Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The meaning of PolitiFact's "Lie of theYear" for 2011

I wonder whether this award will have those conservatives blasting politically-motivated “fact check” operations rethinking that criticism?
--Ed Morrissey, Hot Air blog
Fact check critics who base their criticism on a completely consistent pattern of wronging only one party or ideological position should take Morrissey's argument to heart.

As I have written repeatedly, a significant ideological bias does not require all the harm to hit one side and all the benefit to accrue to the opposite side.  In scientific terms, a simple majority of cases favoring one ideology over another indicates an ideological bias (after taking the margin of error into account).  Two out of three "Lie of the Year" awards going to conservatives, for example, fits well with the hypothesis of liberal bias.  Granted, three out of three makes an even better case.

What, if anything, does the 2011 "Lie of the Year" mean with respect to the issue of media bias?

Answer:  probably not much.

One liberal media hypothesis, as expressed by economist/political hack Paul Krugman:
(T)he people at Politifact are terrified of being considered partisan if they acknowledge the clear fact that there’s a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than on the other. So they’ve bent over backwards to appear “balanced” — and in the process made themselves useless and irrelevant.
Krugman's charge is plausible if we simply take him to mean that PolitiFact carries a consciousness of the effect on its brand of, for example, choosing a Republican claim as its "Lie of the Year" for 85 years straight.  We'll table discussion of Krugman's evidence supporting a "clear fact that there's a lot more lying on one side of the political divide than the other."

At the bottom line, the criticisms of the 2011 "Lie of the Year" from the left are no better than the right's criticisms of the 2009 and 2010 "Lie of the Year" winners.  The latter linked story helped earn Joseph Rago a Pulitzer Prize.  This year's award is no different than those in the past except that the left got hit instead of the right.  And, of course, the apoplectic response from the left creates such a contrast to the right's past reactions that Karl of Patterico's Pontifications offers the following:
PolitiFact’s most useful function may be in triggering an analysis of the overwrought reactions of these progressive crybabies. 
The left is largely content with PolitiFact so long as conservatives take the worst of it.  If not, well, the sky is falling and PolitiFact loses all credibility.  Or something like that.

Krugman's hypothesis is an unlikely explanation for this year's "Lie of the Year" selection.  The pressure to pick a lie of the left was probably subtle and semiconscious.  Why?  Because PolitiFact already carries very little credibility with conservatives, Ed Morrissey notwithstanding.  PolitiFact has angered its main demographic without much hope of building trust in a potential audience of largely suspicious conservatives.

If PolitiFact gains nonpartisan credibility with this move, the effect is primarily in-house:  The journalists reinforce their own belief in their fairness and objectivity with moves like this one.

PolitiFact probably misjudges its audience.  The net effect will be decreased overall trust in the brand.  Sure, the staff can take solace in the absurd notion that criticism from partisans on either side shows their even handedness.

It doesn't work that way.

Stay tuned, because PolitiFact Bias will soon roll out objective research supporting our position that PolitiFact manifests a significant bend to the left.

Correction Sept. 5, 2017: Very belatedly effected the change from "James Rago" to "Joseph Rago" in the seventh paragraph. RIP Joseph Rago.

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