Tuesday, September 26, 2023

PolitiFact aids President Biden's post hoc ergo propter hoc deception

 What can PolitiFact do to help President Biden?


"But wait," our liberal or progressive friends might object. "That's just PolitiFact reporting the facts. There's no pro-Biden bias there."

On the contrary! And it's completely obvious how PolitiFact favored Biden, particularly in comparison to parallel fact checks of Republicans (and even some other Democrats).

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

What is "post hoc ergo propter hoc"? It's a common logical fallacy that says, in effect, "After this, therefore because of this." For example, if one goes to the doctor and receives a cancer diagnosis, the cancer did not necessarily occur because of the doctor visit.

Politicians love using these types of fallacies. The flawed reasoning allows them to claim credit for pretty much anything that happened after they took office, so long as there's a recognizable correlation of events. And, of course, they're careful to emphasize the good things and downplay the bad things.

So, how did Biden play Hispanic unemployment?

Let PolitiFact explain it:

In one spot, titled "It’s Us" ("Nosotros" in its Spanish version) a narrator says Biden has helped the Latino community by lowering its unemployment rate.

"Since he has taken office, unemployment in our community has been cut in half," the narrator says in the ad, which the campaign says is part of a 16-week, $25 million advertising push. Hispanic Heritage Month began Sept. 15.

The framing is standard politics. Note when your guy took office, note something good that happened and take credit either implicitly or explicitly. In this case, the ad gives Biden explicit credit as communicated with PolitiFact's summary/paraphrase "Biden has helped the Latino community by lowering its unemployment rate." You can't get much more explicit than that in terms of simply taking credit.

So, PolitiFact reports the fallacious framing well enough, but does PolitiFact explain the fallacious reasoning involved?

PolitiFact does take a minor stab at it, almost like a footnote (bold emphasis added):

Unemployment in this community spiked at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, following national trends. The current Latino or Hispanic unemployment rate is similar to what it was in 2019 before the pandemic.

Although presidents can influence economic policies, the factors that contribute to unemployment are complex. The effects of pandemics such as COVID-19 carry more weight than whoever is in the White House. 

So, what happens when a politician tries to trick an audience with a logical booby trap (post hoc ergo propter hoc)? Well, if the politician is Joe Biden and there's an election coming up, the fact checker can offer a rating that ignores the plain deception and dock Mr. Biden a point for saying the rate was reduced by half when the reduction was a bit short of half.

Addressing the 'Crucial Message'

Non-partisan PolitiFact (to be clear, there's no such thing in the sense of lacking bias) would have docked Biden for both deceptions, ending up at "Half True" at best.

Now, how do I know that PolitiFact should take the claiming of dubious or illicit credit into account?

PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair wrote an article about it, and it was published at PolitiFact.com.
About a year ago, we realized we were ducking the underlying point of blame or credit, which was the crucial message. So we began rating those types of claims as compound statements. We not only checked whether the numbers were accurate, we checked whether economists believed an office holder's policies were much of a factor in the increase or decrease.

 Apparently the change in methodology Adair led did not lead to consistent practice. The "crucial message" in the Biden ad is the credit Biden deserves for helping the Latino community. That's explicit. Yet PolitiFact ignored the compound claim for purposes of the rating, gifting Biden with a "Mostly True" where "Half True" would have made PolitiFact appear consistent in this case.

But PolitiFact is not consistent. PolitiFact is biased. Its bias bends its principles with ease.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Married gays thrown out of restaurants? PolitiFact biased again

Quite a few conservative outlets hit the story of PolitiFact defending President Biden's gays thrown out of restaurants claim:

Newsbusters, Infowars, and Breitbart (among others) ran stories on PolitiFact's ruling. 

The Big Issue: Inconsistency

We did not find the biggest issue dealt with in those stories. PolitiFact used a totally different approach with Biden's claim than it has used in other cases, such as with respect to the legality of abortion up through the moment of birth.

Iowa Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, for example, received a "Mostly False" rating after claiming the "Women's Health Protection Act of 2022" would allow abortion "up until delivery."

PolitiFact justified the ruling by claiming that such late abortions would only be allowed in limited cases (bold emphasis added):

The bill, which passed the U.S. House but is considered unlikely to win approval in the Senate, would permit abortion up to delivery, but only in limited cases — when medical professionals determine that an abortion is necessary to save the life or the health of the mother. Such situations account for a tiny fraction of all abortions, federal data shows. Ignoring this qualifier is misleading. 

PolitiFact, for its part, misleadingly ignores the fact that the "health of the mother" represents an easily accessed loophole for achieving the effect of elective abortion.

We found an abortion story at FactCheck.org that emphasized the conflict over the "Mother's health" ambiguity:

The disagreement centers on what each side interprets the “health” exception to mean, Mary Ziegler, a professor of law at the University of California, Davis and the author of six books on the abortion debate and the law, told us. “Republicans view those health exceptions as sort of like a blanket permission to have an abortion whenever you want.” Democrats say “it’s an exception for life or health.”

Of course, saying "it's an exception for life or health" fails to resolve the ambiguity of the term "health." The bill in question in both fact check articles, in fact, refers to risk to the life or health of the mother. Pregnancy is inherently risky. The law the Democrats proposed draws no lines on those risks, apparently leaving it entirely to the discretion of health providers.

PolitiFact's fact check offers no parallel to the key information included in the FactCheck story.

Does the proposed abortion rights law then allow abortion up through the moment of birth? Yes, it does. PolitiFact admits as much in its summary paragraphs. But PolitiFact rules that claim "Mostly False" because the ambiguous language of the bill blurs the line between elective abortion and an abortion intended to save the life of the mother.

Of note, the article from FactCheck.org reports the majority of third trimester abortions are done because of fetal abnormality. To be sure, a fetal abnormality may represent a risk to the life of the mother. But the statistic doesn't allow us to distinguish between those cases and ones where the mother simply elected not to birth an abnormal baby.

Issue Two: Anecdotal proof?

It seems PolitiFact has never looked for examples of late-term elective abortion to stack up against Democrats' claims about the legality of elective abortion up through the moment of birth. But if PolitiFact could find examples of restaurants denying service to gays, even if unmarried, it could use those to support Biden's claim. Or something.

PolitiFact claimed it found examples supporting Biden's claim:

It’s unclear how frequently people are denied service based on their sexual orientation. PolitiFact found several news stories detailing such reports between 2014 and 2021.

Breitbart questioned it:

When it came to actually citing instances of discrimination, Politifact offered questionable anecdotes. One in Florida, for instance, centered on a transgender person being kicked out of an establishment for trying to use the women’s restroom. Another story allegedly happened in Texas close to a decade ago in 2014 while another anecdote allegedly happened in the ultra-progressive bastion of New York City in 2021. Politifact also failed to note that the New York restaurant apologized to the couple and fired the employee who reportedly kicked them out.

How do PolitiFact's "several" examples stack up?

"Several" News Stories "Detailing Such Reports" 

The NBC News story offers only one line to support the claim the gay couple was kicked out of the restaurant:
A gay New York City couple say they were harassed and asked to leave a restaurant this month because of their sexuality.

Bizarrely, the article fails to offer any reporting in support of the claim the couple was asked to leave. The story reports that an employee used "homophobic" language, land later apologized. And the employee was later fired while the gay couple was offered a meal. But the story has no description of anyone asking the couple to leave the restaurant. It just has the summarized claim from the lede. That's it. It's "He said" without the "She said."

This is the same case as the one above. The gay couple is named, and the names are the same as the NY couple in the NBC News story.

The News12 version at least contains reporting bearing on the "kicked out" part of the headline, even if the support only counts as partial:

They say although the female employee asked them to leave the restaurant, none of the other employees enforced it. 

So one employee asked them to leave, but without support from other employees (including the manager or owner?). The couple canceled their order and left on account of offense, not because the restaurant kicked them out.

 "Allegedly." Seriously. It's in the story. But that's good evidence in PolitiFact's eyes.

Also (bold emphasis added):

Dana Kozlov, with CBS 2, attempted to interview the employee identified by the students, but he said he was just a customer. Another employee told the station to turn off their cameras.

Does this count as an example supporting Biden if it was merely another customer kicking the gay couple out of the restaurant?

It should go without saying that a trans woman getting kicked out of a nightclub for using the women's restroom is not getting kicked out for being gay. Presumably PolitiFact is able to distinguish between "gay" and "trans."

The details: Two customers harassed an LGBT+ group at the bar. The bar kicked out all of the disputants, and forcibly removed those who refused to leave--with the transgender (gay, PolitiFact?) ejectees claiming they received rougher treatment when forced to leave.

This example appears legit. It features an interview with the bar owner that at least partially confirms details reported by the ejected couple.

Was the transgender woman gay?

This is the same case as above: ""Florida trans woman kicked out of nightclub for using women’s restroom," attributed to WFLA-TV. Bold emphasis added:

CAPE CORAL, Fla. (WFLA/NBC) — A transgender woman in Florida said she was kicked out of a nightclub after she used the women’s restroom, according to a report by NBC affiliate WBBH.

The stories are identical, in fact. Why include two links to the same exact story by Nathaniel Rodriguez? And why not cite the story Rodriguez cited as his source

The primary source confuses matters with its reporting (bold emphasis added):

But that fun didn’t last long. Ayers said after she used the restroom, things quickly went wrong after security told her she had used the men’s restroom.

The reporting is inconsistent with the story's headline. So it's most likely a typo or transcription error.

Perhaps anti-gay and anti-trans mean the same thing if you're a fact checker? So a 75-year-old with a walker, a fellow customer, yelled at a transgender woman. In fact-checkerese, that means the restaurant kicked out a patron for being gay(?).

Despite the April 15, 2011 date PolitiFact put on this citation, the link leads to a 2018 video report about a gay couple kicked out of their UBER ride after they shared a kiss. The link has "kicked-out-of-uber" embedded. How did PolitiFact's version get "pub" in the headline?

We found no evidence at the Internet Archive that the story's title had changed. We did find a story with a matching headline and 2011 date, but the events took place in London, England. Getting booted out of a pub in England doesn't help Biden's point much, as far as we can see.

This one's another version of a story PolitiFact already listed. See ""Video shows transgender woman being aggressively kicked out Los Angeles bar after Pride event," Again, "transgender" apparently equals "gay" at PolitiFact.

The (paywalled!) Washington Post story, as one may discern from the title, concerns a transgender woman. PolitiFact lumps the transgender woman in with gay people without evidence. Maybe they think all transgender women are gay. But even if the transgender woman was gay in this case, the ejection took place after the individual's ID did not support their restroom choice. To be fair, the story appears to reliably show that the District of Columbia restaurant may not legally adhere to that requirement:

Simply put, a person who identifies as, or presents as, a man should be permitted to use a men’s restroom, and a person who identifies as, or presents as a woman, should be permitted to use a women’s restroom. Refusing to allow individuals to use bathrooms or facilities that are congruent with their gender identity or expression is a form of discrimination under the District of Columbia Human Rights Act.

Are you a man who wants to visit the women's restaurant. Present as a woman and apparently you're in. Otherwise you're the victim of discrimination.

That's PolitiFact's third citation of a story about the Bronx couple.

If you change "Dallas Morning News" to "Dallas News," that justifies repeating an otherwise identical citation found up above. Same title, same date, same story at the same URL.

"Allegedly" is right in the headline this time. Again, the story contains no objective reporting to support that the couple was "kicked out." Likewise, no reporting sheds light that would settle the reported dispute as to whether the Burger King was open or closed.

PolitiFact's use of this citation conflates gay marriage as a ceremony with homosexual orientation. It kinda-sorta qualifies as refusing restaurant service because the couple was lesbian. But if it wasn't a wedding rehearsal dinner would their relationship have mattered?


PolitiFact lists 16 citations in support of President Biden's claim, after claiming it has "several" examples from 2014 to 2021.

Take out the duplicate items (different citations concerning the same case) and we're left with 11.

Take out the citation of an event in England (or treating UBER as a restaurant) and we're left with 10.

Take out five cases that were transgender (orientation undocumented) and we're left with five.

Discount the case where it was apparently an individual customer asking the gay couple to leave and we're left with four.

Here's what's left:

  1. The Bronx couple who were told to leave by one employee, with no enforcement of that request.
  2. The Dallas case from 2014 where the restaurant claimed the gay couple broke its rules of decorum (best example, by our reading)
  3. The California Burger King case. Was the restaurant open or closed? He said, she said.
  4. The lesbian rehearsal dinner canceled (second-best example, by our reading).
Of the four, we have one relatively clear example (No. 2), at least based on the reporting, and three that only dubiously match Biden's claim.

PolitiFact claimed it had several examples.

Have we mentioned that PolitiFact is biased?

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Magical PolitiFact fact-checking defies context, turns ambiguity into specificity

 When is a fact check not a fact check?

A fact check isn't a fact check when it takes an ambiguous claim and checks it as though it's specific.

Case in point (red X added):

So, twitterers said the Missouri attorney general has a website "where people can report trans individuals and the people that help them."

Report them for what? Being trans individuals?  As for the people that "help them," what kind of help? Starting their dead car batteries? Giving them directions when they're lost?

One can almost detect an implied narrative that Missouri's trans population is akin to Germany's Jews circa 1930.

Indeed, tweets in reply to the tweet in question suggested renaming Missouri as "Misstasi." The Stasi were East Germany's secret police.

The deck of PolitiFact's fact check gives away the bait-and-switch game:

Yes, Missouri's attorney general has a website for reporting concerns about trans health care 

That deck would count as perfect if PolitiFact was fact-checking a tweet that claimed something very much along the lines of "Missouri's attorney general has a website for reporting concerns about trans health care."

It's frankly appalling that the original tweet and the PolitiFact deck have so little in common.

We suggest that if the original tweet had matched PolitiFact's deck it would have cut reply mentions of the Stasi by 50 percent or more.

PolitiFact offers a nod or two to the truth before laboring to enhance the tweet's false implication:
Attorney General Andrew Bailey said March 23 he was launching the "Transgender Center Concerns Form," which he described as a "tip line" on his office’s website. Bailey said the form stems from his office’s investigation into a St. Louis pediatric transgender center.

It's true that's how Attorney General Bailey described the form hosted at the website. But PolitiFact's reporting deceives its readers by leaving out the remainder of the description (and keeping that content entirely out of its fact check; first paragraph bold emphasis added):

         Mar 23, 2023, 11:26 AM by AG Bailey
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - In an effort to protect children, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced today that his office has launched an online form where those who have experienced harm from gender transition interventions or witnessed troubling practices at transition clinics in Missouri can submit their concerns. This tip line stems from an investigation that Attorney General Bailey launched into a St. Louis pediatric transgender center that has been accused by a whistleblower of using experimental drugs on children, distributing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones without individualized assessment, and even giving children these life-altering drugs without parental consent.

“As Attorney General, I want Missouri to be the safest state in the nation for children. After receiving an alarming affidavit from a credible witness on child abuses allegedly occurring within a pediatric transgender clinic in St. Louis, I knew we had to take action and look into these allegations,” said Attorney General Bailey. “To that end, I have set up a tip line that parents can use to tell their stories as my office continues to investigate whether the Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital has broken the law. No stone will be left unturned during the course of this investigation.”

As the first paragraph makes clear, the form was intended to allow citizens to express concerns about harmful sex transition treatments. Just like the Stasi used to do. Just kidding.

Ignoring the tweet's scaremongering, PolitiFact riffed on Bailey's supposed deceptive expansion of the purpose of the form from reporting about one clinic to reporting about anything up to and including the names of trans persons and those who help them. This paragraph immediately follows the one we quoted from PolitiFact up above:

But the form’s wording is not limited to the previous investigation. It broadly invites any "complaint or concern about gender transition intervention," that anyone has experienced or observed in the state.

PolitiFact's trying to make it seem that Bailey is pulling a fast one, either failing to notice the description that precedes Bailey's or else making up stuff on purpose to support a favored narrative.

Remember, PolitiFact has not and will not discuss that the purpose of the website was described as being aimed at harmful transgender treatment or other (presumably related) concerns.

PolitiFact helpfully adds that "The form does not specifically ask people to report the names of transgender people or doctors administering care, but it does ask for  'as much detail as possible.'"

So, names of trans people and those who "help" them? Basically?

PolitiFact never gets around to mentioning the form's aim of allowing people to report harms from trans treatments. The liberal bloggers posing as fact checkers instead note that people could use the form to report on trans people and their providers, then rushes to judgment:

Our ruling 

A tweet said Missouri’s attorney general launched a website "where people can report trans individuals and the people who help them."

The attorney general’s office launched an online form on which people can submit complaints and concerns about "gender transition intervention." The form does not specifically ask people to report the names of transgender people or doctors administering care, but it does ask for "as much detail as possible."

When it was announced, Bailey said the form related to an investigation into complaints about a specific St. Louis pediatric transgender center. Though social media users have speculated that the submitted information could be used more broadly to identify trans people and their providers, it remains unclear if that will happen. 

The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate this claim Mostly True. 

PolitiFact concludes it's "Mostly True" that the Missouri AG set up a website to report trans people and those who help them.

Those curious about what kinds of complaints the AG received about the "specific St. Louis pediatric transgender center" PolitiFact declined to name are out of luck. PolitiFact saw fit to leave that kind of stuff out.

Here are the first four allegations from a longer list:

  • “On several occasions, the doctors have continued prescribing medical transition even when a parent stated that they were revoking consent.”
  • “The Center does not require children to continue with mental health care after they prescribe cross-sex hormones or puberty blockers and even continues those medications when the patients directly report worsening mental health after initiating those medications“
  • “I have seen puberty blockers worsen the mental health outcomes of children. Children who have not contemplated suicide before being put on puberty blockers have attempted suicide after.”
  • “It is my belief that the Center does not track these outcomes because they do not want to have to report them to new patients and because they do not want to discontinue cross-sex hormone prescriptions. The Center never discontinues cross-sex hormones, no matter the outcome.”
  • Why doesn't PolitiFact share so much as a hint of all that? If it's just unintentionally bad journalism, then it's bad journalism parsimoniously explained by left-leaning bias. If the fact check was deliberately slanted then left-leaning bias would also figure in.

    PolitiFact is left-biased. Oft-repeated examples such as this confirm it.


    On June 11, 2023 we reached out via Twitter to the fact check's author, Grace Abels, to point out one of the holes in the story. Our outreach met with PolitiFact's typical response: Silence, with no apparent attempt to remedy the story's shortcomings.

    We eagerly look forward to updating this article with new information, should PolitiFact break its silence.

    After Afters

    Abels' Twitter profile offers "LGBTQ+ Reporter" as her job description, which is backed by PolitiFact's description on its website: "(A) staff writer focused on LGBTQ issues."

    Abels' work history, albeit brief, includes glowing reviews of LGBT+ activists and activism. Therefore she's a neutral and objective journalist. Just in case that wasn't already obvious.

    Friday, June 9, 2023

    PolitiFact vs the strawman version of Nikki Haley's claim about teen girls and suicide

     Strawmen are always in season at PolitiFact, particularly when a Republican speaks.

    Broken quotations always count as a red flag worth investigating. PolitiFact's is especially worth investigating because the key part of the blurb doesn't come from Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley: "is a reason why."

    So, did Haley say it was a reason?

    Here's the relevant part of CNN's transcript of its Haley town hall (bold highlights added)

    (APPLAUSE) TAPPER: So, woke, the word woke used to be used by progressives to talk about an awareness of inequities and historical inequities, but obviously it means something else to conservatives criticizing it. What does it mean to you? How do you define woke?

    HALEY: There's a lot of things. I mean, you want to start with biological boys playing in girl sports. That's one thing. The fact that we have gender pronoun classes in the military now, I mean, all of these things that are pushing what a small minority want on the majority of Americans, it's too much. It's too much. I mean, the idea that we have biological boys playing in girls' sports, it is the women's issue of our time. My daughter ran track in high school. I don't even know how I would have that conversation with her. How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker rooms? And then we wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year. We should be growing strong girls, confident girls.

    Then you go and you talk about building a strong military. How are you going to build the morale in a strong military when you're doing gender pronoun classes? Why is it that --


    HALEY: Why is it that you have, you know, kids undergoing critical race theory where if a little girl's in kindergarten if she's -- goes into kindergarten if she's white, you're telling her she's bad. If she's brown or black, you're telling her she's never going to be good enough and she's always going to be a victim. All of these things have gone to where they are pushing, you know, and transgender, the whole issue of the transgender, it's not that people don't think in America you should live the way you want to live. I want everybody to live the way they want to live, but stop pushing your views on everybody else. That's the problem, is there starting to push everything on the rest of us. 

    Considering the context, it makes sense to conclude Haley says pushing woke ideology on kids has contributed to the higher suicide rate and that she used biological boys in girls' locker rooms as an example of forcing woke ideology in school.

    PolitiFact, however, focuses on its distortion of Haley's argument. Even though Haley did not say that having biological boys with the girls in the girls' locker room caused a higher suicide rate, PolitiFact insists that is what Haley claimed.

    PolitiFact asked Haley's campaign to comment, apparently sending a "Have you stopped beating your wife" inquiry to the campaign:

    When we asked Haley’s campaign spokesperson to cite research that supported her claim, he sent a statement by Haley that did not answer the question: "We have to grow strong girls, and that is being threatened right now. Whether it’s biological boys going into girls’ locker rooms or playing in girls’ sports, women are being told their voices don’t matter. If you think this kind of aggressive bullying isn’t part of the problem, you're not paying attention."

    Note that the campaign's response accords well with our interpretation of Haley's remarks.

    But PolitiFact sets its trap, asking for evidence specific to boys in the girls bathroom, with the plan in mind to invoke its fallacious "burden of proof" criterion and find Haley's supposed claim "False."

    Teen girls today are experiencing rising rates of suicidal ideation. However, there is no research that suggests this is being caused by the presence of trans athletes in locker rooms.

    Research points to other causes, including feelings of isolation or loneliness, feeling like a burden on others, difficulty navigating parental and family relationships and pressures from constant exposure to social media.

    Pushing woke ideology on teen girls could not possibly contribute to feeling of isolation or loneliness, feeling like a burden on others, difficulty navigating parental and family relationships and pressures from constant exposure to social media. Right?

    Fact checkers have no business putting their own spin on the words of others. Or that would be the case if the modern fact checker weren't in the business of crafting narratives instead of telling the truth.

    PolitiFact inventinged a claim for Haley, committing a straw man fallacy, then smacked down its straw man based on the fallacy of appeal to silence. Those two fallacies in PolitiFact's hands add up to a "False" rating for Haley.


    Thursday, June 8, 2023

    Have politicians discovered asbestos pants? (Update/Correction)

    We think PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" rating system offers ample evidence of PolitiFact's bias.


    1) It's an admittedly subjective rating system.

    2) Rating patterns differ widely at different franchises.

    3) Fundamentally similar fact checks may conclude with very different ratings.

    And to those three reasons we add a fourth, newly ascendant in the data we collect:

    4) "Pants on Fire" seems to be going extinct/extinguished.

    Have politicians discovered asbestos pants?

    Through June 8, 2023, the total number of "Pants on Fire" ratings given to politicians totals five. Five.

    Correction 6/22/2023: We apparently made a careless error in transcribing the number of Pants on Fire ratings given to party politicians during the first half (or so) of 2023. The correct number was two, not five. The corrected number only strengthens our point that "Pants on Fire" numbers have fallen off a cliff. Yes, the chart is wrong as well in reporting five in 2023.

    From 2007 through 2009, PolitiFact was just starting out, which helps explain the low numbers during that period. In 2010 state franchises such as PolitiFact Texas and PolitiFact Florida started to contribute heavily to the number of ratings, including "Pants on Fire" ratings.

    The era of Bill Adair's directorship was in full flower through 2013. We see the three-year spike of GOP "Pants on Fire" ratings and a rise followed by a slow decline in Democratic Party "Pants on Fire" ratings.

    Current Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan took over from Adair, and under Holan we observe a decline in "Pants on Fire" ratings for Democrats. We see the same for Republicans, notwithstanding notable election-year spikes in 2016 and 2020.

    So far, the year 2023 stands out for its exceptionally low numbers.

    "Republicans Lie More!"

    Oh, please!

    As a catchall excuse for weird PolitiFact data, that just won't cut it. It's not good as an excuse for PolitiFact's selection bias problem. It doesn't explain PolitiFact's biased application of "Pants on Fire" ratings, and it cannot ever explain lower numbers of "Pants on Fire" ratings over time to both political parties.

    So, what's the explanation?

    The simplest explanation boils down to money. PolitiFact gets paid for its role as the falsehood-sniffing dog for social media censors. The most recent page of "Pants on Fire" ratings at PolitiFact's webpage is filled with "Pants on Fire" ratings given for social media claims, with not one given to a party officeholder, candidate, appointee or the like. Not one. On the previous page there's one for Donald Trump given back in May.

    That suggests PolitiFact now takes a greater interest in its social media role than in holding politicians accountable. To be fair, however, PolitiFact can still manipulate political messaging effectively by giving poor ratings to messages Republicans are likely to share. Rating one social media claim, no matter who it's from, can justify stuffing a sock in the social media mouth that would repeat it.

    An alternative explanation? Politicians, both Democrat and Republican, are lying less.

    It will be fun to see whether fact checkers try to take credit for making politicians more truthful without any sound basis for that claim.

    Monday, January 2, 2023

    PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" bias in 2022

    Back in 2012, we started an ongoing study of PolitiFact's bias particular to its decisions on "False" versus "Pants on Fire" ratings, given that the difference counts to all appearances as "entirely subjective."

    This post updates that research with observations about 2022.

    The "Pants on Fire" Bias

    PolitiFact has never described an objective grounds for deciding between a "False" rating and a "Pants on Fire" rating for its "Truth-O-Meter." Our research approach predicts that PolitiFact's bias will drive a preference for one party over the other in making those decisions. That bias we express as the "PoF Bias number," where 1.0 shows perfect balance between the two parties. A figure below 1.0 shows PolitiFact favoring Republicans and a figure over 1.0 shows PolitiFact favoring Democrats.


    For 2022, PolitiFact scored its third-highest PoF Bias number since it started in 2007. Of note, these figures include all of PolitiFact's state franchises. Tracking PolitiFact National by itself, as we once did, shows a sharp lean to the left during the 2010-2015 period. State franchises provided the balance shown during that time. The more recent spikes in bias likely stem from a combination of new, more left-leaning franchises and fact checker zeal over President Trump.

    The cumulative PoF Bias number stands at a relatively modest 1.33 even with recent left-leaning spikes. So. over its history PolitiFact is 33 percent more likely to give a claim PolitiFact deems false a "Pants on Fire" rating for a Republican compared to a Democrat. That figure for PolitiFact National from 2007 through 2019 was 56 percent.

    That variation, by the way, supports the hypothesis that different PolitiFact fact checkers display differing trends in their fact-checking. If, for example, PolitiFact National leans more left than state franchises then increased control over those franchises by National should show increased left-leaning bias.


    We observe a fascinating trend at PolitiFact toward lower numbers of fact checks for politicians. Probably thanks to the lure of social media dollars, PolitiFact's timeline over time shows increased checking of social media claims. That's understandable, as social media reimburse fact-checking partners like PolitiFact for their work.  We noted that trend in a separate dataset including PolitiFact's fact checks of all U.S. politicians. We also see it reflected in this study focused only on "False" and "Pants on Fire" ratings of politicians, though with a notable spike during the 2020 election year.

    Why was PolitiFact able to find over 100 false claims from Democrats each year from 2010 through 2012 but unable to crack the peak of 68 in the years since? Though we've noticed PolitiFact claiming politicians have started communicating with greater care, we do not find that explanation plausible without specific supporting evidence. Selection bias likely serves as an adequate explanation. And PolitiFact's numbers show an increased reluctance to rate false statements from Democrats as "Pants on Fire."

    In 2022 PolitiFact established a new low rate from Democrats by rating only 6.06 percent of Democratic Party false claims as "Pants on Fire." That edged marks of 6.12 percent for 2018 and 6.38 percent in 2020.

    PolitiFact also gave Republicans "Pants on Fire" ratings for the lowest annual rate ever, at 21.7 percent. Of course the rate for Republicans receiving that subjective and severe rating was over three times greater than for Democrats.

    Monthly Tracking

    We experimented with creation of a monthly chart for 2022's numbers. We expected the chart to show reasonable stable trends in the numbers despite the relatively low number of ratings in 2022. Small datasets should show relatively greater variation with randomized sample sizes. PolitiFact, of course, makes no apparent attempt to randomize its dataset. Selection bias may explain the relatively stable numbers we see from the chart.

    Monday, December 19, 2022

    PolitiFact's gender pay gap shenanigans continue (2022 edition)

    PolitiFact has completed quite a few fact checks touching the gender wage gap. And a Dec. 16, 2022 item from PolitiFact Wisconsin carries on PolitiFact's rich tradition of left-leaning inconsistency.

    As we have noted here and at Zebra Fact Check, PolitiFact wanders all over the map on gender pay gap claims. Here's the central thing to remember, for those seeking consistency: The raw gender wage gap, such as the one cited by Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the claim pictured above, serves as no measure of gender (or racial) discrimination. PolitiFact Wisconsin both acknowledges that and ignores it for the sake of Baldwin's "Truth-O-Meter" rating.

    PolitiFact Wisconsin:

    As PolitiFact National, which has reviewed numerous pay-gap claims over the years, has noted: "a speaker’s choice of words can significantly affect whether their point about the gender pay gap is right or wrong." 


    ... (T)he government data isn’t based on men and women doing the same jobs. Rather, it’s an average that widens or closes by factors such as race, job type and age. Research suggests women are overrepresented in jobs that tend to pay less, for a variety of reasons.

    PolitiFact Wisconsin explains why Baldwin does not deserve a "True" rating and proceeds to award Baldwin a "True" rating.

    Review what Baldwin said. Again, from PolitiFact Wisconsin:

    "On Latina Equal Pay Day, we bring attention to the fact that Latina workers make 54 cents for every dollar earned by white, non-Hispanic men. It’s past time that Latina workers are given equal pay for equal work."

    Using the raw wage gap figure while appealing for equal pay for equal work implies that the raw wage gap represents the gap between groups doing equal work.

    That's exactly what Baldwin did.  It's flatly deceptive, but "earns" a "True" from PolitiFact.

    PolitiFact simply ignores the problem with Baldwin's implied argument, except for purposes of amplifying it. 

    It works like this: Explicitly say that the raw wage gap occurs between groups doing the same job and get a "Mostly False" (unless you're extremely lucky!) Merely imply that the raw wage gap occurs between groups, as Baldwin did, and get "True" (unless you're unlucky!).

    PolitiFact's inconsistency on the gender wage gap all by itself should dispel the notion that PolitiFact does its job in a non-partisan or objective manner.

    It's a journalistic disgrace.


    PolitiFact's fact check is marvelously horrible. The deck reads "Yes, wage gap does have big impact on Latina workers." The wage gap itself is an effect, primarily of Latina women's choices of low-paying, unskilled jobs. It's not the wage gap driving them into those jobs. It's those jobs driving the effect of a pay gap. The job choices create the impact of the wage gap, not vice-versa.

    PolitiFact repeatedly mentions that the wage gap represents the difference between what the average white man makes compared to Latina women. But it's a median figure, not an average. Past PolitiFact gender gap stories likewise tend to ignore the distinction. PolitiFact writes "The averages were based on median earnings for full- and part-time workers." We can think of no solid justification for averaging averages or averaging medians. It's the kind of math people invent to mislead others.

    Thursday, December 1, 2022

    More PedantiFact: PolitiFact vs. Kevin McCarthy

     Fact checkers supposedly don't fact check opinions.

    PolitiFact fact checks opinions. Real Clear Politics has kept a study going looking at how often a set of top fact checkers rate opinions or predictions (among other things). PolitiFact has paced the group.

    We expect Real Clear Politics will get around to adding this Nov. 30, 2022 PolitiFact fact check to the list:


    Why do we think McCarthy was expressing an opinion?

    In other words, why do we have the opinion that McCarthy was expressing an opinion?

    We're intentionally giving away the answer, of course. "I think" counts as one of the classic ways of marking one's statement as an opinion.

    Why does PolitiFact ignore such an obvious clue?

    We think it's likely PolitiFact was looking to build a narrative. By overlooking that McCarthy was expressing opinion and focusing on one part of his statement to the exclusion of another, PolitiFact was able to support that narrative under the guise of fact-checking.

    PolitiFact supports the narrative that Donald Trump counts as a racist. Facts don't matter in pursuit of that narrative.

    PolitiFact quotes McCarthy correctly, and we'll highlight the part that PolitiFact decided to omit from its fact-checking focus even though it's the only part that McCarthy stated as fact:

    "I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn't know who he was," McCarthy said.

    That drew real-time pushback from a reporter, who said, "He didn't condemn him or his ideology." McCarthy responded, "The president didn't know who he was."
    For PolitiFact, it isn't important whether Trump knew who Nick Fuentes was. It's important that Fuentes is a white nationalist, and important to link Fuentes to Trump in a way that reinforces the narrative that Trump is a racist. Toward that end, PolitiFact ignores the claim Trump did not know who Fuentes was and focuses on the supposed lack of condemnation.

    We would argue that Trump saying he did not know Fuentes counts as a condemnation, when we consider the context.

    PolitiFact argues the opposite, albeit without any real argument in support:

    A look at Trump’s statements during the week between the Nov. 22 dinner and McCarthy’s press availability Nov. 29 show that McCarthy was wrong. Specifically, Trump did not condemn Fuentes on four occasions; instead, Trump said in four statements that he did not know who Fuentes was.
    PolitiFact implicitly says that it does not count as a condemnation to profess ignorance of Fuentes' identity.

    Here's why that's wrong.

    Trump was implying that if he had known who Fuentes was, he would not be welcome at dinner. Hardly anything could be more obvious, particularly given the context that Trump went on record condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalism.

    We can even source Trump's quotation through PolitiFact, albeit the fact checkers do an excellent job of not drawing attention to it:

    "And you had people -- and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists -- because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay?"

    So the fact checkers, though they have reason to know Trump condemned white nationalism, leave that out of a fact check focusing on whether Trump condemned white nationalism. That's context fit for suppression.

    The facts don't matter when liberal bloggers posing as unbiased fact checkers want to promote a narrative.