Thursday, February 8, 2024

The "Pants on Fire" bias study updated through 2023

 We have updated our "Pants on Fire" bias study with data from 2023.

What is it? We use a spreadsheet to track all "False" and "Pants on Fire" ratings given to partisan Republicans or Democrats whether candidate, officeholder or appointed administration official plus party officials or organizations. We then calculate the percentage of false ("False" plus "Pants on Fire") ratings given the "Pants on Fire" rating.

Why do we do it? Because PolitiFact has never offered an objective means of distinguishing its "False" rating from its "Pants on Fire" rating, we infer that the difference is either substantially or wholly subjective. Assuming the substantial subjectivity of the ratings, we expect that differences in the percentages will help identify PolitiFact's partisan bias, if any.

Here's the updated chart:


What have we learned so far?

We've learned that national PolitiFact after 2007 shows a consistent bias for Democrats/against Republicans. That trend shows poorly on the graph above because this graph includes ratings from PolitiFact's various state operations. Before PolitiFact changed its website making it far less clear which franchise was responsible for what, we kept track of each part of the organization separately. The years from 2010 through 2015 show a moderation of bias thanks to state operations that sometimes were legitimately tough on Democrats. PolitiFact Wisconsin was notably tough on Democrats during that period, for example.

By looking at the total number of various ratings given to the political parties, we've also noted that Republicans (after 2007) receive far more of PolitiFact's bottom two ratings. That effect may stem from Republicans lying more or simply because of bias in story selection and ratings. We've documented enough of the latter two factors to reasonably prefer the second option. That's where the evidence leads.

If, as the available evidence suggests, PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" rating has no objective basis, "Republicans lie more" carries no objective explanatory value respecting the percentages on our graph.

We've also learned that harsh ratings for both parties are on the decline, in terms of raw numbers. The most obvious explanation for that trend stems from PolitiFact's social media partnerships. If PolitiFact fact checks a politician, revenue consists of donations, grants and ad revenue. But if PolitiFact fact checks something for its social media partners, there's a payday for that. PolitiFact discloses that more than 5 percent of its revenue comes from the social media company Meta. The Chinese social media company TikTok likewise accounts for over 5 percent of PolitiFact's revenue.  

Why doesn't PolitiFact offer more transparency than that regarding its income? Good question, but we don't have an answer free of conjecture.

As for our study of PolitiFact's numbers in 2023, the Republican average fell well below its historic norm, establishing an all-time low for the GOP. PolitiFact's ratings of Democrats pulled their historic average down for the eighth straight year.

A potential weird Trump effect?

The percentages for Republicans haven't really changed much over the years, defying the existence of any Trump effect in terms of increasing Republican dishonesty (in PolitiFact's data, anyway). But the percentages for Democrats have declined noticeably since around 2016 as Trump ascended politically.

Could Trump help explain an increase in Democratic Party honesty?

More likely those changes happen because the makeup of PolitiFact's franchises has shifted over time. State franchises no longer take the edge off the pro-Democrat bias of national PolitiFact. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

PolitiFact Wisconsin, Glenn Grothman and uncharitable interpretation

 The principle of charitable interpretation is pretty simple. It consists of offering a claim the interpretation that best favors the speaker or writer without undue acrobatics.

Mainstream media fact checkers, when not reviewing the claims of Democrats, often experience difficulty with the concept. And that brings us to PolitiFact Wisconsin and Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman.





Grothman's statement offers two readily apparent interpretations. He may think the United States Constitution does not afford birthright citizenship on persons in the country illegally. Or, he may think that the birthright citizenship the Constitution affords to illegal residences counts as a bad policy due for a change.

PolitiFact opted for the first interpretation.

Why did PolitiFact opt for the first interpretation instead of the second one? That's the part that's of interest to those of us who want to see fact checkers do a better job of fact-checking. We looked for PolitiFact to give reasons to prefer one interpretation over the other but this was the best we could find:

Grothman didn’t respond to our inquiry seeking clarification and backup for the claim, which is known as "birthright citizenship." But his statement aligns with that of some other conservatives, who argue birthright citizenship does not apply to children of people living in the country illegally. 

PolitiFact later points out that some other conservatives propose changing the Constitution to disallow birthright citizenship for illegals, but fails to note that Grothman's ambiguous statement aligns with both positions. It depends on whether Grothman used "wrongly" to mean "unconstitutionally" instead of it representing a moral wrong even if in accord with the meaning of the Constitution.

A fact checker ought to iron out that question before proceeding with the fact check. PolitiFact didn't do that. Instead, PolitiFact asked Grothman's office what he meant, received no reply and took it on themselves to supply Grothman's meaning without apparently considering one of the two main alternatives. 

PolitiFact's fact check thus counts as journalistic malpractice.

Double Helping of Afters

PolitiFact invented the context of Grothman's speech (bold emphasis added):

During his speech Dec. 1, 2023, Grothman expressed contempt for ways foreign nationals and their children are illegally getting into and living in America.

When listing legal ways migrants can become U.S. citizens, Grothman pivoted and said citizenship is incorrectly granted to their children born in America.

Check the audio. Grothman did not list ways migrants can become U.S. citizens (3:25 transcript ours).

"I, one more time, attended a ceremony in Milawaukee of over 250 people in one day in one city, who were sworn in to be new citizens. We are now swearing in over a million people a year that do things right. Taht are vetted, we know they're not breaking the law, that, uh, they almost always have jobs, sometimes have opened up businesses by themselves. So it's not like America is saying you can never get into America, or we're so xenophobic that we're no longer a country of immigrants. No, we have, uh, over 1 million people every year coming here are sworn in. And that's not including children who are born here to parents who are not immigrants because right now our government wrongly is saying that if you're born in this country you're automatically an American citizen."

Second Helping

Refer again to the second sentence from PolitiFact we highlighted in the "afters" section. PolitiFact said Grothman "said citizenship is incorrectly granted to their children born in America." That's before PolitiFact's paragraph about reaching out to Grothman to ask what he meant. We see in PolitiFact's choice of words that it already decided what Grothman meant. What did Grothman mean by "wrongly"? Not a moral wrong in PolitiFact's eyes. PolitiFact switches to the term "incorrectly," fitting with their interpretation that Grothman said the government applies the Constitution incorrectly.

Last Word

As for whether PolitiFact's legal experts settled the question correctly regarding the Constitution, it seems PolitiFact's work was again careless. PolitiFact said the cases setting precedent disregarded immigration status in affirming birthright citizenship. Yet the English Common Law cases on which the U.S. court relied in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark places some importance on the alien offering allegiance to the sovereign. Thus the children of enemies of the Crown were not accepted as natural born citizens regardless of their place of birth.

 PolitiFact's fact check offers no whiff of that sentiment from the decision. That aspect of the common law throws a potential spanner in the works of PolitiFact's simplistic explanation.

Here find more about the "certificate of residence" expects of Chinese migrants, which in the late 19th century lacked a clear concept of illegal immigration. The Ark case was from 1898.

PolitiFact appears to count Plyler vs. Doe as a birthright citizenship case ("The issue came up again in the Supreme Court's 1982 Plyler v. Doe case"), but we could find no evidence in support of that notion. That decision hinged on residence within the state affording the resident equal protection under the 14th amendment, regardless of citizenship:

Held: A Texas statute which withholds from local school districts any state funds for the education of children who were not "legally admitted" into the United States, and which authorizes local school districts to deny enrollment to such children, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Example Umpteen Showing How PolitiFact Goes Easier on Democrats

We only wish we had the time and money needed to document as much as 10 percent of PolitiFact's flawed and biased work.

We've documented a number of times PolitiFact's penchant for ignoring its central principle for grading numbers claims. PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair declared that the most important part of a numbers claim is its underlying point. But PolitiFact will ignore the underlying point at the drop of a hat if it will benefit a Democrat.

Newsom vs Haley

Newsom and "per capita" interstate migration

Democratic governor Gavin Newsom, defending himself from the charge that California is losing population while Florida gains population, said  "Per capita, more Floridians move to California than Californian's moving to Florida." PolitiFact rated the claim "Mostly True."

What's the underlying point of Newsom's claim? Does it address California's population loss compared to Florida's population gain?

No. Newsom's claim instead distracts from the issue with a pretty much meaningless statistic. Experts PolitiFact cited in the fact check underscored that fact. Note this line from PolitiFact's summary:
Experts gave varying answers about whether the margin was statistically significant, but they agreed that the slim differences make this argument technical, and not necessarily meaningful.
So, PolitiFact effectively ignored Newsom's underlying point (distracting from Sean Hannity's question) and gave him nearly full credit for telling the truth about a meaningless statistic.

Haley and ship counts as a measure of military strength

Contrast PolitiFact's treatment of Newsom to its treatment of Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley. Haley said China is building up its military, and illustrated her claim by noting China has the largest naval fleet in the world. PolitiFact said she was right with her numbers, but faulted her for her underlying point. "Half True!"


PolitiFact's summary recounts the objections of the experts it interviewed:

Numerically, she’s on target with both countries’ ship counts. But experts say that simply counting ships omits context about a country’s true military capabilities. 

Ship counts ignore overall ship size, specific warfighting capabilities, and overall geographic reach, all of which are metrics where the United States maintains an edge over China.

It's worth noting that Haley made no claim about China's navy possessing more power than the U.S. navy. So why are tonnage and military capability relevant in rating the claim she made?

They're not. But PolitiFact has its excuse for giving Haley a lowball rating compared to the favor they did Newsom. PolitiFact focuses on Haley's underlying point and gives a poor rating for a true claim. PolitiFact ignores Newsom's underlying point and gives him a favorable rating for a claim that might not even be true (check the fine print).

It's part of the baseless narrative PolitiFact weaves: Republicans lie more.

The truth? PolitiFact is biased, and proves it repeatedly with examples like these.

Friday, November 10, 2023

Facebook Perfidy

This week I have it from PolitiFact Bias co-founder Jeff D. that Facebook accepted my protest of its move unpublishing the PolitiFact Bias page on Facebook.

Facebook unpublished our page back in April of 2021.


I appealed the decision near the time it was made. Our FB page always had a disclaimer in the description distinguishing us completely from PolitiFact and stating that we criticize PolitiFact. To no avail, and for two years the appeal had no noticeable effect on the status of our Facebook page. We are aware of no legitimate complaint that we transgressed Facebook standards.

I deleted my Facebook account this past summer, largely in protest of Facebook's biased decision to squelch the criticism of its corporate fact-checking partner.

Jeff tells me he only logged into his Facebook account to delete it. He says he got an undated pop-up window announcing that PolitiFact Bias was again made visible to readers after the success of our two-year-old appeal of the decision.

That's apparently after more than two years of silencing our speech based on our imaginary violation of Facebook's community standards. I'm pretty sure I would have noticed a pop-up or email announcing the reversal if it had happened before I deleted my account.

We're not going back to Facebook.

Afters:

Readers may be interested in the work I have done at Zebra Fact Check showing that Facebook's fact-checking partners are not held to account for errors. Whether it's too much work to do that or else interferes with their efforts to control information I cannot say.

Perhaps both.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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

 What can PolitiFact do to help President Biden?

BOOM!:



"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?

Summary


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.


    Afters

    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 --

    (APPLAUSE)

    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.