Wednesday, July 20, 2011

RedState: "Politifact’s Review of Josh Trevino: Mostly Hackery"

Red State, thanks to Leon H. Wolf, has another excellent criticism of a PolitiFact fact check.

Wolf takes PolitiFact Texas to task over its rating of RedState Co-Founder Josh Treviño. Treviño cited a poll on an MSNBC program. PolitiFact subjected (pun intended) the statement to its Truth-O-Meter.

And that gets Wolf to wondering:
Politifact was forced to concede that Trevino’s characterization of the poll showing a plurality opposed to raising the debt ceiling was 100% correct and accurate. So what caused them to rate Trevino’s remarks as “mostly true” instead of “completely and entirely true”?
I'll supply a bit more context than did Wolf in summing up PolitiFact's complaint (he quotes only the latter paragraph):
Treviño’s other point — that Americans favor mostly budget cuts to deal with the deficit — didn’t poll as neatly as his recap suggests.

Asked how they’d prefer members of Congress to address the deficit, 20 percent said only by cutting spending and another 30 percent said mostly with spending cuts. Four percent favored solely tax increases, while 7 percent said they’d prefer to tackle the deficit mostly by tax hikes.
Wolf notes that the 20 percent and 30 percent figures add up to exactly the plurality Treviño describes.  So Treviño's numbers and underlying argument both stand as "True."  Yet contrast the rating of Treviño with a "Mostly True" PolitiFact rating of President Obama using a similar set of figures:
Getting back to Obama's statement, he said, "You have 80 percent of the American people who support a balanced approach. Eighty percent of the American people support an approach that includes revenues and includes cuts." Even the best poll doesn't show support quite that high -- he would more accurately have accounted for the small numbers that support only tax increases or were unsure, putting the number at 70 percent. But his overall point is correct that polls show most Americans support a balanced approach when given a choice between cutting spending or raising taxes. So we rate his statement Mostly True.
The president, using the most favorable numbers, therefore inflates his figure by 14 percent (10 percentage points).  And the president leaves at least as much context unstated as did Treviño.  Treviño arguably left out nothing of importance.

Wolf (bold emphasis added):
Memo to Politifact: the fact that a poll contains additional information that Trevino did not discuss does not make his statement less than entirely truthful. For example: if Trevino had been discussing the latest poll of the Republican caucus in Iowa and had claimed (correctly) that “Bachmann leads Romney 32%-29%,” his statement would not be rated merely “mostly true” because he did not disclose that Pawlenty was at 7%, Santorum at 6%, etc. Trevino by his own statement wasnt’ (sic) discussing the people who wanted the deficit solution split roughly down the middle, he was discussing people who favored “mostly cuts” versus “mostly taxes,” and his statement was (and should have been scored) completely correct.
Treviño used the poll data responsibly and accurately.  The president didn't.  If Treviño is at fault for failing to point out that a plurality are open to additional revenue/tax increases then isn't the president at fault for failing to mention the plurality who favor more reliance on budget cuts than on tax increases?  Yet PolitiFact mentions only Treviño's supposed omission.  The president gets a pass.

Do both men deserve the same grade, PolitiFact?  Seriously?

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