Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hoystory: "Same idea, different results"

We at PFB noticed something amiss with the Romney rating on jobs recovery, but eagle-eyed Matthew Hoy of the Hoystory blog takes note of a mind-boggling inconsistency regarding the rating:

Here’s Mitt Romney:
"It’s been a failure in the last several years to get America back on track again. It’s taken longer to get Americans back to work than it took during the Great Depression. This is the slowest job recovery since Hoover. It breaks my heart. I want to get us back to work."
Politifact has rated this statement “false.”

Here’s GOP Senate candidate from Florida, Adam Hasner:
"Obama-Nelson economic record. Job creation … at slowest post-recession rate since Great Depression," Hasner tweeted on May 23, 2011.
Politifact has rated this statement “mostly true.”

Hoy has more to say, so please visit Hoystory to devour the rest.

Our take: The two PolitiFact versions are irreconcilable given that they interpret Mitt Romney to say what Adam Hasner said specifically. The PolitiFact rationalization literally makes no sense. Romney's statement appears easily reconcilable with charts similar to the one Hoy posted showing job recovery as the percentage of jobs recovered since the start of the recession.

Somehow PolitiFact overlooked the existence of those ubiquitous charts as they fact checked these statements (make that when they fact checked Romney's statement, where it should have made a big difference). Go figure.

Jeff adds:

Readers may wonder why we highlighted this post from Hoy. As the subjects of the two ratings are both Republicans, it hardly qualifies as an obvious example of PolitiFact's liberal bias. However, the incomprehensible inconsistency between the two ratings provides evidence that PolitiFact arrives at their conclusions by whim and the subjective opinion of their staff rather than by objective standards and verifiable facts. It's exactly this type of inconsistent formula that allows the personal ideology of the writers to determine the outcome of PolitiFact's ratings. That lack of objective standards has overwhelmingly harmed Republicans more often than Democrats.

I'll add that Matthew Hoy has critiqued PolitiFact nearly since its inception and has done a consistently outstanding job of it. We enthusiastically recommend his PolitiFact posts featured at the link on our sidebar.

Bryan adds:

A pox on the "Save As Draft" button, the use of which temporarily removed this post from view.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hoystory: "How About 'True?'"

Matthew Hoy of Hoystory points out PolitiFact's flawed rating of Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). PolitiFact gave West a "Mostly True" for his statement that the Libyan operations cost $115 million in the first 36 hours. What's so wrong with a Mostly True? As Hoy explains, West was absolutely correct. Even PolitiFact acknowledges this.

But not content with simply "sorting out the truth" of West's statement, PolitiFact went fishing for the elusive red herring. Their interview with Zack Cooper of the Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessments hauled in the catch:
"The cost of the first day or first couple of days was largely Tomahawk missiles and maybe some other munitions, but for the most part that’s why it was so expensive," Cooper said. "The cost in the long term of a no-fly zone is typically fuel and operational costs so the two are very different. The upfront cost of imposing a no-fly zone are typically substantially higher than the week-to-week cost of flying planes above Libyan territory."
"So What?" asks Hoy. PolitiFact has taken an irrelevant point about the dynamic nature of military action and labels West less than totally honest. Because the initial 36 hours had higher costs than on-going operations, according to PolitiFact, West's statement wasn't True.

Says Hoy:
West’s point is that the Libyan intervention has not insubstantial costs. He uses an easy-to-comprehend and admittedly accurate line item to illustrate those costs. The fact that the amount of money being spent changes from hour to hour is irrelevant.

Is giving a Republican a simple “True” so hard?
As the anecdotes continue to mount, the answer appears to be "yes".

Read Hoy's entire post here. And see another review of Hoystory here.

Bryan adds:

It is tough to see how West failed to earn a "True" rating, though West was apparently slightly off regarding the number of Tomahawk missiles fired by the US.  As PolitiFact put it in the conclusion:
On Fox News West said that the United States launched about $115 million worth of missiles within the first day or day and a half in Libya. That's about $6 million less than the figure we received from the Navy. And West didn't note that some of the Tomahawks were fired by U.S. allies. But still, close enough. But there are a couple of caveats -- namely, that the U.S. already had those missiles in stock, so it doesn't represent new spending. And initial costs in a military intervention are always higher, experts told us. We rate this claim Mostly True.
It seems totally irrelevant that the U.S. had the missiles in stock already.  If they're not replaced with new ones then the number we have is decreased by the operation in Libya.  As for the "initial costs are always higher" caveat, West did nothing at all to suggest that the initial costs were representative of day-to-day operations.

Props to Matthew Hoy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Greetings frustrated liberals

Traffic stats here at PolitiFact Bias suggest that liberals outraged at PolitiFact's recent rating of Jon Stewart are ending up here as they search for confirmation of their suspicions regarding PolitiFact's conservative bias, or at least PolitiFact's pathetic attempts to attract a conservative audience by going harsh on Jon Stewart.

The bad news is that you won't find anything here that helps the case that PolitiFact exhibits any sort of anti-liberal bias.

The good news is that our associated blog, Sublime Bloviations, now features (if I do say so myself) the thus-far definitive analysis of the Stewart controversy.  Enjoy.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pressroom Buzz @ Inside Milwaukee: "No Comment"

Jeff tipped me off to a blog post at Inside Milwaukee's "Pressroom Buzz."  At first I thought it was fodder for a PFB Smackdown feature.  But with respect to any kind of credible charge of a bias against the left at PolitiFact Wisconsin there's just no "there" there.

The blog post, by Erik Gunn, discloses the decision of some Democratic Party politicians in Wisconsin to stop cooperating with PolitiFact, a la Cato Institute's Michael F. Cannon.

The decision by the Democrats seems a bit more self-serving and a bit less principled than Cannon's--at least to me. Your mileage may vary:
The party doesn’t intend to enforce a uniform stance against PolitiFact among Democratic candidates, and (Democratic Party of Wisconsin's communications director Graeme) Zielinski says officials also didn’t plan any sort of big campaign to publicize the party’s decision to stop cooperating with the feature’s reporters. “We’re not going to make a big deal of it,” Zielinski says. “We just think there’s no utility in dealing with them anymore.”
To help illustrate the DPW's discontent with PolitiFact Wisconsin, Gunn tosses in a couple of recent complaints about PFW's impartiality.  But they're both duds.

The first is barely long enough to qualify as a blog post.  The criticism amounts to an assertion that a PolitiFact story about a voter ID issue can't be taken seriously, not counting linked material of dubious value.  If the author's serious about being taken seriously then he won't farm out the argument.

The second blog post at least invests a good number of words, but it amounts to a complaint about selection bias.  Selection bias is ubiquitous at PolitiFact.  Lone examples mean nothing or next to nothing. Larger sets of data however, such as the collection we present on this blog, may carry some weight.

Gunn also obtained a pair of recent examples from Zielinski.  Those were marginally more compelling than the blogged complaints:
PolitiFact labeled as “Pants on Fire” the statement by Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch – who is challenging Republican Sen. Alberta Darling in a recall election – that Paul Ryan’s plan to change Medicare to a voucher system with a fixed government contribution “would end health care for our seniors.”
PolitiFact labeled as “Pants on Fire” a Democratic Party assertion that windows at the state Capitol were bolted in response to protests in February, and said that party Chairman Mike Tate didn’t respond to PolitiFact inquiries.
We share some sympathy for any figure who receives a "Pants on Fire" rating from PolitiFact, since the rating by definition cannot be justified objectively.  But for political entities for which I could easily assign a political position the Republicans and conservatives had 12 Pants on Fire ratings compared to 15 for the Democrats and progressives.  The difference, I expect, is borderline for statistical significance.

Granted, in comparison to other PolitiFact operations the Democrats have received harsher grading in Wisconsin. As a result the Wisconsin branch has received the brunt of the "PolitiFact has a right-wing bias" complaints. That doesn't necessarily say anything about an ideological bias at PolitiFact Wisconsin.

Despite the weak examples, Gunn does have some good points to make.  They just don't add up to an argument for an anti-liberal bias.  Rather, they resonate with some of the criticisms of PolitiFact's journalistic model made standard here at PolitiFact Bias.

For example:
PolitiFact’s critics have a point, but it’s a bit more complicated than partisan bias. The larger problem remains in its simplistic rating system and especially the incendiary “Pants on Fire” category, which doesn’t appear to be consistently applied.
It's hard for PolitiFact to apply it consistently when PolitiFact's statement of principles describes the rating category in subjective terms.

Gunn also noted what I've referred to as PolitiFact's snark:
Finally, there’s an air of smugness in the tone of many PolitiFact pieces that condescends not just to the objects of criticism but to readers. I have a hunch that tone alone accounts for some of the hostility toward the operation, from whatever corner.
Where smugness of tone occurs as a result of opinionated language, readers can be forgiven for their impression that the journalists responsible for the story have compromised their objectivity.

While journalists overall have a ideological tilt to the left, of course they are not monolithically liberal.  We at PFB welcome careful criticism of PolitiFact from the left--such little as there is at present--confident in the expectation that when all the facts are in the evidence will show PolitiFact predisposed to favoring the left on balance.  Significantly so.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

PolitiGaffe: Of barrels and gallons published the following letter (or e-letter) from alert reader "oregondriver":
While you are so quick to find fault with Sarah Palin, you seem to have your facts mixed up in the "" article on page A2 of this Sunday's Oregonian: "Palin claim about Obama and oil isn't real, baby, real! In the fourth column you printed: "So a drop in oil production of 130,000 barrels a day in the Gulf of Mexico would mean an additional 130,000 gallons a day from imports." (Emphasis added is mine.) Notice, you cannot replace a barrel of oil with a gallon of oil! Please, before you show disrespect for a person, please make sure that you have all of the "PolitiFact"s correct, otherwise it just another example of media bias without cleaning up after yourself.
That's a good catch--130,000 barrels a day means 130,000 gallons per day to make it up in imports? And while that may seem like an easy gaffe to make, remember that the underlying PolitiFact article hinged on Palin's use of the word "day" versus "year".

The PolitiFact story now reads "barrels" in both instances.  Perhaps "oregondriver" was mistaken?

Not according to Google cache (click to enlarge; highlights are a product of the phrase-specific search):

PolitiFact made no mistake, however.  We know this because when PolitiFact makes a mistake they correct it and place an editor's note in the story:

When we find we've made a mistake, we correct the mistake.
  • In the case of a factual error, an editor's note will be added and labeled "CORRECTION" explaining how the article has been changed.
  • In the case of clarifications or updates, an editor's note will be added and labeled "UPDATE" explaining how the article has been changed.
  • If the mistake is significant, we will reconvene the three-editor panel. If there is a new ruling, we will rewrite the item and put the correction at the top indicating how it's been changed.
With no such editor's note inserted into the article, we know PolitiFact is above the type of honest mistakes and "gotcha"-type flubs they chronicle.

Note: Bryan deserves credit for the research and the bulk of the writing for this post-Jeff
Update 6/10/11: Added day/year clarification in second paragraph-Jeff

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Ace of Spades HQ: "PolitiFact: What Mitt Romney Said Yesterday Was True But We'll Call Him A Liar Anyway"

DrewM. at Ace of Spades HQ gives us an excellent skewering of PolitiFact, complete with the side-splitting humor one expects of Ace's place:
The bigger question is the business about the US economy being, "inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy".

Dear Politifact...this is called a rhetorical device. It's not a literal statement that can or can not be proven. Economies do not exist in space and time so their the distance from economic constructs can't be measured. Romney is simply summarizing his impressions of things and conveying that to his audience.

Funny but Politifact never seems to have gotten around to "fact checking" Obama's oft used idea of Republicans driving the economy into a ditch and then drinking a Slurpee while Democrats tried to pull it out.
Drew's spot on with the observation that PolitiFact makes factual judgments about opinions, and this PolitiFact rating of Romney looks like an all-time classic in the genre.

Read the whole post from Drew at Ace of Spades HQ for more quality humor and analysis.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hoystory: "PolitiFraud"

Matthew Hoy of the Hoystory blog blasted two recent PolitiFact stories in a recent post.

The first of the two we have already highlighted.  The second had PolitiFact finding "Half True" a Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) claim that the Bush administration turned the $5.6 trillion surplus it inherited from the Clinton administration into an "$11-plus trillion debt."

Normal people might conclude that being off by 98 percent would earn you a false. You’d be wrong. Politifact deemed this statement “half-true.”


Well, Politifact writer Louis Jacobson and editor Bill Adair apparently really wanted to believe Hoyer, so they allowed themselves to be convinced by this ridiculous explanation:
But when we spoke to Hoyer’s office, they said he was actually using a different yardstick for the first figure.

They said Hoyer was referring to the $5.61 trillion in surpluses that the Congressional Budget Office — the nonpartisan number-crunching arm of Congress — had predicted in January 2001 would materialize over the next 10 years, based on the fiscal outlook at the end of Clinton’s tenure. (Hoyer’s office confirmed our conclusion about the second figure.)
Not only was Hoyer comparing apples to oranges when he made his statement—conflating annual deficit numbers with the overall national debt—but his extended explanation to Politifact suggests he meant to compare apples to kumquats. That apparently makes it half-okay.
Visiting Hoystory to read the whole thing is mandatory.

The same outfit that wants you to believe it "Barely True" that the U.S. ranked 25th in defense spending as a percentage of GDP wants you to believe it's "Half True" that Bush inherited a $5.6 trillion surplus.

That's the wonderful world of PolitiFact fact checking.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

NewsBusters: "Politifact Invokes Misleading Employment Numbers to Rate Conservative Group's Claims 'Half True'"

Lachlan Markay from NewsBusters hits PolitiFact over the same story Joshua Treviño critiqued recently:
This just in, by way of St. Petersburg Times fact-checking website Politifact: when considering irrelevant and misleading employment statistics, Texas has not, in fact, created more jobs in the past five years than the rest of the country combined.

Sure, when considering the relevant numbers - the ones that most honest observers would use - the claim, made by the Texas Public Policy Foundation in a recent ad, is perfectly factual. But through an exercise in pure semantics, Politifact was able to draw out a meaningless retort to TPPF's claims.
One wonders why PolitiFact did not consider the importance of gross job creation numbers back when Rep. Carolyn Mahoney (D-N.Y.) was claiming that Democratic Party presidents create more jobs than do Republican presidents.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Red State: "'What liberal media?' (Texas edition.)"

Writing at Red State, the Texas Public Policy Foundation's vice president of communications Joshua Treviño provides a perfect take-down of PolitiFact's perfidious fact checking, this time touching the issue of job creation.

PolitiFact graded an ad touting Texas' job creation numbers "Half True" because the ad used the standard metric of net jobs created to laud Texas' performance with job creation rather than also taking into account gross job creation.

Or, as Treviño phrased it:
So what’s the bottom line on PolitiFact’s assessment that TPPF has promulgated a “half truth”? On the negative side, PolitiFact engaged in tendentious interpretive exercises in an effort to promulgate a jobs-creation metric that absolutely no one uses — and then penalized us for not using it. On the positive side, PolitiFact did acknowledge that TPPF’s Rollins is objectively correct by every reasonable standard, and they spelled our name right.
Treat yourself by reading the whole of Treviño's post.