Friday, January 22, 2021

Why does PolitiFact claim it allows license for hyperbole?

It makes sense for a fact checker to account for figures of speech such as hyperbole. And PolitiFact plainly states in its description of its principles that it allows license for hyperbole (bold emphasis added):

In deciding which statements to check, we consider these questions:

• Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.

For us, the mystery is why PolitiFact makes this claim and then blatantly fails to honor it.

Today we add another example to the collection.

The $38 Burrito?

Turning Point USA commentator Jordan Rachel tweeted about the $15 minimum wage:


Rachel's tweet fits perfectly the form of hyperbole. She chose an extremely high price for the future burrito and took care to offer no clear sign the statement was intended to be taken literally. One would encourage literal interpretation by plainly stating something like "Increasing the minimum wage to $15 will result in $38 burritos."

PolitiFact's graphic presentation of its fact check misleadingly frames Rachel's statement as exactly the latter type of claim:



PolitiFact unfairly manipulates Rachel's claim. Her claim is an if/then statement emphasizing the truth that the $15 minimum wage increase counts as an inflationary policy.

Rachel gets no credit for that point from PolitiFact. We don't know precisely why she gets no credit for that point, but we can at least say with certainty that PolitiFact claim that it allows license for hyperbole rings false.

Hyperbole is not mere exaggeration

As a figure of speech, hyperbole is not the same thing as mere exaggeration. If it was, then fact checkers shouldn't need to take it into account. They could simply show in factual terms how far off the exaggeration fell from the truth and leave it at that.

Hyperbole counts as common figure of speech. Perhaps the modern journalist simply understands it poorly. In the interest of public education, we recommend to our readers the account of hyperbole at YourDictionary.com:

Hyperbole, from a Greek word meaning “excess,” is a figure of speech that uses extreme exaggeration to make a point or show emphasis. It is the opposite of understatement.

You can find examples of hyperbole in literature and everyday speech. You wouldn’t want to use it in nonfiction works, like reports or research papers, but it’s perfect for creative writing and communication, especially when you want to add color to a character or humor to a story.

We encourage readers to click the link and read through it all.

No Sign PolitiFact Considered the Possibility of Hyperbole

As for the fact checkers at PolitiFact, we see no sign at all they considered interpreting Rachel's statement as hyperbole.

The summary section of the fact check fairly displays the rush to judgment:

Our ruling

Rachel said a $15-an-hour minimum wage would raise the price of a Taco Bell burrito to $38.

This claim is countered by available evidence, including the current burrito prices at Taco Bell locations in cities and counties where a $15 minimum wage is in effect. Four economists characterized the claim as a far-off estimate at odds with economic theory.

We rate Rachel’s statement False.

 Misleading and disgraceful.

We expect a conscientious fact-checking organization to make a plausible attempt to achieve consistency between policy and practice. If the policy is A and the practice is B, change one of them to match the other.

In claiming to allow license for hyperbole and failing to allow license for hyperbole, PolitiFact deceives its readers.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

PolitiFact finds Republican's opinion "Pants on Fire" false

PolitiFact says it doesn't fact check opinions.

Republican Pennsylvania senate Majority Leader Jake Corman says he doesn't believe unproven voter fraud claims had any role in (causing) the Capitol riot.

Who is lying?

PolitiFact would have you believe it's Corman making the false claim. But Corman provided perhaps the clearest possible indication that he was giving an opinion.

"Opinion" means someone expressed what they believe, not necessarily what they proffer as established fact.

Note that PolitiFact's headline/deck makes it look like Corman made a statement of fact. But by the fourth paragraph of its fact check, PolitiFact makes an admission against interest:

"House Democrats yesterday called on state Republicans to accept some responsibility for some of the violence that we saw at the U.S. Capitol last week because of unproven voter fraud claims," Maisel said. "What role do you think that played?" 

"I don’t think it played any role," Corman responded.

"I don't think" counts as perhaps the classic introduction to a person's opinion. "In my opinion" might challenge it. 

It ought to astonish that a fact checker could claim it does not fact check opinion and then ignore such an obvious sign that a statement was offered as an opinion. Unfortunately, we cannot register surprise at this, thanks to PolitiFact's track record.

And PolitiFact does not merely make the mistake of fact-checking an opinion. It also apparently equivocates, transforming the role of election fraud claims in motivating the gathering of protesters into a role in causing the violence.

The fact checker interested in staying worthy of the name steers clear of such murky issues of cause and effect.

Hold PolitiFact's beer:

But there’s plenty of evidence that people who traveled to Washington and stormed the Capitol did so because they believed the election was rigged and unfairly stolen from President Donald Trump. He told them so repeatedly. And Corman, like many Republican officials in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, frequently helped advance Trump’s narrative.

There's plenty of evidence that people who traveled to Washington and stormed the Capitol did so because they believed the election was rigged and unfairly stolen from Mr. Trump? Will the fact checker offer evidence that the violence done in association with storming the Capitol stemmed from that motivation?

 Do not hold your breath, gentle reader.

Just before PolitiFact offers its conclusion, we get this:

And the president’s insistence that the election was stolen but could still be reversed with Congress’ help is what rioters cited when asked by reporters why they were there and what they hoped to achieve.

So PolitiFact tells us rioters said the unsupported election claims motivated their actions. And the good news is that PolitiFact provides an embedded supporting link in the paragraph.

The bad news? The link supports the highlighted text, that being "the president's insistence that the election was stolen." It offers no support for the claim the rioters used the unsupported election claims as their motivation.

And that paragraph encapsulates PolitiFact's approach to the fact check. Its proof that unsupported election fraud claims led to the Capitol riot consists of proof that GOP lawmakers made those claims PolitiFact calls unsupported.

To realistically establish a causal link, a fact checker should show that believing unsupported claims about election fraud meaningfully correlates with violent action such as was exhibited at the Capitol.

We should expect the staff at PolitiFact to know that.

PolitiFact's fact check is a disgrace to fact-checking.


Afters:

Color us surprised that this counts as the first time we have tagged a post with "Jessica Calefati." She's among PolitiFact's worst. And that's really saying something.

Monday, January 18, 2021

PolitiFact's meritless fact check about merit

Is PolitiFact entering a golden age of Joe Biden rubberstamp fact checks?

Consider this Jan 8, 2021 item from PolitiFact with bylines for Amy Sherman and Miriam Valverde:

PolitiFact cited an expert who counted 63 cases that were dismissed either on the merits or for other reasons such as lack of standing. That's an okay thing for fact checkers to do:

Marc Elias, a lawyer who has filed and defended cases on behalf of Democrats, keeps a tally on the outcome of the election cases.

"It is 63 losses by Trump and his allies," Elias told PolitiFact the morning of Jan. 8. "We treat each case separately — so if there is a federal case and a state case, we treat them as two cases. We only ever count a case one time — so if there is an appeal or remand, we do not treat that as a separate loss."

But PolitiFact ended up having a hard time distinguishing between lack of merit and lack of standing. Instead of distinguishing between the two, PolitiFact appeared to assume that a case dismissed for lack of standing also lacked merit. This type of wording was typical of the fact check:

More than 60 lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies failed because they were unable to prove their allegations. Some lawsuits were dismissed due to errors in the filings and other procedural issues.

A proper fact check of Biden's claim would look specifically at the cases dismissed on the merits, putting a number on it and then looking at whether that number exceeded 60.

That never happens in PolitiFact's fact check. Instead, PolitiFact tells us that more than 60 cases were dismissed for a variety of reasons. And then concludes on that basis that Biden was correct. The "True" rating is supposed to mean that there's no missing context.

But PolitiFact itself omits critical context. The law distinguishes between the reasoning judges use to determine lack merit and the reasoning used to determine lack of standing. When a judge rules the plaintiff lacks standing to sue, the court need not examine the merits of the case.

Glenn G. Lammi sketched the essence of the doctrine for Forbes:

A plaintiff’s lack of standing to sue is about as close to a silver-bullet defense as civil-litigation defendants have at their disposal in federal court. The doctrine is based in Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which limits federal courts to hearing only "cases and controversies." The doctrine puts the onus on a plaintiff to prove, among other factors, that she suffered an actual harm, and if she can't, the court has no jurisdiction over the case.

And when a court has no jurisdiction over a case, it need not consider the case on its merits (Wikipedia):

In the United States, the current doctrine is that a person cannot bring a suit challenging the constitutionality of a law unless they can demonstrate that they are or will "imminently" be harmed by the law. Otherwise, the court will rule that the plaintiff "lacks standing" to bring the suit, and will dismiss the case without considering the merits of the claim of unconstitutionality.

It follows that a suit dismissed for lack of standing was not dismissed as meritless, for the court had no need to decide the case on the merits.

Without counting the number of cases dismissed for reasons other than lack of merit, a fact check cannot make a determination that more than 60 cases were dismissed as meritless. Yet PolitiFact's so-called fact check does just that.

PolitiFact used 63 as the total number of relevant cases. Based on that number, if just three cases were dismissed for reasons other than merit, then Biden's claim is false. But PolitiFact decided not to put that kind of effort into its fact check.

As happens so often, PolitiFact was only willing to put enough effort into its fact check of a Democrat to find the claim true. In this case, PolitiFact appeared to assume that any dismissal indicated lack of merit.

In other words, it was another PolitiFact rubberstamp.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

PolitiFact takes Devin Nunes out of context to give "False" rating

PolitiFact says a "Half True" claim is one that is "partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."

 Also PolitiFact:

Did Rep. Nunes self-stultify when he, a Republican, communicated the notion that Republicans have no way to communicate with the demise of Parler?

PolititiFact's treatment of his claim is almost that simple, and it could have been as simple as that given PolitiFact's failure to consider the context. As a general rule of literary interpretation, the interpreter ought to look for evidence in context that might explain an apparently self-contradictory statement.

To help illustrate that point, we'll look for evidence PolitiFact followed its own published statement of principles in fact-checking Nunes' claim.

What did Nunes say?

For starters, we put together a transcript from the Fox News clip PolitiFact used as its source. Fox News is poor for preserving its videos and also poor for publishing transcripts. Our transcript may end up the best available before much time has passed. We note that regretfully.

We highlight in bold the parts of Nunes' statement that PolitiFact used in its story (punctuation may vary).

The effect of this is that there is no longer a free, and open social media company, or site, for any American to get on any longer. Because these big companies, Apple, Amazon, Google, they have just destroyed a, what was likely, Parler's likely a billion dollar company. Poof, it's gone. 

But it's more than just the financial aspect of that. Republicans have no way to communicate. If, it doesn't even matter if you're Republican or conservative. If you don't want to be regulated by left wingers, that are at Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, where you get shadowbanned, nobody gets to see you, nobody gets to see you, they get to decide what's violent or not violent. It's preposterous. 

So, I don't know where the hell the Department of Justice is at right now, or the FBI, uh, this is clearly a violation of antitrust, civil rights, RICO statutes, there should be a racketeering investigation on all the people that coordinated this attack on not only a company, but on all of those, of those, like us, like me, like you, Maria; I have three million followers on Parler. Tonight, I will no longer be able to communicate with those people. And they're Americans. 

Context, Context, Context

Is it hard at all to see Nunes point in the above? He's saying with the loss of Parler, people (including Republicans) have no social media option that isn't regulated by left wingers. That's the context for "Republicans have no way to communicate." PolitiFact follows that with "And" in its telling. We are confident our transcript is correct. Nunes followed with "If." So the idea he was trying to communicate was "Republicans have no way to communicate if (they) don't want to be regulated by left wingers."

PolitiFact's misquotation of Nunes counts as minor, but as we have noted, when such mistakes help PolitiFact in setting a misleading narrative they count as significant indicators of bias.

He added: "Republicans have no way to communicate. And it doesn't even matter if you're a Republican or conservative. If you don't want to be regulated by left-wingers that are at Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, where you get shadowbanned, nobody gets to see you."

If a fact checker has no interest in seeing the contextual clues explaining a statement, then the fact checker will more likely overlook contextual clues explaining a statement.

Nunes said "If" not "And" and his statement about it not mattering if you're a Republican or conservative was an interruption of his idea that hamstringing Parler took from Republicans the social media company not regulated by left wingers.

How did PolitiFact miss it?

Careless Interpretation Leads to Faulty Premise

When PolitiFact overlooked the context of Nunes' remarks, it led to the false premise that Nunes was literally saying Republicans have no way at all to communicate. Though PolitiFact did not use Nunes own ability to speak to contradict his claim, the evidence the fact checkers used was not far removed from that:

Some users on Twitter found it ironic that Nunes was making his claim on Fox News, the most watched cable network, and a favorite medium for Republicans to communicate.

We may forgive Twittter randos for badly missing Nunes point. But isn't PolitiFact supposed to be better than that?

More:

And long before social media, members of Congress had several venues to communicate with constituents, including some unfiltered ones.

Long before social media (the thing Nunes was talking about), Republicans could communicate with constituents a number of ways! 

One would think that context simply does not exist for PolitiFact.

Want more? PolitiFact has more:

House members can communicate via press releases, send out mass emails or paper mail to constituents, or host phone-in or online town halls. Capitol Hill has places where members can hold in-person press conferences or satellite interviews with media outlets back home or national outlets, or record a video message to email to their constituents.

What does that have to do with social media companies having the power to moderate conservatives who try to use social media? Nothing, really. It's just PolitiFact ignoring the context and fact-checking a straw man version of Nunes' claim. It's the type of thing fact-checkers do routinely, and we've been pointing it out for years and years.

PolitiFact continues on and on in the same vein. But by now we hope our readers get the idea.

 It's just another claim PolitiFact invented in order to find it false.


Afters:

PolitiFact used a number of (scare quote) "expert" sources in this fact check. The quotations likely reflect that the experts were asked whether Republicans can communicate without Parler. PolitiFact does not share with its readers the text of its inquiries. But it's a good bet those inquiries used PolitiFact's false premise as their basis.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

PolitiGnatStraining No. 573: Is natural immunity really a vaccination?

PolitiFact truly never ceases to amaze us with its forays into free interpretation of political claims. Perhaps President Trump deserves some of the credit for driving PolitiFact mad via Trump Derangement Syndrome.

Would you believe that Mr. Trump believes that immunity acquired through recovery from the coronavirus counts as a "vaccine"?

That's where PolitiFact went on Dec. 15, 2020:

This analysis will take some doing, because PolitiFact's fact check contains multiple layers of fact check lunacy.

First, we need to see what Trump actually said. PolitiFact covers that adequately in the fact check:

"You develop immunity over a period of time, and I hear we’re close to 15%. I’m hearing that, and that is terrific. That’s a very powerful vaccine in itself," said Trump, who was responding to a reporter’s question about what his message to the American people was as the holidays approach and levels of COVID cases in the U.S. continue to rise.

Immediately after, the fact check runs off the rails at about a 90 degree angle:

It wasn’t the first time Trump had given credence to the idea that if enough people in a population gain immunity to a disease by being exposed to it, the illness won’t be able to spread through the remainder of the population — a concept known as "herd immunity."

Assuming PolitiFact and fact checker Victoria Knight did not seek to deliberately mislead their readers, this looks like a likely case of confirmation bias. Knight and PolitiFact were looking for Trump to say something false and interpreted Trump's claim to create the falsehood they sought. Otherwise, it's a mystery how anyone could interpret Trump's claim as they did.

First, Trump is pretty obviously talking about natural immunity as a metaphorical vaccination. Natural immunity is not entirely unlike immunity acquired via a human-devised vaccination. We would hope that even liberal bloggers working as non-partisan fact-checking journalists would know about figures of speech such as metaphors.

Second, why take the 15 percent plateau as the notion Trump was comparing to a vaccine instead of the concept of naturally acquired immunity? We can't imagine a reason apart from either confirmation bias or premeditated deceit. Naturally acquired immunity has approximately the same role in achieving herd immunity as a vaccine. Both confer immunity, and both would contribute toward a population's potential for herd immunity. If that was Trump's point, as seems to reasonably be the case, he's right.

How does a mainstream fact checker get so far off course so quickly? And why isn't everybody blowing the whistle on this kind of fact-check shenanigan?

As for PolitiFact, it keeps chugging along on one of the sharpest tangents ever devised:

However, experts have warned that attempting to achieve herd immunity naturally, by allowing people to get sick with COVID-19, could result in more than a million deaths and potentially long-term health problems for many. A better way to achieve protection across the population, experts say, is through widespread vaccination.

Why do Knight and PolitiFact think this paragraph has any relevant relationship to Trump's claim? Do they suppose Trump calling natural immunity a "powerful vaccine in itself" represents an intent to change policy to forgo the use of man-made vaccines and seek to combat the virus with natural immunity alone?

This is fact-checking gone insane. The paragraph doesn't belong. PolitiFact could have talked about the role natural immunity plays in achieving herd immunity. Readers could benefit from that explanation. But they get hardly any of that explanation from PolitiFact. Instead, they get railroaded down PolitiFact's branching tree of tangent:

So, we thought it was important to check whether 15% is anywhere close to the herd immunity threshold, and whether this level of natural immunity could be considered "as powerful as a vaccine."

So PolitiFact fact checks whether Trump is right that 15 percent natural immunity could confer herd immunity, even though that really has nothing to do with what Trump said. And where does that "as powerful as a vaccine" line come from? PolitiFact puts it within quotation marks, as though it is quoting Mr. Trump. Is it supposed to be something Trump said?

It's not in the transcript of Trump's remarks that PolitiFact linked. And our Google search using "Trump" AND "as powerful as a vaccine" did nothing to encourage us to believe the quotation came from Trump.

Remember, a team of editors supposedly reviews each PolitiFact fact check. Apparently each of them gave some sort of okay to this dumpster fire of a fact check.

The PolitiFact team overlooked an obvious use of metaphor and then went circus clown on a balloon to turn Trump's claim into something it wanted to fact check.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

PolitiFact North Carolina struggles with Twitter context

PolitiFact North Carolina's "Pants on Fire" rating awarded to the North Carolina Republican Party on Dec. 29, 2020 likely caps the data for our study of PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" bias. And it gives us the opportunity to show again how PolitiFact struggles to properly apply interpretive principles when looking at Republican claims.

"Democrat Governor @RoyCooperNC has not left the Governor's Mansion since the start of the #COVID19 crisis," the party tweeted on Dec. 27.

Compared to similar claims and barbs, this particular tweet stood out.

That's PolitiFact's presentation of the GOP tweet. The only elaboration occurs in the summary section ("If Your Time Is Short") and later in the story when addressing the explanation from North Carolina GOP spokesperson Tim Wigginton.

Here's that section of the story (bold emphasis added):

Party spokesman Tim Wigginton told PolitiFact NC that the tweet is not meant to be taken literally.

"The tweet is meant metaphorically," Wigginton said, adding that it’s meant to critique the frequency of Cooper’s visits with business owners. He accused Cooper of living "in a bubble … instead of meeting with people devastated by his orders." 

The NC GOP’s tweet gave no indication that the party was calling on Cooper to meet with business owners.

The part in bold is the type of line that attracts a fact checker of fact checkers. 

Was there no indication the tweet was not intended literally?

It turns out that finding something worth widening the investigation merely took clicking the link to the GOP tweet.

I don't see how to embed the tweet, but here's the image accompanying the tweet:


It should strike anyone, even a left-biased fact checker, that the "Where's Cooper" comical graphic is a bit of a strange marriage for the claim Cooper hasn't left the governor's mansion.

That enough isn't enough to take Wigginton at his word, perhaps, but as we noted it does point toward a need for more investigation.

It turns out that the NCRP has tweeted out the image repeatedly in late December, accompanied by a number of statements.





Twitter counts as a new literary animal. Individual tweets are necessarily short on context. Twitter users may provide context a number of ways, such a creating a thread of linked tweets. Or tweeting periodically on a theme. The NCRP "Where's Cooper?" series seems to qualify as the latter. The tweets are tied together contextually by the "Where's Cooper" image, which provides a comical and mocking approach to the series of tweets.

In short, it looks like Wigginton has support for his explanation, and the PolitiFact fact checker, Paul Specht, either didn't notice or did not think the context was important enough to share with his readers.

It's okay for PolitiFact to nitpick whether Cooper had truly refrained from leaving the governor's mansion. The GOP tweets may have left a false impression on that point. But PolitiFact just as surely left a false impression that Wigginton's explanation had no grounding in fact. Specht didn't even mention the Waldo parody image.

"Pants on Fire"?

Hyperbole. Does PolitiFact have a license for hyperbole?



Monday, December 21, 2020

PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" bias in 2020 [Updated Dec. 31, 2020]

Readers, please do not neglect the Dec. 31, 2020 update near the bottom of the post. Thanks!

 

As we noted in a post one week ago, we changed how we're conducting the "Pants on Fire" bias study to include all of PolitiFact and not just PolitiFact National.

In the past, that might have meant a softening of the liberal bias we find at PolitiFact. But the data appear to show that the state franchises have shifted left to more closely match the leftward lean at PolitiFact National.

The study looks at the percentage of false statements (that's "False" plus "Pants on Fire") that PolitiFact labels "Pants on Fire" for Republicans and Democrats. We count candidates, partisan elected officials or partisan political appointees. Attorney General William Barr, for example, would count as a Republican while holding the AG office under a Republican administration but not as a civilian outside the government.

In 2020, through today, PolitiFact was 4.61 times more likely to rate a claim it regarded as false as "Pants on Fire" if it came from a Republican instead of a Democrat. [Note: 12-31-2020: These numbers may reflect a minor transcription error for the number of "Pants on Fire" claims and probably slightly exaggerate PolitiFact's left-leaning bias. See update below]

Some may think to ask, "Why would that mean PolitiFact is biased? Maybe Republicans just lie more."

It counts as bias because all the evidence shows PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" rating is a subjective judgment. PolitiFact has never offered a justification for the distinction between the two ratings that runs any deeper than because we felt like it.

PolitiFact defines a "False" rating as "The statement is not accurate."

PolitiFact defines a "Pants on Fire" rating as "The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim."

We posit that "ridiculous" is not an objective measure unless somebody makes the effort to define it in objective terms. We find an absence of that effort over the whole of PolitiFact's history.

We also note that PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair and current Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan have made statements that appear to admit the "Pants on Fire" rating is subjective.

Unless an objective basis exists for the "Pants on Fire" rating, the "Republicans lie more" premise does not help explain it except in terms of confirmation bias.


Inside the Numbers

Republican claims PolitiFact regarded as false were rated "Pants on Fire" 28.8 percent of the time. That's only very slightly above the average PolitiFact National established between 2007 and 2019. So why was the bias measurement so much higher this year?

This: PolitiFact was extremely reluctant to give a "Pants on Fire" rating to a Democrat.

PolitiFact only issued three "Pants on Fire" ratings to Democrats in 2020. That's out of 48 claims it regarded as false, resulting in a figure of 6.25 percent. That's far below the PolitiFact National average for Democrats between 2007 and 2019 (about 17 percent).


This Was Predictable

When PolitiFact unveiled and subsequently developed its "Truth-O-Meter" rating system, we saw the day coming when the ratings would clearly reveal bias. We expected to see similar claims receiving different ratings. And once we identified the very likely subjective nature of the "Pants on Fire" rating, we anticipated we would be able to produce a solid evidence of bias using analysis of PolitiFact's ratings.

The problem for PolitiFact stems from the fact that it is impossible to assign ratings objectively and subjectively at the same time and in the same sense.

We have sent our 2020 findings to the International Fact-Checking Network, along with the suggestion that it examine the compatibility between subjective fact checker rating systems and its stipulation (2.1) requiring fact checkers to rate claims by the same standard no matter the source of the claim.

We think either the IFCN must erase that stipulation from its requirements or else fact checkers seeking IFCN verification need to abandon the use of subjective rating systems.


Update Dec. 22, 2020

A new "Pants on Fire" rating for Claudia Tenney (R-NY) brings the PoF percentage for Republicans up to 29.1 percent from the 28.8 percent reported above.

Here's a chart based on the updated data:



Update Dec. 31, 2020

PolitiFact North Carolina came through with a late "Pants on Fire" rating that changes our numbers yet again, and helped bring to our attention a transcription error that probably affected the percentages reported above. We added notes in the above text to highlight that imprecision.

Still, the late "Pants on Fire" rating to the North Carolina Republican Party, which will soon get its own write up here at PFB, boosts the GOP percentage above what we have on our graph to 29.2 percent. That means falsehoods PolitiFact regarded as "Pants on Fire" were 4.58 times more likely to receive a "Pants on Fire" rating coming from a Republican compared to a Democrat.


PolitiFact botches one in Marco Rubio's favor

Though PolitiFact Bias finds PolitiFact biased to the left, we also find that PolitiFact simply stinks at fact-checking. PolitiFact stinketh so much that its mistakes sometimes run against its biased tendencies to unfairly harm Democrats or unfairly help Republicans.

We ran across a clear case of the latter this week while putting together a spreadsheet collection of PolitiFact's "True" ratings. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) received a "True" for a significantly flawed claim about Social Security:

Image capture from PolitiFact.com


Rubio was right that Social Security had to draw down the Trust Fund balance to pay benefits. But PolitiFact simply didn't bother to look at whether it was happening "for the first time."

It wasn't happening for the first time. It happened often during the 1970s. And in the 1970s Social Security was on-budget. That means that when people claim that Social Security has never contributed to the federal deficit they are quite clearly wrong as a matter of fact.

PolitiFact only looked at one government source in fact-checking Rubio. That source had nothing about whether the Trust Fund drawdown was happening for the first time.

A chart from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget makes the shortfall from the 1970s clear:

It's unlikely PolitiFact was trying to do Rubio a favor. Rather, the staff at PolitiFact probably thought they knew Social Security's financial history was solid and simply did not question when Rubio affirmed that expectation.

We'll attach the "Left Jab" tag to this item even though it did not come from a left-leaning critic of PolitiFact.