We start with PolitiFact's presentation of Warren's claim (bold emphasis added):
Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor, told an audience of college students that her whole life’s work has been "about what's happening to working families.

"And starting in the early 2000s, the crisis was coming. I was waving my arms, ringing the bell, doing everything I could. I said families are getting cheated all over this country," Warren said April 22 in Manchester, N.H. "It started when the mortgage companies targeted communities of color. They targeted seniors. They targeted Latinos. They came in and sold the worst possible mortgages and stripped wealth out of those communities, and then took those products across the nation. I went everywhere I could. I talked about it to anyone who would listen, a crisis is coming."

But nobody wanted to listen, Warren said, "so the crisis hit in 2007, 2008, and just took us down."
Warren said she saw a crisis coming. It was the one that hit in 2007, 2008 and "just took us down." She supposedly saw that coming.

The next paragraph from PolitiFact constitutes a non-sequitur (logical fallacy) that characterizes the whole of the fact check:
We confirmed that Warren did raise the alarm about the looming housing and financial crisis. She spoke about debt, financial lending practices and other factors affecting families and the economy years before the financial crisis peaked in 2008.
Does talking about debt, lending practices and other factors affecting the economy and families mean that one has raised the alarm about a looming financial crisis? We say it doesn't unless one says something specific about a looming financial crisis that suitably matches the one we had in 2008.


This cupboard is bare.

We'll hunt through every quotation PolitiFact used and survey every article PolitiFact linked in support of Warren. We cannot quote these sources exhaustively because of copyright issues. But we'll give our readers far more than PolitiFact gave its readers.

PolitiFact:
Warren’s presidential campaign cited several blog posts and comments to media outlets in 2005 and 2006, and Warren’s 2003 book, "The Two-Income Trap," co-authored with her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, as examples of Warren warning about subprime lending and an imminent housing crisis.
PolitiFact does not quote from the listed blog posts (we'll get to those later). Instead PolitiFact leads its presentation of evidence with a quotation from the book it mentions in the same paragraph:
"In the overwhelming majority of cases, subprime lenders prey on families that already own their own homes, rather than expanding access to new homeowners. Fully 80 percent of subprime mortgages involve refinancing loans for families that already own their homes," Warren said in the book. "For these families, subprime lending does nothing more than increase the family's housing costs, taking resources away from other investments and increasing the chances that the family will lose its home if anything goes wrong."
There is no warning of any crisis in that paragraph. There's a warning about borrowing money from the more expensive subprime market. But that warning makes sense regardless of the possibility of an impending financial crisis.

At the risk of understatement, we find PolitiFact's Exhibit A in support of Warren's claim underwhelming.

For Exhibit B, PolitiFact trotted forth part of a 2004 PBS interview:
"I think what the landscape shows is the middle class is under assault in a way that has not happened before in our history," Warren said. "Stagnant wages, rising costs, wildly rising debt. It's in everyone's interest to turn that back around."
Again, there is no warning of any crisis resembling the 2008 financial crisis. Instead, Warren bemoans the fact that the middle class is supposedly under assault. She mentions wages, costs and debt but doesn't tie them together into any type of specific threat.

 PolitiFact cited The New York Times as its Exhibit C:
Professor Warren of Harvard believes that disaster lurks as homeowners borrow against their homes to forestall bankruptcy. When the stock market tumbled five years ago, people in trouble could sell stocks to stay afloat, she said. But home equity doesn't work the same way. As she put it, "You can't sell a part of your home like you could a stock in the stock market bubble."
Like the two preceding exhibits, Exhibit C does not offer any warning of a crisis, unless we count the personal crisis faced by homeowners facing foreclosure. That is the subject of the article and the group facing lurking disaster. The article's kicker quote--from Warren--helps cinch the case.

PolitiFact's Exhibit D consists of comments from a representative of the conservative Housing Center at the American Enterprise Institute.

How did co-director Ed Pinto support Warren's claim that she saw the financial crisis coming?

PolitiFact:
Warren was "substantially correct" in her assessment that home prices were going up rapidly relative to incomes (particularly for households with a one wage earner), said Ed Pinto, co-director of the Housing Center at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
If Warren was right that home prices were going up rapidly compared to incomes then that means there was an impending crisis? One that matches the financial crisis of 2008?

Please, where is the logic (and wouldn't we love to see the interview questions PolitiFact posed to the experts it cited!)?

With its Exhibit E, PolitiFact teases us with a subheader designed to foster (false) hope: "Consumer advocate groups credit Warren for alerting about the crisis"

Now we're getting somewhere?

PolitiFact:
"I remember (Warren) talking about credit card abuses and how they were harming families," [Deborah] Goldstein said. "People were using credit to manage basic daily expenses."

Goldstein said that her group, also concerned about the imminent financial crisis, in the early 2000s communicated with Warren on what could be done about it.
Summing up, we have a secondary source--an interest group that agrees with Warren--saying it was concerned about an imminent financial crisis and "communicated with Warren on what could be done about it."

PolitiFact offers nothing from the Center for Responsible Lending that supports its subheader.

Exhibit F gives us yet another empty endorsement of Warren:
"I'd give then-professor Warren the credit for banging the drum and ringing the bell early on unfair financial practices," said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the Federal Consumer Program at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Warren was the "No. 1 go-to academic expert" in the mid-to-late '90s and 2000s in the debate over changes to the bankruptcy code, he said.
Credit where it's due: If "banging the drum and ringing the bell early on unfair financial practices" was the same as "banging the drum and ringing the bell early on the 2008 financial crisis" then we'd have something. Hearsay, perhaps, lacking documented evidence in support, but at least hearsay would be something.

Exhibits A-F add up to nothing.

PolitiFact goes on to list some of Warren's accomplishments, as though its list somehow contributes to the case that Warren warned about the 2008 financial crisis (we don't see it).


Quoting the unquoted Warren

PolitiFact used a number of hotlinks, presenting them as though they support Warren's claim but without quoting from them (and most often not even paraphrasing or summarizing them).

We'll go through them in the order PolitiFact used them.

Talking Points Memo: "Is Housing More Affordable?"

Sen. Warren wrote a short blog post on Dec. 12, 2005 criticizing an article on home mortgages by David Leonhardt. Warren appeared to dispute Leonhardt's too-rosy picture of housing affordability.

We don't see anything reasonably taken as a warning about a future national financial crisis. It's hard to even pick out a quotation carrying a hint of that suggestion (please read it for yourself, link above).
(B)y picking the reference point as the early 1980s rather than the 1970s or the late 1980s, the NYT is benchmarking off the worst housing market in the second half of the 20th Century. Because inflation was out of control and mortgage rates were stratospheric, home buying was curtailed and housing markets suffered. Is that what we want to hold up as the model for comparison?
We find Warren's presentation well short of apocalyptic.

Talking Points Memo: "Middle Matters"

The next link, from May 26, 2005, leads to an even shorter four paragraph blog entry. Warren warns about pressure on the middle class:
The middle class is being carved up as the main dish in a corporate feast.  Strugging with flat incomes and rising costs for housing, health care, transportation, child care and taxes (yes, taxes), these folks are under a lot of financial strain.  And big corporate interests, led by the consumer finance industry, are devouring families and spitting out the bones.
Warning that the middle class may not always be with us thanks to a smorgasbord of costs serves as a weak foreshadowing of an impending financial crisis. Indeed, that crisis threatened some of the entities Warren blamed for pressuring the middle class.

Talking Points Memo: "Is Housing More Affordable?"

The third blog post PolitiFact linked was the same as the first.

PolitiFact's sidebar source list links three blog posts from Talking Points Memo but the text of the fact check contains three hotlinks referring to "several blog posts."

We'll take this space to note that the titles Warren chose for her blog posts seem pretty tame if she's going all out to warn people about an impending financial crisis ("I went everywhere I could. I talked about it to anyone who would listen, a crisis is coming.")

Talking Points Memo: "Foreclosures Up, Mortgage Brokers Keep on Selling"

The fourth link (third blog post), from April 21, 2006, did contain a warning. It noted that home foreclosures were up and suggested the housing bubble nationally was perhaps close to popping:
So why aren’t the mortgage lenders cutting back now? The problem, says my friend, is that no single bank or investment house owns those mortgages any more. They have passed them along to huge securitized pools, held in diverse ownership. That means a lot less oversight to be sure the big picture on lending makes any sense. And besides, the Army keeps on offering high returns, at least in the short run.

Nationally foreclosures are up 7% this quarter. That’s well behind Boston’s big numbers, but Boston was a leader during the boom. Will it now lead in the bust?
Note: Warren used "Army" in her post to describe the abundance of mortgage sellers.

Housing bubbles that burst do not routinely lead to the financial crisis of 2008 (or similar ones). As for the lending market making sense, it likely would have made more sense in the early 2000s if Republicans and Democrats alike had resisted the temptation to interfere in those markets by pushing and incentivizing lax lending standards. Government regulation was one of the problems leading to the crisis.

Note to Sen. Warren: If you're trying your best to warn people about an impending crisis, try emphasizing that idea in the titles you choose for your articles warning about the impending crisis, like "Impending Crisis Looms" or something like that. The technique makes it look like it's an idea you're trying to emphasize.


Judgment on PolitiFact

PolitiFact used quotations from Warren that did not support her claim to justify calling her claim "True." We think that speaks to PolitiFact's incompetence and secondarily to PolitiFact's leftward tilt.


Judgment on Sen. Warren

Thanks to a commenter at PolitiFact's Facebook page, we found stronger evidence supporting Warren's claim than PolitiFact was able to find. The commenter recalled seeing Warren on PBS sounding some kind of warning. When we found a search result from before 2008 we reviewed the text of an interview with Warren. The last line from Warren was exactly the type of evidence needed to find some truth in her claim:
But they don't see an economic threat to the banks from these massive bankruptcies?

Right now, they think that everyone can keep feeding and that there are still plenty of families to gobble up before they all head over the cliff, financially. But I have to tell you, the numbers are worrisome.
Based on this answer alone, we think Warren could reasonably receive a "Half True" rating. She described a risk of mass foreclosures that would threaten banks. That's short of describing the extent of the 2008 financial crisis, but at least she described one of the basic elements that helped lead to that crisis.

On the other hand, we saw little in the historical record to justify Warren's claim that she vigorously tried to broadcast a warning about an impending national financial crisis.

Perhaps Warren made other statements that would reasonably support her claim. But PolitiFact's fact check was our focus.  It was mostly an accident that we did a better job than PolitiFact at finding evidence supporting Warren.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Great Moments in PolitiFact History I

PolitiFact published an impeachment PolitiSplainer on April 26, 2019 and pushed it on Twitter and Facebook.

PolitiFact emphasized that the last time a president was impeached was 20 years ago. The featured image? President Nixon.



Was Nixon president 20 years ago?

Was Nixon impeached?

Nice work, PolitiFact. That ought to help inflate the number of people who mistakenly believe that Nixon was impeached. And it keeps a Clinton from having their picture appear next to deck material announcing that it was 20 years since a president was last impeached.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Bernie Sanders + PolitiFact + Equivocation = "True"

When PolitiFact plucks a truth from a bed of untruth (or vice-versa) we call it "Tweezers" and tag the example with the "tweezers or tongs" tag.

But every once in a while PolitiFact goes beyond tweezing to pretend that the tweezed item and the bed of untruth were both true.

And that's the case with a PolitiFact Vermont fact check of Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

It's true, as Sanders said, that people in jail in Vermont may vote. Except perhaps those in jail convicted of voter fraud or other crimes that may run afoul of Vermont's constitutional stipulation that voters must maintain "quiet and peaceable behavior."

The problem occurs in the middle of Sanders' claim. Vermont's original 1793 Constitution (like its 1777 Constitution) limits voting to men above a certain age. So it's just not true that it says "everybody can vote."

PolitiFact might have solved the problem in the fact check header by shortening the quotation with an ellipsis. Like this: "In my own state of Vermont ... people in jail can vote." That statement pretty much counts as true if we assume that everyone in jail is of quiet and peaceable behavior by Vermont's definition.

Unfortunately, the text of PolitiFact Vermont's fact check reinforces the false middle of Sanders' claim instead of either explicitly excluding it or providing accurate context. The fact check does not mention that Vermont's early constitution did not allow women to vote. Nor does it let on that men had to attain a certain age to vote.

Given those omissions, we count it a major victory that PolitiFact noted the stipulation that voters must be of "quiet and peaceable behavior"--not that the potential exceptions affected PolitiFact's rating of Sanders' claim:
Our ruling

Sanders said: "In my own state of Vermont, from the very first days of our state’s history, what our Constitution says is that everybody can vote. That is true. So people in jail can vote."

It’s true that Vermont felons can vote from prison today, and we can’t find anything to suggest that hasn’t always been the case in the state. Though it seems quite possible that the efforts being made today to allow them to cast ballots hasn’t always been made.

The Vermont Constitution requires people to be of "quiet and peaceable behavior," but otherwise places no restrictions on who can vote. And Sanders said prisoners "can" vote, not that they always have voted.

We rate this claim True.
 Though PolitiFact claims Vermont's constitution places no restrictions on who can vote (other than "quiet and peaceable behavior"), the fact is that Vermont places a number of restrictions on who can vote:
§ 42. [VOTER'S QUALIFICATIONS AND OATH]

Every person of the full age of eighteen years who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and will take the following oath or affirmation, shall be entitled to all the privileges of a voter of this state:

You solemnly swear (or affirm) that whenever you give your vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the State of Vermont, you will do it so as in your conscience you shall judge will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person.

Every person who will attain the full age of eighteen years by the date of the general election who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and will take the oath or affirmation set forth in this section, shall be entitled to vote in the primary election.
PolitiFact's fact check fairly overflows with misinformation and ends up calling the false parts of Sanders' statement true.

Is this why we have fact checkers or what?

Monday, April 15, 2019

PolitiFact Bias fails to win a Pulitzer Prize for its Eighth Straight Year

Sad news: PolitiFact Bias failed to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2019. That makes eight years in a row PolitiFact Bias has failed to win a Pulitzer.

But there's an upside.

Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact has failed to win a Pulitzer for 10 straight years, beating our streak by two years.

We track these numbers, by the way, because PolitiFact tries to use its Pulitzer Prize from 2009 as a type of mark of excellence endorsing the quality of its fact-checking.

We call that a crock. We've documented that Pulitzer juries do not fact check entries submitted for Pulitzer Prize consideration. And PolitiFact's set of entries in 2009 included its preposterous ruling that it was "Mostly True" Barack Obama's uncle helped liberate Auschwitz.

We created this video a few years ago to commemorate PolitiFact's long-running failure to repeat its Pulitzer Prize success from 2009.

We still think it's funny. It's funnier every year, in fact.