Sunday, September 16, 2018

Google doesn't love us anymore

One of the reasons we started out with and stuck with a Blogger blog for so long has to do with Google's past tendency to give priority to its own.

It took us very little time to make it to the top of Google's search results for Web surfers using the terms "PolitiFact" and "bias."

But we surmise that some time near the 2016 election Google tweaked its algorithms in a way that seriously eroded our traffic. That was good news for PolitiFact, whose fact checking efforts we criticize and Google tries to promote.

And perhaps "eroded" isn't the right word. Our traffic pretty much fell off a cliff between the time Trump won election and the time Trump took office. And it coincided with the Google downranking that occurred while the site was enjoying its peak traffic.

We've found it interesting over the past couple of years to see how different search engines treated a search for "PolitiFact bias." Today's result from Microsoft's Bing search engine was a pleasant surprise. Our website was the top result and our site was highlighted with an informational window.

The search result even calls the site "Official Site." We're humbled. Seriously.

What does the same search look like on Google today?


"Media Bias Fact Check"? Seriously?

Dan flippin' Bongino? Seriously?

A "PolitiFact" information box to the upper right?

The hit for our site is No. 7.

It's fair to charge that we're not SEO geniuses. But on the other hand we provide excellent content about "PolitiFact" and "bias." We daresay nobody has done it better on a more consistent basis.


DuckDuckGo is gaining in popularity. It's a search engine marketing itself based on not tracking users' searches. So we're No. 1 on Bing and DuckDuckGo but No. 7 on Google.

It's not that we think Google is deliberately targeting this website. Google has some kind of vision for what it wants to end up high in its rankings and designs its algorithms to reach toward that goal. Sites like this one are "collateral damage" and "disparate impact."

Thursday, September 13, 2018

PolitiFact Avoids Snarky Commentary? 2

In its statement of principles PolitiFact says it avoids snarky commentary (bold emphasis added):
We don’t lay out our personal political views on social media. We do share news stories and other journalism (especially our colleagues’ work), but we take care not to be seen as endorsing or opposing a political figure or position. We avoid snarky commentary.

These restrictions apply to both full-time staffers, correspondents and interns. We avoid doing anything that compromises PolitiFact, or our ability to do our jobs.
 Yet PolitiFact tweeted the following on Sept. 13, 2018:
We're having trouble getting that one past the definition of "snark":
: an attitude or expression of mocking irreverence and sarcasm

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

PolitiFact flubs GDP comparison between added debt and cumulative debt

Here at PolitiFact Bias we think big mistakes tell us something about PolitiFact's ideological bias.

If PolitiFact's big mistakes tend to harm Republicans and not Democrats, it's a pretty good sign that PolitiFact leans left. For that reason, much of what we do centers on documenting big mistakes.

Veteran PolitiFact fact checker Louis Jacobson gave us a whopper of a mistake this week in a Sept. 12, 2018 PunditFact fact check.

Before reading the fact check we had a pretty good idea this one was bogus. Note the caveat under the meter telling the reason why Scarborough's true numbers only get by with a "Mostly True" rating: The added debt was not purely the GOP's fault.

We easily found a parallel claim, this one from PolitiFact Virginia but with Trump as the speaker:

Trump's parallel claim was dragged down to "Half True" because there was plenty of blame to share for doubling the debt. In other words it was not purely Obama's fault.

A Meaningless Statistic?

Scarborough's statistic makes less sense than Trump's on closer examination. The point comes through clearly once we see how PolitiFact botched its analysis.

Scarborough said the GOP would create more debt in one year than was generated in America's first 200 years.

After quoting an expert who said percentage of GDP serves as a better measure than nominal dollars, PolitiFact proceeded to explain that testing Scarborough's claim using the percentage of GDP tells essentially the same story.  PolitiFact shared a chart based on data from the executive branch's Office of Management and Budget:

So far so good. The OMB is recognized as a solid source for such data. But then PolitiFact PolitiSplains (bold emphasis added):
The chart does show that, when looking at a percentage of GDP, Scarborough is correct in his comparison. Debt as a percentage of GDP in 2017 was far higher (almost 77 percent)  than it was in 1976 (about 27 percent).
Colossal Blunder Alert!

PolitiFact/PunditFact, intentionally or otherwise, pulled a bait and switch. Scarborough said the GOP would create more debt in one year than was generated in America's first 200 years. As PolitiFact recognized when comparing the nominal dollar figures, that comparison involves the cumulative deficit number for one year (which we call the debt) and comparing it to the non-cumulative deficit number for one year (which we call the deficit). It's a comparison of the debt in 1976, following PolitiFact's methodology for nominal dollars in the first part of the fact check, to the deficit for 2017.

But that's not what PolitiFact did when it tried to test Scarborough using percentage of GDP.

PolitiFact compared the debt in 1976 to the debt in 2017. That's the wrong comparison. PolitiFact needed to substitute the deficit in 2017 as a percentage of GDP for the debt in 2017 as a percentage of GDP. That substitution corresponds to Scarborough's argument.

The deficit in 2017 does not measure out to nearly 77 percent of GDP. Not even close.

The OMB reports the deficit for 2017 was 3.5 percent of GDP. That's less than 27 percent. It's also less than 77 percent.

Using the preferred measure for comparing deficit and debt numbers across time, Scarborough's claim fell flat. And PolitiFact failed to notice.

Testing Scarborough's number correctly as a percentage of GDP illustrates the worthlessless of his statistic. Instead of "Mostly True" PolitiFact could easily have issued a ruling more similar to the one it issued to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney when he correctly noted that our armed forces were shorter on ships and planes in 2012 than at times in the past.

Cheer up, PolitiFact. You'll be tarring the conservative Scarborough. So it's not a total loss.

Friday, August 31, 2018

False Stuff From Fact Checker (PolitiFact)

A funny thing happened when PolitiFact fact-checked a claim about a bias against conservative websites: PolitiFact did not fact check its topic.

No, we're not kidding. Instead of researching whether the claim was true, PolitiFact spent its time undermining the source of the claim. And PolitiFact even used a flatly false claim of its own toward that end (bold emphasis added):
The chart is not neutral evidence supporting Trump’s point, and it labels anything not overtly conservative as "left. In the "left" category are such rigorously mainstream outlets as the Associated Press and Reuters. The three big broadcast networks — ABC, NBC, CBS — are considered "left," as are the Washington Post and the New York Times. Other media outlets that produce a large amount of content every day, including CNN, NPR, Politico, USA Today, and CNBC, are labeled "left."
The statement we highlighted counts as hyperbole at best. On it's face, it simply counts as a false statement exposed as such by the accompanying graphic:

If PolitiFact's claim was true then any outlet not labeled "left" would overtly identify itself as conservative. We can disprove PolitiFact's claim easily by simply looking down the line at the middle. If a media outlet straddles the line between left and right then that organization is not classified as "left." And if such media organizations do not overtly identify as conservative then PolitiFact's claim is false.

Overtly conservative? Let's go down the line:
And for good measure: The Economist, located on the right side of the chart. Is The Economist overtly conservative (See also Barron's, McClatchy)?

Did PolitiFact even bother to research its own claim? Where are the sources listed? Or did writer Louis Jacobson just happen to have that factoid rattling around in his cranium?

But it's not just Jacobson! The factoid gets two mentions in the fact check (the second one in the summary paragraph) and was okayed by editor Katie Sanders (recently promoted for obvious reasons to managing editor at PolitiFact) and at least two other editors from the PolitiFact "star chamber" that decides the "Truth-O-Meter" rating.

As we have asked before, how can a non-partisan and objective fact checker make such a mistake?


And how does a fact checker properly justify issuing a ruling without bothering to check on the fact of the matter?

Monday, August 27, 2018

PolitiFact Illinois: 'Duckwork's background check claim checks out" (Updated x2)


On August 26, 2018 PolitiFact Illinois published a fact check of Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) with the title "Duckwork's background check claim checks out."

We find it hard to believe a fact-checking organization could prove so careless it would badly misspell the last name of one of its senators in a headline.

And we find it even harder to believe the error could last until the next day (today) without receiving a correction.

We will update this item to track whether PolitiFact Illinois runs a correction notice when it fixes the problem.

Assuming it fixes the problem.

Update Aug. 27, 2018:

Apparently "Duckwork" is a fairly common misspelling of Sen. Duckworth's name. NPR (Illinois) made a similar mistake in January 2018 and fixed it on the sly. Don't journalists know better? Misspelling a name warrants a transparent correction.

Update Aug. 28, 2018:

Very early on Aug. 28, 2018, I tweeted a message pointing out this error and tagging the author, editor and PolitiFact Illinois.

When I checked hours later PolitiFact had corrected the spelling of Duckworth's name but added no correction notice to the item.

It's important to note, we suppose, that PolitiFact's corrections policy does not obligate it to append a correction notice on the basis of a misspelled name. That policy, in fact, appears to promise that PolitiFact will fix all of its spelling errors without acknowledging error (italics added for emphasis):
Typos, grammatical errors, misspellings – We correct typos, grammatical errors, misspellings, transpositions and other small errors without a mark of correction or tag and as soon as they are brought to our attention.
That seems to us like an unusually low bar for running a correction. Compare the above with the aggressive use of corrections involving misspelled names by PolitiFact's parent organization, the Poynter Institute.

Here's  one example from that page:
‘Newspapers killed newspapers,’ says reporter who quit the business (March 20, 2013)
Correction: This post misspelled Bird’s last name in one instance.
Journalists traditionally seem to give special attention to misspellings involving names. Misspelling a person's name counts as a different degree of error than a minor typographical error:
In journalism schools across Canada this week, many a freshman student will learn one of the foremost lessons of the J-school classroom: Get someone’s name wrong and you get a failing grade.

In the decade I taught at Ryerson University’s journalism school my students understood that no matter how brilliant their reporting and writing, if they messed up a name, they got an automatic F on that assignment. That’s a common policy of most journalism schools.
Apparently the fact checkers at PolitiFact find such obsessive attention to detail quaint.Which we count as a strange attitude for people calling themselves "fact checkers."

Saturday, August 25, 2018

PolitiFact's Fallacious "Burden of Proof" Bites a Democrat? Or Not

We're nonpartisan because we defend Democrats unfairly harmed by the faulty fact checkers at PolitiFact.

See how that works?

On with it, then:


Okay, we made a faulty assumption. We thought when we saw PolitiFact's liberal audience complaining about the treatment of Nelson that it meant Nelson had received a "False" rating based on Nelson not offering evidence to support his claim.

But PolitiFact did not give Nelson a "Truth-O-Meter" rating at all. Instead of the "Truth-O-Meter" graphic for the claim (there is none), PolitiFact gave its readers the "Share The Facts" version:

Republicans (and perhaps Democrats) have received poor ratings in the past where evidence was lacking, which PolitiFact justifies according to its "burden of proof" criterion. But either the principle has changed or else PolitiFact made an(other) exception to aid Nelson.

If the principle has changed that's good. It's stupid and fallacious to apply a burden of proof standard in fact checking, at least where one determines a truth value based purely on the lack of evidence.

But's it's small consolation to the people PolitiFact unfairly harmed in the past with its application of this faulty principle.


In April 2018 it looks like the "burden of proof" principle was still a principle.

As we have noted before, it often appears that PolitiFact's principles are more like guidelines than actual rules.

And to maintain our nonpartisan street cred, here's PolitiFact applying the silly burden of proof principle to a Democrat:

If "burden of proof" counts as one of PolitiFact's principles then PolitiFact can only claim itself as a principled fact checker if the Nelson exception features a principled reason justifying the exception.

If anyone can find anything like that in the non-rating rating of Nelson, please drop us a line.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

PolitiFact Not Yet Tired of Using Statements Taken Out Of Context To Boost Fundraising

Remember back when PolitiFact took GOP pollster Neil Newhouse out of context to help coax readers into donating to PolitiFact?

Good times.

Either the technique works well or PolitiFact journalists just plain enjoy using it, for PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan's Aug. 21, 2018 appeal to would-be supporters pulls the same type of stunt on Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City and attorney for President Donald Trump.

Let's watch Holan the politician in action (bold emphasis added):
Just this past Sunday, Rudy Giuliani told journalist Chuck Todd that truth isn’t truth.

Todd asked Giuliani, now one of President Donald Trump’s top advisers on an investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, whether Trump would testify. Giuliani said he didn’t want the president to get caught perjuring himself — in other words, lying under oath.

"It’s somebody’s version of the truth, not the truth," Giuliani said of potential testimony.

Flustered, Todd replied, "Truth is truth."

"No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth," Giuliani said, going on to explain that Trump’s version of events are his own.

This is an extreme example, but Giuliani isn’t the only one to suggest that truth is whatever you make it. The ability to manufacture what appears to be the truth has reached new heights of sophistication.
Giuliani, contrary to Holan's presentation, was almost certainly not suggesting that truth is whatever you make it.

Rather, Giuliani was almost certainly making the same point about perjury traps that legal expert Andrew McCarthy pointed out in a Aug. 11, 2018 column for National Review (hat tip to Power Line Blog)
The theme the anti-Trump camp is pushing — again, a sweet-sounding political claim that defies real-world experience — is that an honest person has nothing to fear from a prosecutor. If you simply answer the questions truthfully, there is no possibility of a false-statements charge.

But see, for charging purposes, the witness who answers the questions does not get to decide whether they have been answered truthfully. That is up to the prosecutor who asks the questions. The honest person can make his best effort to provide truthful, accurate, and complete responses; but the interrogator’s evaluation, right or wrong, determines whether those responses warrant prosecution.
It's fair to criticize Giuliani for making the point less elegantly than McCarthy did. But it's inexcusable for a supposedly non-partisan fact checker to take a claim out of context to fuel an appeal for cash.

That's what we expect from partisan politicians, not non-partisan journalists.

Unless they're "non-partisan journalists" from The Bubble.


Worth Noting:

For the 2017 version of this Truth Hustle, Holan shared writing credits with PolitiFact's Executive Director Aaron Sharockman.