Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jonathan Chait: "PolitFact Goes Off The Deep End"

Make no mistake about it, Jonathan Chait's a liberal.  So why bother with his story when PolitiFact Bias normally puts its focus on evidences showing PolitiFact's bias against conservatism?

Because even though Chait is late to the party when it comes to criticizing PolitiFact's bias, he has at least something of a point.  Sure, the survey on which Chait probably relied in making his claims about the conservative bias of journalists has its share of flaws.  But Chait's instinct to look for journalists' ideology to affect their work is reasonable on its face.

So what took Chait so long to detect PolitiFact bobbing in the deep end?  Does he want a Pulitzer Prize or something?

Good luck to Chait on that one.  I was torn between simply highlighting Chait's story and doing a "PFB Smackdown" entry on it.  Chait offers no criticisms of this story that can't be made a hundred times over and more for stories that harm conservatives.  It speaks to Chait's ideological bias that he succeeded in containing himself this long.

In the end, Chait's story is short on substance.  His concluding paragraph illustrates:
Wait -- it's a lie to say Republicans voted to end Medicare because the vote hasn't been signed into law? Lawmakers can be held accountable for votes only after those votes are signed into law? This is so ridiculous I can't believe Politifact is arguing it. The whole analysis is hard to interpret as anything other than an expression of the view that criticizing any proposal that reduces spending on Medicare or Social Security is inherently foul play.
Chait's a smart guy. He knows that a non-binding budget resolution doesn't move on through the legislative process and turn into law. Presidents never sign them. So, yes, it's flatly misleading to say that the Republicans voted to end Medicare because the resolution is non-binding while the ad implies the reverse.

The key to stiff-arming the charge of bias--for PolitiFact and Chait alike--is the consistent application of standards.  Chait's story would suggest that PolitiFact has hit some type of new low.  But that's ridiculous in light of examples such as PolitiFact's 2010 "Lie of the Year" selection.

Was the PolitiFact evaluation of the ad biased?  It's plausible in spite of Chait's rather weak argument to that effect.  But in any case the full picture of PolitiFact's bias emerges not from single anecdotes but from a broad range of evidences.

May I suggest an alternate title for Mr. Chait's column: "PolitiFact Gored My Ox!"

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