Saturday, December 24, 2011

Apoplectic Now: The Aneurysm of the Year

That massive popping sound you heard on Tuesday was the collective hearts and minds of liberals across America bursting as they witnessed their favorite source of smug validation betray them. PolitiFact editors played their pre-selected card and announced the Democrats' claim that Republicans voted to "end Medicare" as the Lie of the Year for 2011.

What could go wrong?

The wrath unleashed on PolitiFact went far and wide as hysterical condemnations and inordinate smiting piled up on the left side of the Internet. The High Priest of Haute Liberals himself, Paul Krugman, sounded the death knell in his subtly titled article "Politifact, R.I.P." in which he described PolitiFact as "useless and irrelevant." Talking Points Memo called the decision a "sham", and Steve Benen at Washington Monthly called the decision "indefensible" in his article "PolitiFact ought to be ashamed of itself." The list goes on and on and on (and on.).  The formerly ubiquitous mention of PolitiFact's Pulitzer that was previously announced as a badge of credibility is suspiciously absent in these articles.  

But for long-time PolitiFact critics like us, few things in life have been as entertaining as the epidemic hysteria witnessed over at PolitiFact's Facebook page. Check out this sample of outbursts posted on various Facebook threads throughout the week. (Names have been removed to protect the aggrieved):
"I've awarded Politifact the Steaming, Festering Turd of The Year Award for this one. Your credibility has been flushed."

"Politifact, you're either being bought off by the right wing echo machine or you're scared of them."

[The Pauline Kael Trophy goes to:] "This has been voted by everyone I know,including myself as the stinkiest,lamest,most cowardly decision of the year!"

"You let Fox News choose your Lie of the Year, didn't you."


[This guy may be on to something:]"Maybe, we just gave a group of idiots too much credit to begin with simply because the bore the name 'Politifact.'"

"PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" is pretty good.......... for me to poop on."

"Noting your selective ignorance of objective facts, I am now forced to ignore you as a reference source. Unfortunate, but I am only interested in objective, FULL, analysis of facts." [Which is what I considered you when you were confirming my opinions.]

"So now we know Politifact is as bought as the politicians they scrutinize."

[Murderers!:] "Presumably, politifact also believes that if someone kills another person that it is not murder if they kill them slowly with a slow acting poison. Such lame and disreputable analysis and logic is incomprehensible for an organization wishing to claim some skill and reputation at factchecking."

[From the 'Paul Ryan stuffed the ballot box' conspiracy:] "The mere product of lobbying. Hey politifact way to bend over and take it. Hope you had on lipstick so atleast you looked good doing it."

[The Jews!:] "How many shekels did you guys get for that choice?"

"Did you guys get purchased by Newscorp?"

"Another election stolen. Dislike."

"What a bummer, I trusted Politifact implicitly until this." [Spencer Pratt responds]

[Baby, Don't Go Award:] "If you guys can do something to win back your credibility after this outrageous and outlandish ruling, then I may be back. Right now, though, I'm unliking this page and deleting the bookmarks I have to your website."

"Either you fire your editorial board and give yourself a pants on fire or just close up shop."

"God you guys are stupid."
Hell hath no fury like a liberal scorned.

PolitiFans fell into one of a few groups. Some accused PolitiFact of being a tool of the GOP.  Others claimed Paul Ryan sabotaged the vote by his email campaign (unaware that the readers poll is not the same as the editors' pick). Most simply said the claim was true, and that determining what constitutes the "end of Medicare" is an issue of semantics that falls outside the scope of objective values. That's a fair point, and it's one we've chronicled a number of times, including last years Lie of The Year. So where have all the indignant liberals been since PolitiFact's inception? Affixing varying degrees of "fact" to obvious hyperbole and opinion has been PolitiFact's shtick all along. For the left to become unhinged now betrays their own selective bias. In short: PolitiFact served its purpose as neutral, objective arbiters of fact, as long as they were validating liberal axioms.

To illustrate this point, check out this Jonathan Chait article (with some, uh, minor edits in bold):

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would very dramatically change health care.


Is that “a government takeover?” Well, it’s a matter of opinion. At some point, a change is dramatic enough that it is clearly a government takeover. If you proposed to replace a voluntary, free market system with a plan that mandated everyone purchase health insurance and the government dictated what patients and ailments insurance companies had to cover and what to charge, I would hope Politfact would concede that this would be “a government takeover,” even if you call the new mandatesa free market solution.” On the other hand, small tweaks could not accurately be called “a government takeover.” Between those two extremes, you have gray areas where you can’t really say with certainty whether a change is radical enough to constitute a takeover.

Does ObamaCare indeed establish a government takeover? I would argue no. But it’s obviously a question of interpretation, not fact. And the whole problem with Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” is that it doesn’t grasp this distinction. Politifact doesn’t even seem to understand the criteria for judging whether a claim is a question of opinion or a question of fact, let alone whether it is true.

Obviously, Chait's unedited piece argued that whether or not Ryan's plan did in fact end Medicare was a matter of interpretation (and ironically it mirrors the Wall Street Journal's op-ed about last years LOTY). We tend to agree with this criticism. And to be fair to Chait, he's called PolitiFact out for being harsh toward the GOP before. But the mountain of new criticism of the Lie of the Year, and PolitiFact's operation in general seems to be a few years late. Like all of PolitiFact's betrayed lovers this week, the reaction to the sudden realization that PolitiFact operates as a biased actor with motivations less noble than honest determination of facts is comical and disingenuous to everyone who's seen it for years. The irony for us is it took PolitiFact's calculated attempt to appear even-handed for the liberals to rise up in revolt.

The Medicare claim was the winner from the outset. Just take a look at its competitors. The reality is that Jon Kyl's abortion claim, Michelle Bachmann's vaccine statement, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz's rant about Jim Crow laws were hardly repeated outside of PolitiFact's circles. They were minor blurbs that barely lasted on the news cycles and had no place being in the running for statements "that played the biggest role in the national discourse." For all the gnashing of teeth about the winner, somehow PolitiFact managed to protect Team Democrat from any unflattering press about legitimate nationally popular issues like Solyndra or "Fast and Furious." The ten finalists were carefully selected, with an eye on the Medicare claim to be the winner. And anyone that thought they would select a GOP claim for the third year in a row ignored the reality that PolitiFact is a political animal with a brand to protect and an impartial image to uphold.

In the end it's hard to determine the final estimate of the damage PolitiFact has caused with its overwhelmingly liberal readership. We've seen smaller scale exodus whenever they've gone after Jon Stewart that had only short term effects. Whatever the case, conservatives would be wise to avoid finding anything redeeming in this temporary respite from the partisans at PolitiFact. As we've explained before, the shoddy standards PolitiFact employs will inevitably hit both sides of the aisle, but the liberal fishbowl of the newsroom will ultimately cause them to come down against the right much more often.

The 2011 Lie of the Year selection does little to diminish PolitiFact's aura of liberal bias. If anything, it exemplifies the selection bias and inherent flaws of their operation that have made it so unreliable in the first place. Whether this is PolitiFact's demise as a tool of liberal validation, or if it bolsters their claims that "upsetting both sides proves they're doing it right", for us at least, it's been a fun week to be watching.

Bryan adds:

Count me among those naive enough to believe that PolitiFact would pick three consecutive Republican claims as "Lie of the Year" depending on the material under consideration.

Jeff notes: I was correct in predicting the winner would go against the left, but my final pick (Obama hasn't raised taxes) was wrong. I suspect that had PolitiFact followed my advice there would be much less turmoil among the ranks. It's hard to imagine liberals being too upset about PF confirming Obama raised taxes.

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