Thursday, November 19, 2020

PolitiFact's 'Rubberstamps for Democrats' program

To be clear, PolitiFact has, as far as we know, no program it calls "Rubberstamps for Democrats." We invented that name for PolitiFact's propensity to put only enough effort into a fact check of a Democrat to find a result that reflects favorably on the Democrat.

PolitiFact Wisconsin gave us a terrific example of the genre with its Nov. 17, 2020 article supporting a narrative promoted by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.).

During a television appearance, Sen. Baldwin said the Department of Homeland Security said the 2020 election was the most secure in the history of the United States.

PolitiFact offered no context to speak of for Sen. Baldwin's remark. See for yourself:

That was the claim from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, in a Nov. 15, 2020 appearance on WISN-TV’s "UpFront" program

"We heard from the Department of Homeland Security this week that this was probably the most secure election that’s ever been run in the United States," Baldwin said. 

Is it true that some of the nation’s own top cybersecurity experts disagree with Trump?

We're always curious about the context, even if PolitiFact isn't. In this case, we found that the journalist interviewing Sen. Baldwin, Matt Smith, led the senator toward her statement when he introduced her segment of the show (transcript ours, see starting at 1:05 of the video):

Trump has made unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud about an election the Department of Homeland Security this week called the most secure in American history.
While it's certainly possible Smith and Baldwin heard that report independently, the interview gives the impression Baldwin is just echoing back what Smith had said.

That's clue No. 1 that PolitiFact was looking to give Sen. Baldwin a rubberstamped positive rating. Do fact checkers truly wonder "Is that true?" when a politician echoes back what a journalist said just a couple of minutes before?

More importantly, did the Department of Homeland Security say what Sen. Baldwin and Smith claimed?


Fuzzy Math: (EIS-GCC)+SCC=DHS

Looking at the joint statement to which Sen. Baldwin referred, it is credited to members of the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (EIS-GCC) and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Committee (SCC).

PolitiFact, judging from its story and its source list, did no digging to find out the specifics of the relationship between the committees and the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, we get this:

On Nov. 12, 2020, officials from two Department of Homeland Security committees — the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council and the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council overseeing cybersecurity — released a joint statement debunking their own boss’s rampant misinformation campaign.

How did PolitiFact conclude that the people who signed the letter were DHS employees under the Trump administration, other than by jumping to conclusions based on similarly spotty reporting from one of its listed sources, Axios?

PolitiFact and Axios simply leave out relevant information. While the committees have members (at least one, anyway) who work under DHS, most, by far, are in the private sector or state government working in a partnership organized by DHS. DHS developed the partnership to improve election security infrastructure. So, when members of the committees release a statement telling us that our election was supremely secure, they are patting themselves on the back: Hey, we did a great job! How about that?!

It's not as if these committees were objectively examining this election compared to others to judge the level of security. If they had done that, we'd have it from them in a detailed report. Now, to be fair, the joint statement lists specific reasons for saying the 2020 election showed improved security. They mention the widespread use of paper ballot backups, allowing elections officials to go back and correct various types of mistakes. And they may have good reason to believe elections systems now have greater resistance to hacking than in the past. However, it is unlikely on its face that the signing members have any solid reason for judging this election more secure than any particular election in the past. If they had any such solid reason they didn't bother mentioning it in their letter.

When journalists like Smith or politicians like Baldwin say the statement came from the Department of Homeland Security they apply or echo misleading spin, implying that the statement has the direct backing of DHS. There is apparently no such backing. The strongest backing apparently comes from the decision of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency--directly under DHS--to publish the joint letter from members of the committees. 

ABC News reported President Trump fired the head of CISA, Christopher Krebs, on Nov. 17, 2020 after Krebs said there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 election.

Krebs said on Nov. 12, 2020 (via the Washington Times) he expected Trump to fire him.

Did PolitiFact make any connection between these events? Not at all. Or if it did, it was deemed unimportant.

In short, the Department of Homeland Security kinda-sorta-but-not-really said what Smith and Baldwin claimed it said. Which is to say it wasn't really DHS but at least one DHS official along with others working in partnership with DHS.

Review: Who they are and what they do:

Election Infrastructure Subsector Government Coordinating Council

Sector Coordinating Councils

Finally, here's a link to a list of the active parties for the elections GCC and SCC. The SCC has representation by voting system companies including Dominion. See for yourself.

To reiterate, it is nothing short of deceptive to represent the joint statement of a GCC and SCC as coming from the Department of Homeland Security. DHS has a finger in the pie, but that's about it.

And it's important to note that it isn't clear at all the select members who put their names on the joint statement carry the authority of their respective councils.


We could do another article on this PolitiFact "fact check" noting that it provides no specific evidence to support its claim that the joint statement "debunks" claims from President Trump.

The statement notably debunks claims from President Donald Trump and others that have alleged massive fraud.

 Does it? Explain how, fact checkers.

Monday, November 16, 2020

PolitiFact, misspellings and minor errors

We have noted that PolitiFact has over the years tried to minimize the impression that it often publishes things that need correction. And PolitiFact's lengthy description of its corrections policy contains loopholes that give its editors a hand in lessening the appearance of fact checker error.

The Case in Point

PolitiFact published a Nov. 10, 2020 PolitiSplainer telling readers how two incumbent Republican senators were attacking Republicans in the Georgia state government over that state's election recount.

PolitiFact reported that the senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, were "facing tough recall elections."

When PolitiFact tweeted out that misinformation to its Twitter audience someone quickly noticed the mistake:


Art Allen was right. Neither Republican senator faces a recall election.

Allen wasn't the only person to highlight the mistake. But the mistake stayed on in PolitiFact's tweets and in the box summarizing the article at the main PolitiFact website (highlights added for emphasis):

To be clear, a recall election is not the same thing as a runoff election.

By November 16 PolitiFact had corrected its error, yet without admitting any wrongdoing.

The page received no "corrections or updates" tag and features no correction or update notice.

How can that be, given that PolitiFact has, according to its editor, one of the most robust and detailed corrections policies in journalism?

It's easy-peasy. And that's because the robust details in the corrections policy are ambiguous. The details make readers think PolitiFact is transparent about its mistakes when in reality the policy features (intentional?) loopholes that allow the fact checker to obscure its history of embarrassing mistakes.

The mistake on "recall elections" was likely treated under this section of PolitiFact's policy:

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.

By counting the use of "recall" where "runoff" was meant as a typo, grammatical error, misspelling or other small error, PolitiFact ends up deceiving its audience about the robustness of its corrections policy. When we read (in the same statement of principles) that PolitiFact corrects its errors "with appropriate transparency" we expect that to include an admission when PolitiFact finds itself guilty of spreading misinformation.

PolitiFact undeniably spread misinformation. People who saw only PolitiFact's early tweets highlighting its article were misinformed that Loeffler and Perdue were facing recall elections. Those whose time was short and read only the article summary were similarly misinformed. And PolitiFact, contrary to its commitment under the principles of the International Fact-Checking Network, which it professes to follow, took no steps to make sure those who were misled had the corrected version brought to their attention.

We publish our corrections policy and follow it scrupulously. We correct clearly and transparently in line with our corrections policy, seeking so far as possible to ensure that readers see the corrected version.

That's how these Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists operate. This has always been part of their approach to corrections.

It's embarrassing to mix up "runoff election" with "recall election." Therefore, PolitiFact buries its mistake as though it merely mixed up "its" with "it's."

"Recall" is not a misspelling of "runoff" any more than "Trump" is a misspelling of "Biden." If every wrong word can count as a misspelling then journalists can completely do away with correction notices under a policy like PolitiFact's.

Correction Nov. 16, 2020: In the fifth-to-last paragraph we committed an error similar to PolitiFact's stating that PolitiFact "misinformed that Loeffler and Perdue were facing runoff elections." In fact, PolitiFact misinformed its readers that Loeffler and Perdue were facing recall elections and not runoff elections. Hat tip to Matthew Hoy for catching the error and alerting us to its existence. The problem is fixed with this update.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Viva Frei: PolitiFact is Fake News

Rest assured, PFB readers, the recent lack of new content at PolitiFact Bias has nothing at all to do with improved work at PolitiFact. PolitiFact stinks as badly as ever. We just don't have the time right now to devote to publishing.

But it was worth taking a moment to highlight a video blog by Viva Frei, a Canadian neighbor who happened to notice some problems at PolitiFact.

Frei hits PolitiFact over a story on cash bail, and hits PolitiFact over a fact check of the claim Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.) broke the law when she tore up the copy of the State of the Union address Trump delivered to her before Congress.

Frei's certainly caught PolitiFact grading a different claim than it claimed to fact check on the bail issue. Only the United States and the Philippines have money bail systems dominated by private commercial bond companies. A good number of other countries have money bail systems, and the claimant, Gavin Newsom, did not bother with that kind of specificity. The "Mostly True" rating could not apply for that reason alone.

Enjoy the video! And hat tip to reader "Brian" for bringing the video to our attention.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

PolitiFact spins Biden's position on forced busing

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden opposed forced busing to achieve racial integration in public schools.

That's obvious from PolitiFact's presentation of its June 29, 2020 of a Facebook meme, right?

PolitiFact Bias tips its hat to Newsbusters, which highlighted this item with a July 10, 2020 article of its own. Newsbusters correctly noted that PolitiFact applied plenty of spin to its article, producing an emphasis on Biden's progressive vision of "orderly integration"--whatever that was supposed to mean--while de-emphasizing the negative.

What is 'Orderly Integration'?

What was Biden's view of the "orderly integration" that was preferable to forced busing? PolitiFact relied on a secondary source, The New York Times, for that information:
Biden argued that housing integration was a better way to desegregate public schools though it would take much longer to implement than a busing plan, the (New York Times') story says.
That's one way to characterize what the Times' story said. Your mileage may vary (ours did):

In a television interview, Mr. Biden called busing an “asinine concept” and said he had “gotten to the point where I think our only recourse to eliminate busing may be a constitutional amendment.” As an alternative, he argued for putting “more money into the black schools” and opening up housing patterns, warning that otherwise “we are going to end up with the races at war.”

“You take people who aren’t racist, people who are good citizens, who believe in equal education and opportunity, and you stunt their children’s intellectual growth by busing them to an inferior school and you’re going to fill them with hatred,” he said in the interview.

We see nothing in the Times' article showing Biden predicted "white flight" as a result of forced busing.

Apparently "orderly integration" means "opening up housing patterns," whatever that means.

The Times mentioned a "television interview" of Biden as its source. The Times did not offer any detail regarding who produced or broadcasted the interview.

What was the Times' Source?
We found a Vox story mentioning a 1975 television interview featuring Biden and touching on the subject of busing. But the supporting link led to a Washington Post archive of a Congressional Record entry of TV News--The People Paper's print interview with Biden. We found no evidence that interview ever aired on television. We suspect Vox and The New York Times' concluded from the newspaper's name that the interview was aired on television. We had little luck finding information about the publication. But the text of the interview supports that it served as the Times' source:
"It ls true that the white man has suppressed the black man, and continues to suppress the black man. It is harder to be black than to be white. But you have to open up avenues for blacks without closing avenues for whites; you don't hold society back to let one segment catch up. You put more money into the black schools for remedial reading programs, you upgrade facilities, you upgrade opportunities, open up housing patterns."
The interview fails to tell us what "open up housing patterns" means. We hoped Googling the phrase would help, but discovered that searching for the specific phrase while excluding "Biden" returned zero hits. Perhaps one day a journalist will think to ask Biden what he was talking about.

Did Biden use 'coded language'?

We were struck by the fact that the fact checkers could not find an expert to denounce Biden's reference to the "racial jungle" as a racist "dog whistle" or "coded language."

To be clear, we hold that any labeling of something as "coded language" or a "dog whistle" needs solid evidence in support. But journalists tend to find it easy to dispense with such formalities when they can find experts or activists willing to make the charge.

Biden's Words Turned on Their Head

PolitiFact's skillfully twisted subheading makes it look like Biden's feared a "racial jungle" would occur without ill-defined "orderly integration." That wording suggests to readers that Biden would have used racial integration to avoid that "racial jungle."

But Biden was saying using forced busing to achieve integration was not orderly and would backfire.

PolitiFact could have avoided the definitional muddle by summarizing Biden using well-understood phrases: Biden believed racial integration using forced busing would lead to his children growing up in a "racial jungle."

PolitiFact avoided using plain speech to communicate Biden's position to its readers.

We got forced busing. Did we get a "racial jungle"?

It looks like PolitiFact was trying to do Biden a favor.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Trump again tries using hyperbole without a license

President Donald Trump said nobody had heard of "Juneteenth," the name given to a day many use to commemorate the end of U.S. slavery, until he popularized it. So PolitiFact fact-checked whether it was true that nobody had heard of it.

The result was a "Pants on Fire" rating. PolitiFact said millions of people knew about Juneteenth before Trump scheduled a campaign rally for that day.

PolitiFact cited the Wall Street Journal for its quotation of Trump. Here's how PolitiFact presented it to readers:

President Donald Trump took credit for boosting awareness of Juneteenth, a day that marks the end of slavery in America.

"I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous," Mr. Trump said, in a Wall Street Journal interview. "It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it."

PolitiFact claims in its statement of principles it recognizes the literary technique of 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.

Hyperbole involves the use of exaggeration to make a particular point. Hyperbole works as hyperbole when the audience understands that the exaggeration was not meant literally.

It's as though PolitiFact has caught Mr. Trump red-handed, trying to use hyperbole without a license.

We think Trump's statement certainly bears the obvious signs of hyperbole. If literally nobody had heard of Juneteenth before Trump scheduled his campaign rally, then Trump did not merely make Juneteenth very famous. He helped create it by inspiring others. But Trump's words, in fact, suggest that Juneteenth existed as "an important event, an important time" before that. Those words from Trump cue the average reader that "nobody had ever heard of it" was not meant literally but instead meant that Juneteenth was not well known.

Vice President Joe Biden illustrated what Trump likely meant. A (user-created) video clip from C-SPAN shows Biden on June 11, 2020 apparently expressing the belief that "Juneteenth" was the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The massacre happened on June 1, 1921. Trump's rally was originally scheduled on "Juneteenth,"--June 19, 2020--but was moved back one day to June 20, 2020. The rally took place in Tulsa, which of course was the location of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

If Biden did not know about it then perhaps others did not know about it as well.

Maybe the problem is that PolitiFact does not set partisanship aside when it issues hyperbole licenses.

(Note: we'll add the full complement of tags after publishing, thanks to Blogger's new interface that only remembers one assigned tag when first publishing)

Does PolitiFact deliberately try to cite biased experts? (Updated)

If there's one thing PolitiFact excels at, it's finding biased experts to quote in its fact checks.

Sometimes there's an identifiable conservative, but PolitiFact favors majority rule when it surveys a handful of experts. It seems to us that PolitiFact lately is suppressing the appearance of dissent by not bothering to find a representative sample of experts.

How about a new example?

For this fact check on President Trump's criticism of President Obama, PolitiFact cited three experts, in support of its "Truth-O-Meter" ruling.

Two out of the three were appointed to Mr. Obama's "Task Force on 21st Century Policing." All three have FEC records showing they donate politically to Democrats:
The first two on the list, in fact, specifically donated to Mr. Obama's presidential campaign.  Thus making them perfect experts to comment on Mr. Trump's criticism of Mr. Obama?

Seriously, isn't this set of experts exactly the last sort of thing a nonpartisan fact-checking organization that declares itself "not biased" should do?

As bad as its selection of experts looks, the real problem with the fact check happens when PolitiFact arbitrarily decides that the thing Trump said President Obama did not try to do was "police reform" when Trump said "fix this." Plenty of things can fit under "police reform," and PolitiFact proves it by citing how "the Justice Department did overhaul its rules to address racial profiling."

Other evidence supposedly showing Trump wrong was the task force's (non-binding!) set of recommendations. The paucity of the evidence comes through in PolitiFact's summary:
The record shows that is not true. After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and related racial justice protests, Obama established a task force to examine better policing practices. The Obama administration also investigated patterns or practices of misconduct in police departments and entered into court-binding agreements that require departments to correct misconduct.
So putting together a task force to make recommendations on police reform is trying to "fix this."

And, for what it's worth, the fact check offered no clear support for its claim "The Obama administration also investigated patterns or practices of misconduct in police departments." PolitiFact included a paragraph describing what the administration supposedly did, but that paragraph did not reference any of its experts and did not cite either by link or by name any source backing the claim.

Mr. Trump was not specific about what he meant by "fix this." Rather than granting fact-checkers license for free interpretation, that type of ambiguity in a statement makes it nearly impossible to fairly fact check the statement. Put simply, a fact checker has to have a pretty clear idea of what a claim means in order to fact check it adequately. Trump may have had in mind his administration's move to create a record of police behavior that would make it hard for officers with poor records to move to a different police department after committing questionable conduct. It's hard to say.

Here's Mr. Trump's statement with some context:
Donald Trump: (11:32)
Under this executive order departments will also need a share of information about credible abuses so that offers with significant issues do not simply move from one police department to the next, that's a problem. And the heads of our police department said, "Whatever you can do about that please let us know." We're letting you know, we're doing a lot about it. In addition, my order will direct federal funding to support officers in dealing with homeless individuals and those who have mental illness and substance abuse problems. We will provide more resources for co-responders, such as social workers who can help officers manage these complex encounters. And this is what they've studied and worked on all their lives, they understand how to do it. We're going to get the best of them put in our police departments and working with our police.

Donald Trump: (12:33)
We will have reform without undermining our many great and extremely talented law enforcement officers. President Obama and Vice President Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period.
We can apparently credit the Obama administration with talking about doing some of the things Trump directed via executive order.

In PolitiFact's estimation, that seems to fully count as trying to actually do them.

And PolitiFact's opinion was backed by experts who give money to Democratic Party politicians, so how could it be wrong?

Update June 21, 2020:

The International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles

In 2020 the International Fact-Checking Network beefed up its statement of principles, listing more stringent requirements in order to achieve "verified" status in adhering to its Code of Principles.

The requirements are so stringent that we can't help but think that it portends lower standards for applying the standards.

Take this, for example, from the form explaining to organizations how to demonstrate their compliance (bold emphasis added):
3. The applicant discloses in its fact checks relevant interests of the sources it quotes
where the reader might reasonably conclude those interests could influence the
accuracy of the evidence provided.
It also discloses in its fact checks any commercial
or other such relationships it has that a member of the public might reasonably
conclude could influence the findings of the fact-check.
Is there a way to read the requirement in bold that would relieve PolitiFact from the responsibility of disclosing that every one of the experts it chose for this fact check has an FEC record showing support for Democratic Party politics?

If there is, then we expect that IFCN verification will continue, as it has in the past, to serve as a deceitful fig leaf creating the appearance of adherence to standards fact checkers show little interest in following.

We doubt any number of code infractions could make the Poynter-owned IFCN suspend the verification status of Poynter-owned PolitiFact.

Note: Near the time of this update we also updated the list of story tags.

Edit 2050 PDT 6/21/20: Changed "a" "to" and "police" to "of" "for" and "officers" respectively for clarity in penultimate sentence of paragraph immediately preceding Trump 11:32 quote - Jeff

Monday, June 8, 2020

PolitiFact mangles fact check of Larry Elder

Editor's note June 8, 2020: We intended to acknowledge when we published that Newsbusters beat us to the punch with a story on PolitiFact's Larry Elder fact check. Our version does not rely on that version in any sense. We're taking the opportunity with this update to fix an improper use of its/it's in the second paragraph

The reason we do not trust PolitiFact fact-checking?

It's because we accepted PolitiFact's challenge to second-guess its work even before PolitiFact started asking. What we found then isn't pretty. It still isn't pretty.

Let's have a look at PolitiFact's June 5, 2020 fact check of conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder.

In Context

PolitiFact claims, as part of its statement of principles, to fact check claims in their original context.

How did PolitiFact do on that?

As the U.S. entered a second week of protests after the death of George Floyd, conservative radio host Larry Elder argued that "cops rarely kill anybody, let alone an unarmed black person."

"Last year, there were nine unarmed black people killed. Nineteen unarmed white people," Elder said June 2 on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s TV show.

We had no luck getting the linked Fox News video to play. Likely Fox News shoulders the blame for that. We got around the problem by going to a transcript posted at Fox News. A version of the Hannity show we found at an alternative source varied substantially from the Fox News transcript. But the transcript had the words PolitiFact used, so we're assuming the video version we found was somehow corrupted.

Here's the transcript version of Elder's words with bold emphasis to highlight the part PolitiFact quoted:

HANNITY: Shoot him in the leg he said, Larry. If he comes at you, if somebody comes up at you with a knife, just shoot him in the leg and not a word about all the officers shot, killed, injured in the process, that even last night. Not a word today.

LARRY ELDER, SALEM RADIO HOST: Yes, it's unreal. The number one responsibly of government is to protect people and property and that is not happening. And, Sean, what is so maddening about all of this, and we touched on this the other night, the premise is false. It is not true that the police are out there mowing down black people.

Again, according to the CDC, in the last 45 years, black -- killings of blacks by the police have declined 75 percent. Last year, there were nine unarmed black people killed, 19 unarmed white people. Name the unarmed white people who were killed. You can't because the media gives to the impression that this is something that happens all the time.

Obama says this ought not be normal. Mr. Former President, it's not normal, it is rare. Cops rarely kill anybody let alone an unarmed black person. And the idea that this happens all the time is why some of these young people are out in the streets, and it is simply false. Isn't that good news? It's not true!

We consider it an unorthodox treatment of a quotation to present the first part of the quotation before the second part. On the positive side, PolitiFact's construction does appear to capture the point Elder was trying to make: Police rarely kill unarmed black people. Elder's earlier comment about police not "mowing down black people" helps make clear he was talking about intentional actions resulting in the deaths of blacks.

The problem? PolitiFact treated Elder's claim as though he was making a different point.

(T)he number of unarmed people killed in encounters with law enforcement in 2019 is higher for both races than Elder claimed. How much higher is not clear.  What is clear, experts told us, is that despite what Elder’s absolute numbers may suggest, black people in the U.S. have died from fatal encounters with police at a disproportionate rate.
PolitiFact replaces Elder's point with "what Elder's absolute numbers may suggest," and uses the disagreement of experts with that suggestion to suggest Elder's point was wrong.

We'll see that PolitiFact argued a straw man.

Absolute Numbers

Elder was too vague in describing his statistic on police killings of unarmed persons, though arguably the context he established of "mowing down" was a legitimate clue he was talking about shootings. But PolitiFact did not rest its argument on Elder's ambiguity. PolitiFact argued Elder's raw numbers might produce a false impression that police killings of unarmed blacks are not disproportionate.

Elder said police killed nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites.

PolitiFact, using data from "Mapping Police Violence," corrected those numbers counting all deaths caused by police, whether on-duty or off-duty. The findings?

Mapping Police Violence said police killed 28 unarmed blacks and 51 unarmed whites.

By Elder's numbers, killings of unarmed blacks made up 32.1 percent of combined killings of unarmed whites and blacks.

By Mapping Police Violence's numbers, killings of unarmed blacks made up 35.4 percent of combined killings of unarmed whites and blacks.

That does not count as a major difference. If Elder had used the same numbers PolitiFact used PolitiFact could still have claimed Elder's raw numbers "may suggest" black people in the U.S. have not died from fatal encounters with police at a disproportionate rate.

Elder wasn't saying anything about disproportionate rates any more than Mapping Police Violence was. Elder was making the point that the killings have gone down over time to become rare.

Though Mapping Police Violence only posts data back through 2013, its chart from unarmed black victims of police killings would support Elder's point:

Disproportionate Rates?

PolitiFact (citing experts!) said deaths of unarmed black victims of police killings were disproportionally high. But PolitiFact made the comparison in terms of overall U.S. population. That counts as the wrong measure. Finding the proportionality of those killings requires apples-to-apples comparisons of the number of police encounters according to race.

The Centers for Disease Control has done preliminary research in that direction.

Missing the Point?

Bearing in mind Elder's apparent point that black deaths at the hands of police are decreasing, let's review PolitiFact's concluding rationale for its "Mostly False" rating.

PolitiFact credited Elder for using numbers that matched those published by the Washington Post. PolitiFact noted the Post's numbers "have increased since Elder made his claim," but PolitiFact principles say it grades statements according to information available at the time. So the increase to the Post's numbers ought to be moot in grading Elder's claim.

PolitiFact dinged Elder for not including all killings of unarmed blacks. But given Elder's point, his statistic only needs to serve as a representative benchmark for the decrease he claimed. PolitiFact presented no evidence Elder failed to do that. In other words, if counting all killings by police whatever the means leads to the same type of decrease over time, Elder's central point still finds support.

Finally, PolitiFact charged that Elder "omitted important context: that black people in the U.S. are disproportionately killed by police relative to their share of the population. But as we pointed out, share of the population is the wrong measure. In addition, it is not clear that Elder's point needs that context. A decrease in black deaths at the hands of police is a decrease regardless of  whether it remains disproportional. This part of PolitiFact's argument resembles a straw man.

This type of slipshod fact-checking occurs frequently at PolitiFact.

Afters: Experts Among Us

PolitiFact has unceremoniously dumped its past assurance to readers that it cites unbiased experts. Surveying the pool of experts PolitiFact cites tends to show a distinct leftward lean. Let's have a look at the pool of experts for this fact check:

  1. Frank Edwards: No FEC record we could find. Twitter account offers mere hints of a leftward lean
  2. Lorie Fridell: FEC record shows she gives to Democrats
  3. Brian Burghart: No FEC record we could find. Job: journalist
A leftward lean does not make an expert wrong, of course. We do find PolitiFact has an apparent history of picking sources that fit its chosen narrative while leaving out dissenting voices. And that tendency seems worse than ever this year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Facebook should flag itself

We got tagged on Facebook by a person who apparently had one of their posts flagged through Facebook's fact-checker partnership. The original post did not show for us (we're looking into that), but we found it amusing that Facebook's notice contains a falsehood:

It's this part: "All fact-checkers who partner with Facebook must be signatories of the International Fact-Checking Network and follow their Code of Principles."

The IFCN verification process is soft. For example, IFCN signatories agree to "scrupulously" follow a clearly stated corrections policy. Zebra Fact Check has pointed out numerous times PolitiFact has failed in its adherence to its own corrections policy. What happens to PolitiFact as a result? Nothing. We've seen no apparent break in the Facebook partnership. More concerning than that, PolitiFact has still not acted to correct the great bulk of the errors that we've pointed out over the years. That includes things like botching a quotation. It's mostly stuff that's black-and-white error, not any kind of matter of opinion.

So, when Facebook tells you its fact checkers follow the IFCN Code of Principles they're trusting the IFCN to do the enforcement. And it just isn't happening in any strict sense.

It's worth noting, of course, that the non-profit Poynter Institute owns both PolitiFact and the accountability organization that oversees PolitiFact. No problem there, right?