Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hans Bader: PolitiFact Is The Liar Of The Year

One of the most vocal critics of PolitiFact happens to be one of the best. Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute let loose today on CEI's blog, Open Market. Here's a just a fraction of Bader's thorough dressing-down:
PolitiFact routinely rated claims that were entirety true, indisputable, and not misleading, as “half-true” because they failed to include additional “context,” i.e., liberal spin. For example, Senator “Ted Cruz claims national debt is bigger than the nation’s GDP. Yes, our national debt absolutely, incontrovertibly exceeds the nation’s GDP. But claiming that gets you a ‘Half-True’ because Politifact’s Gardner Selby” thought that saying that was mean-spirited. Similarly, PolitiFact said it was “misleading” and dishonest for a conservative politician to make the true factual observation that Obama “refuses to recognize Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital, even though that fact was concededly true, because the politician did not provide additional context that PolitiFact wanted: namely, that Obama is not the first president to take this position.
Bader reviews several of PolitiFact's most embarrassing displays of ineptitude over the past year, and his article is recommended reading.

We've highlighted Bader's work in the past and we've always been impressed with his critiques. We're flattered to be mentioned in his article with the many other excellent sites. Many thanks!

Friday, December 14, 2012

All is once again right with the world

Recognizing as we do the subjective nature of PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" awards, the annual award itself offers little of interest.

Last year's award was better than most, however, because of the reaction it provoked on the political left.  The left reacted with outrage because, it claimed, the supposed "Lie of the Year"--that Republicans voted to end Medicare--was true.

We sympathized with that complaint.  We agreed that, read charitably, there was a shred of truth in the claim that Republicans wanted to end Medicare.  But we also noted that the complaints from the left were very similar in character to the complaints Republicans have made about PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" ever since the first award.

Every single winning "lie" has contained a substantial nugget of truth:

2009:  "Death panel"--The original remark and most subsequent versions reference the principle expressed by economist Thomas Sowell that the government regulation of health care results in rationing of services--death panel by regulation.

2010:  "Government takeover of healthcare"--The PPACA establishes government rules insurers and many employers must follow in providing healthcare.  The administration is still writing the thousands of pages of regulations that implement the law.

2011:  "Republicans voted to end Medicare."  Democrats defined "Medicare" as a single-payer plan administered by the government.  Providing subsidized care to the elderly by relying on private insurers would end that arrangement and thus "end Medicare."

For 2012 it's hard to come up with a short quotation that encapsulates the supposed lie, since PolitiFact had to infer the inaccuracy in the midst of a series of accurate statements in the Mitt Romney ad that won the award.  Watch PolitiFact staffer Angie Drobnic Holan wrestle with the presentation in the body of her story announcing the award:
PolitiFact has selected Romney's claim that Barack Obama "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs as the 2012 Lie of the Year.
Did President Obama's administration broker a deal giving control of Jeep to Fiat, an Italian company?

Yes. In its original story, PolitiFact quibbled over the notion that the company was sold to Fiat since Fiat didn't pay for the company. But I didn't pay for the company, either, yet I didn't end up owning it. Fiat was expected to assume debts and help provide capital to run Chrysler and its affiliates. It was a sale by barter if nothing else.

Are Jeep's Italian owners going to build Jeep vehicles in China?

Yes. The company has stated its intention to build Jeeps in China for the Chinese market, which currently receives over 19,000 vehicles annually shipped fully assembled in the United States by American workers.

Now we're done with with the quotations from the Romney ad, and we're down to PolitiFact's inferences.

Will Fiat's Jeep production lines in China cost American jobs?

Sending Jeep production for China to the Chinese may cost American jobs. It's hard to say how many, because duties on imports would cap Chinese demand for Jeep vehicles. That's one of the advantages of moving production for China to China. But demand in China grew in 2012 so that Jeep delivered over 30,000 Jeeps to China despite the import duty. The labor to produce those vehicles will be lost to the U.S., so it's true that the planned Chinese plant will have a cost in terms of American labor.

The Romney ad was factual, probably more so than any other "Lie of the Year" winner. That's not to say that the ad was without problems. A person could think after seeing the ad that all Jeep production would move to China, just like ads from the Democrats in 2011 could lead voters to believe Republicans were ending anything resembling Medicare, pure and simple.

But here's the thing: So far we don't see liberals complaining that PolitiFact chose the Romney ad as its "Lie of the Year" despite the fact that it's true. Apparently since it's not a claim from Democrats it doesn't matter if the "Lie of the Year" consists of true statements given a inferential twist by the journalistic judges.

But maybe I just need to let a bit more time elapse. I'll wait.

"They used to produce Jeeps in China and they were about to go broke so they had to quit," Clinton said. "You can’t make a Jeep in America and send it to China – it weighs too much, it costs too much to send over there. All they are going to do is reopen their operations there and try to sell Jeeps there too. We’re doing fine here."

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" selection for 2012

PolitiFact has selected its "Lie of the Year" for 2012.  It's the claim from the Mitt Romney campaign that the administration sold Chrysler to the Italians, Fiat, and that Chrysler would build Jeeps in China.

PolitiFact's Angie Drobnic Holan opens the announcement with a falsehood:
It was a lie told in the critical state of Ohio in the final days of a close campaign -- that Jeep was moving its U.S. production to China. It originated with a conservative blogger, who twisted an accurate news story into a falsehood. Then it picked up steam when the Drudge Report ran with it. Even though Jeep's parent company gave a quick and clear denial, Mitt Romney repeated it and his campaign turned it into a TV ad.
Holan's delivery is sneaky.  The news story about opening a Jeep plant was misconstrued early on.  But by the time the story appeared in the Romney campaign ad, the facts were correct.  PolitiFact today calls that "a grain of truth."  We covered the issue here by highlighting a post from anonymous blogger "counterirritant," and I did an item over at my fact check site as well.

Here's the bottom line:  Fiat plans to start building Jeeps in China.  It doesn't mean Jeep production will cease in the United States, but the Romney ad doesn't claim otherwise.  It does mean that the Chinese will assemble more than 25,000 Jeep vehicles per year (if sales trends do not shockingly reverse) that are currently shipped fully assembled overseas.  That will affect American jobs.

These criticisms of the PolitiFact fact check are not new.  They've appeared across the media from Forbes to the National Legal and Policy Center and many places in between.

How does PolitiFact respond to the criticism?  It ignores it and continues to publish stories that mislead about the Romney ad.

Ironic, isn't it?

Correction 12/13/2012:  Omitted part of the name of the National Legal and Policy Center, omitting the "Legal."  Apologies to the National Legal and Policy Center for the error.

Media Trackers (Florida): "PolitiFact Florida Dishonestly Smears Pam Bondi on Obamacare"

Media Trackers of Florida continues to assail the purulent pronouncements of PolitiFact, this time over PolitiFact Florida's "False" ruling for Attorney General Pam Bondi for a statement regarding ObamaCare's effect on business.

Media Trackers:
The numbers cited by Bondi are verifiable and accurate. The Mercer survey found that 61 percent of employers expect costs to rise as a result of Obamacare. As PolitiFact Florida itself noted, “Bondi is correct on the specific numbers she cited.”

Nevertheless, PolitiFact Florida ruled that Bondi’s statement was “false.” How could this be?
It's a good question.  This case involving Bondi creates such a good example of poor journalism that Media Trackers probably distracts readers from appreciating its problems with an abundance of sensationalistic rhetoric, above quotation excepted.

It's hard to see how PolitiFact justifies the ruling in spite of the descriptions.  Take the conclusion, for example:
We don’t doubt there’s anxiety among some businesses over what’s to come under the health care law, and maybe some are talking about whether they’ll have to raise prices or cut jobs. But Bondi didn’t talk about planning, she talked about what’s occuring right now, and we find no studies already showing the negative effects or evidence that businesses are cutting jobs or raising prices now. We rate Bondi’s statement False.
PedantiFact is more like it. 

We often see PolitiFact applying unnecessarily uncharitable interpretations to politicians' statements, with conservatives receiving the greater harm.  Bondi made two main points, that multiple studies showed damage to businesses from ObamaCare and that businesses were responding by cutting hours or laying off workers.  Bondi did not state that studies showed businesses were cutting hours or laying off workers.  PolitiFact drew that inference and graded Bondi in part on that claim.

Given normal charitable interpretation, Bondi was correct in that Mercer conducted more than one study indicating economic damage to business as reflected in employer expectations.  Bondi was likewise correct, based on anecdotal evidence, that businesses are reacting by cutting hours or laying off workers.  The statement of intent is enough to justify Bondi's use of tense.

Here's an analogy:  Suppose a baseball team ended the previous season without hitting a home run.  At the winter meetings the team acquires renowned sluggers Jeff Smith and Alex Weston.  The GM announces the team is solving its power woes with Smith and Weston.

But wait!  The season hasn't started yet, so the team isn't solving anything yet.  Right, PolitiFact?  Smith and Weston might suffer season-ending injuries on their plane ride to join the team.

This type of language is common in English.  A high school senior in California announces she's going to college at Yale.  So what's she still doing in a California high school?  PolitiFact rates the scholarly senior "False."

We applaud Media Trackers for highlighting yet another PolitiGaffe fact check.

We do experience concern that some of Media Trackers' assertions are vulnerable to challenge, such as saying PolitiFact did its reporting "dishonestly."  Also saying that PolitiFact smears Republicans while "bolstering" Democrats oversimplifies a complex record of unfairness to both parties that happens to harm Republicans more than it does Democrats.  Toning down the condemnation will allow such reports to reach and influence a wider audience.

Saturday, December 8, 2012 "PolitiFact is biased" is hosting a debate between Roy Latham and "F-16 Fighting Falcon."  The topic?  PolitiFact's liberal bias.  Latham takes the affirmative position arguing that PolitiFact has a liberal bias, and so will bear the principal burden of proof during the argument.

Latham's initial argument owes a great deal to Jon Cassidy's article from earlier this year in Human Events, which at its best resembles the case we make at PFB.  I see Latham's as a strong argument overall with a few potential warts.

I'm actually more interested in how the contrary side will argue its case.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Dustin Siggins: The Most Overlooked 'Lie of the Year"

Persistent PolitiFact critic Dustin Siggins wrote up a piece over at Red Alert Politics asking why the GOP's supposed War on Women was left out of PolitiFact's Lie of the Year contenders. Siggins makes some solid points and it's well worth the read, but his big get was his interview with PolitiFact editor Bill Adair. Adair's response to Siggins was typical, and by typical, I mean comically inconsistent with reality.

Siggins quotes Adair:
"We rate the ‘Lie of the Year’ as the boldest statement or the statement with the biggest reach. Obviously, it’s subjective,” he said. “We didn’t do a fact-check on a statement that there was a War on Women. It was an opinion, and we don’t fact-check opinions. People used it as a sum-up of a variety of aspects of the 2012 campaigns, but it was an overall opinion, not a statement of policy fact.”
Siggins makes the case that the War on Women meme was a policy statement, and points out its wide reaching impact on the election. You should read Siggins argument in his own words and in their entirety. For us though, the rest of Adair's response is a howler.
"It was an opinion, and we don’t fact-check opinions."
This statement is from the same guy that gave Mitt Romney a Pants on Fire rating for saying "We're inches away from no longer having a free economy." (Note: Romney actually earned three Pants on Fire ratings for that same claim, something to keep in mind when PolitiFact pimps out their "report cards") What about Rick Perry's opinion that Barack Obama is a socialist? Bill Adair worked on that one too. Oops! PolitiFact calls both of those statements "hyperbole" (coincidentally, PolitiFact claims to have a policy against rating hyperbole as well). I guess hyperbole doesn't count as opinion.

Unfortunately, Adair doesn't fill us in on the objective metric PolitiFact used when they gave Obama a Half True for his claim that Romney's cuts to education would be "catastrophic." Of course, when Obama claimed that his tax plan only asked millionaires to "pay a little more," PolitiFact "decided that "a little more" is an opinion, not a checkable fact."

"Catastrophic"=Verifable fact. "A little more"=Opinion.

The most hilarious part of this is Adair evades the most obvious problem. The Pants on Fire label itself is entirely subjective. The rating is predicated on a claim being "ridiculous." To this day, Adair has never offered up an objective definition of what makes a claim "ridiculous." So the bottom line is PolitiFact doesn't check opinions, but they do use opinions to assign ratings of fact. (Read Bryan's study on the Pants on Fire/False issue here.)

Adair doesn't clarify the issue by adding yet another version of the Lie of the Year criteria:
"We rate the ‘Lie of the Year’ as the boldest statement or the statement with the biggest reach."
Last year, Angie Drobnic-Holan explained the Lie of the Year was a claim PolitiFact rated "that played the biggest role in the national discourse." Which is it?

Regardless, it's hard to imagine some of PolitiFact's finalists even being in the top 20 claims that fit either definition. In what world does Jack Markels (who?) claim that "Mitt Romney likes to fire people" rank as a "bold" statement that has "the biggest reach," let alone played "the biggest role in the national discourse." Of course, don't waste your time looking for any administration comments on Benghazi in the top ten. The reality is that the finalists for PolitiFact's Lie of the Year exemplifies the problems of PolitiFact's selection bias. I've previously said that I suspect the LOTY is predetermined, and a grab bag of nine ratings is thrown in for looks. The competition PolitiFact selected this year does nothing to change my mind.

Finally, I'll give Adair credit for the most honest thing I've ever heard him say about his body of work thus far:
"Obviously, it’s subjective”
Subjective indeed.

Siggins argues the "War on Women" campaign from the Democrats meets key aspects of Adair's criteria and makes a fine Lie of the Year candidate.  He makes a good argument that's worth reading

Friday, November 30, 2012

Michael F. Cannon: "I Have Been False*"

Health care policy expert Michael F. Cannon of the Cato Institute brings us yet another astonishing display of fact-check incompetence from PolitiFact.

PolitiFact Georgia is the culprit this time.
In an unconscious parody of everything that’s wrong with the “fact-checker” movement in journalism, PolitiFact Georgia (a project of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) has rated false my claim that operating an ObamaCare Exchange would violate Georgia law.
Cannon offers a devastating and conclusive rebuke of PolitiFact Georgia, and it's so elegant that putting the argument in our own words is pointless.  But to sum up, PolitiFact committed one of its traditional sins by incomprehensibly misinterpreting what the subject was saying.  PolitiFact charges Cannon with claiming that it is illegal for anyone to operate an insurance exchange in Georgia.  Cannon was talking specifically about the states setting up their own exchanges.

Here's the original context, for comparison (bold emphasis added):
State-created exchanges mean higher taxes, fewer jobs, and less protection of religious freedom. States are better off defaulting to a federal exchange. The Medicaid expansion is likewise too costly and risky a proposition. Republican Governors Association chairman Bob McDonnell (R.,Va.) agrees, and has announced that Virginia will implement neither provision.

There are many arguments against creating exchanges.
Could the context make it any clearer that Cannon refers to state-created exchanges with the arguments that follow?  The subsequent arguments augment the clarity.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
[Cannon] wrote a claim we hadn’t heard before.

"[O]perating an Obamacare exchange would be illegal in 14 states," he wrote. "Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia have enacted either statutes or constitutional amendments (or both) forbidding state employees to participate in an essential exchange function: implementing Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates."

Is that correct? PolitiFact Georgia decided to conduct an examination of the claim.
Does the federal government propose to operate a federal exchange in Georgia using Georgia government state employees?  How is that supposed to work?

Don't let our brief summary prevent you from reading Cannon's whole response.

It's just another example of amazing incompetence from PolitiFact.  Props to Cannon for standing up to this form of media tyranny.

Jeff adds:
Despite Bill Adair's assurance that PolitiFact "publishes a list of sources with every Truth-O-Meter item" in order to "to help readers judge for themselves whether they agree with the ruling," Cannon notes that the context of his original article "was lost on PolitiFact readers, because PolitiFact provided neither a citation nor a link to the opinion piece it was fact-checking."

As of the time we write this, there is in fact a link to Cannon's National Review article posted on the PF Georgia source list. This means either Cannon was wrong, or PF Georgia amended their article without informing readers of an update, correction, or even an editor's note to document the change.

Considering PolitiFact's long history of inconsistent application of their corrections policy, we're inclined to take Cannon's word for it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hat Tip: Jason Hart at Media Trackers

Big thanks to Jason Hart over at Media Trackers for mentioning us in his recent article. We've highlighted his work before and it's always worth the read. Hart focuses on PolitiFact Ohio, but their problems are representative of PolitiFact's operations as a whole. Few journalists have been as dogged at exposing PolitiFact's flaws and we commend Hart for his efforts.

Make sure to read his post.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Research update (Updated)

On August 1, PolitiFact Bias published research showing partisan bias in the application of the "Pants on Fire" rating.  The research paper argues that PolitiFact's failure to offer an objective criterion separating "Pants on Fire" from "False" makes it a potentially good indicator for ideological bias.

The research paper looked at collected "False" and "Pants on Fire" ratings from PolitiFact's beginning in 2007 through the end of 2011.  We've continued to collect the data and perform the bias calculations.

[See Update and Correction below] GOP claims were 3.2 times more likely to receive PolitiFact's harshest and apparently subjectively determined rating than those coming from the Democratic Party.  Our research expresses the discrepancy as a PoF Bias number, 3.21 in this case.

Here's a preview of the 2012 PoF numbers from our research on PolitiFact's state operations.

  • Florida  1.25
  • Georgia  6.50
  • New Jersey  2.41
  • Ohio  1.33
  • Oregon  2.00
  • Rhode Island 1.64
  • Tennessee  2.56
  • Texas  2.72
  • Virginia   1.83
  • Wisconsin  1.57

Yes, the blue numbers indicate a bias against Democrats in the application of "Pants on Fire" ratings.  But don't go jumping to conclusions.  Wait for the publication of our next research project (unless you figure it out on your own).

Update and Correction 1/31/2013:  While verifying a year-end summary of the research data, I found a "Pants on Fire" claim from President Obama I had overlooked from early January in 2011.  The PoF Bias number, after adding in the missing rating, is 2.25 rather than 3.21.  The graph is wrong.  The blue column should come up a tad over 14 percent.

The revised figure continues to show a marked bias against Republicans, and the high impact of just one more "Pants on Fire" rating on the Democrat side shows how the low number of ratings for Democrats makes the proportions sensitive to minor changes.  That fact makes the relatively consistent trend year-by-year in favor of Democrats (following 2007) all the more telling.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Equal Ratings for Equal Claims!

Note: Bryan and I appreciate the tips and suggestions we receive from our readers. Encouraging people to do their own skeptical research of PolitiFact was a primary goal of starting PFB in the first place. But rarely do readers send us ready made blog posts. One such reader (who has asked to remain anonymous) recently did just that. We've made some formatting changes but the following post is largely unedited.

Do women get paid less than men? It depends on who's getting rated.
Politifact showed its bias recently through the glaringly obvious inconsistency between the 26 Oct ruling on Mitt Romney's claim of White House women earning less than their male counterparts, and the 5 Sept ruling on Diana DeGette's statement of effectively the same thing.

Romney's statement received a Half-True rating:

DeGette's scored a Mostly True:

Each person basically said that women earn less than men, though DeGette was referring to the U.S. as a whole, while Romney was referring to the Obama White House.What was the difference that allowed DeGette to earn a Mostly True versus Romney's Half-True?

It's worth noting that both claims were judged against the light of discriminating factors such as gender differences in occupation, education, experience and hours worked.
This is an outstanding example of Politifact's arbitrary ratings system because it's so easy to see the issue in a non-partisan light. Readers must ask themselves if partisanship is the only reason for the disparity. Romney and DeGette made very similar statements. Whatever rulings they receive, they at least must be identical.

What's most absurd is the Romney story contained a reference to the DeGette story, and actually used the fact that the White House pay gap is smaller than the overall gap to knock Romney's claim down a rung. The Politifact staff had this mistake glaring them in the face, and they still didn't see it. Were they blinded by their bias or an agenda?

Jeff adds:

Our alert reader hits some solid points. To point out DeGette's rating in the Romney article and cite it in order to lower Romney's rating is baffling. What's even more absurd is DeGette came up with a specific figure of $0.77, while Romney used the more general term "less than." You'd think a broader margin of error would help Romney. The discrepancies should have been picked up by Angie Drobnic-Holan, as she was the editor on both rulings.

Many thanks to our anonymous reader! We encourage everyone to send in your tips, and analysis.

When is a tax that isn't a tax a tax?

On Oct. 5, 2012 PolitiFact published a fact check examining Vice President Joe Biden's claim that the Ryan budget would result in a $460 annual tax on Social Security recipients.

Biden's claim was based on filling in blanks of  Romney's budget plan based on extrapolations.  PolitiFact ruled the claim "Mostly False."

On Oct. 26, 2012 PolitiFact published a fact check examining a Romney campaign claim that President Obama's policies place a $4000 tax hike on middle class families.

The Romney campaign's claim was based on translating the accumulated interest from Mr. Obama's spending programs into a tax collected over a 10-year period.  In other words, the Romney campaign extrapolated from the ongoing costs to place a number on a tax that Mr. Obama has not proposed.  PolitiFact ruled the claim "Pants on Fire."

We think the comparison helps illustrate the arbitrary nature of PolitiFact's rating system.  In both cases, the claim is based on the made-up existence of a proposed tax.

Update Nov. 6, 2012:  The image did not behave as hoped when clicked upon, so it's been re-sized and embedded at its actual size to make it easier to read.  The page may load more slowly than average as a result.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

counterirritant: "Jeepers"

We haven't heard from PolitiFact critic "counterirritant" in a while, but unlike the Great Pumpkin, he did to show up for Halloween and offered us a treat. He takes aim at PolitiFact's campaign ad for Obama fact check regarding Mitt Romney's claim about Chrysler production in China:

He writes:
PolitiFact concludes that the ad is erroneous because it “leaves the clear impression that Jeeps built in China come at the expense of American workers.” [Washington Posts Glenn] Kessler reaches a similar conclusion saying that “the unspoken message is that American jobs are being sent to China, even though the ad carefully tiptoes around that claim.”

It seems pretty simple doesn’t it? The Romney ad claims that American workers will lose their jobs when Jeep production moves to China. Chrysler implies otherwise. Therefore,one can conclude the ad is false — at least if one is a non-fact-checking “fact checker.” An actual fact checkers [sic] might see the disagreement between Romney and Chrysler views to—I don’t know–perhaps, check the facts?

There is a legitimate dispute regarding the facts of Romney's claim. But don't expect PolitiFact to sort out the truth of that. Rather, PolitiFact determined the "clear impression" of Romney's words and used Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne's (impartial?) claim to refute him. That's not fact checking.

Counterirritant gives readers his take:

The Jeeps currently sold in China are produced in the U.S.

For those slow on the uptake: Jeep vehicles that will be produced in China by Chinese workers are currently produced in the U.S by U.S. workers.

It's not entirely clear (or even a verifiable fact) that increased production of Jeeps in China will mean American workers will lose their jobs. However, Forbes automotive contributor Dale Buss points out that it's an entirely moot point with regard to Romney's statement:

Romney did not claim that Chrysler was “outsourcing” existing Jeep jobs to China but only that Chrysler is going to “build Jeeps in China.” And that is true.

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in an e-mail to workers this week that Jeep assembly lines in the United States “will constitute the backbone of the brand.” But again: Romney never disputed that.
Buss also points out that "...Ohio and Michigan Jeep seem pretty secure right now."

Whatever the facts, the bottom line is PolitiFact failed to illuminate them. Contrary to uncovering facts, this rating is either an amateurish investigation or an intentional dodge of the truth. Regardless of intent, PolitiFact assists the Obama campaign by neglecting to dig into the story and accepting Marchionne's words at face value. PolitiFact wanders closer to a role as a campaign spinmeister with each passing day.

As always, counterirritant is well worth the read. Do yourself a favor and read his short post.

For more on the Chrysler/Romney claim, check out Bryan's analysis over at his new project: Zebra Fact Check.


It doesn't take much to spot PolitiFact's reverence for Obama in the opening line of the article:

With Ohio’s 18 electoral votes very much in play, the Mitt Romney campaign aims to blunt one of Barack Obama’s key advantages in that state -- his rescue of the auto industry.

There you have it. An objective, non-partisan fact checking group confirming the undisputed fact that Barack Obama, single-handedly rescued the auto industry. 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

PolitiFact consistent on congressional pay raises: prefers Democrats

Monday's ruling by PolitiFact Ohio on a claim from the Josh Mandel senate campaign brought back some memories.

Mandel accused incumbent Sen. Sherrod Brown of voting himself six pay raises.  PolitiFact Ohio was all over it.  PolitiFact Ohio dove into the weeds to discover that since 1989 congressional pay raises occur automatically without a vote.

PolitiFact's Tom Feran:
Because the pay raises are essentially automatic, the only thing Congress can do is vote to stop them. There are roll call votes on whether members of Congress were willing to hear amendments to suspend their pay increases. And it is those procedural votes that the Mandel ad relies on for support.
PolitiFact notes that in two of the six cases Mandel cites, Brown was against the pay raise after he was for it.  I believe that one's called a "reverse Kerry."

PolitiFact Ohio says the point is that members of Congress cannot raise their own pay because the pay raises only take effect when the next Congress takes office.  PolitiFact Ohio rates the Mandel claim "False."

Now, why did this pay raise thing bring back memories?

The Florida Democratic Party tried much the same tactic on Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum.  The FDP said McCollum voted four times to raise his own pay, along with naming the amount of McCollum's congressional pension.  The ruling from PolitiFact Florida?  "True."

Ace PolitiFact journalist Louis Jacobson bought it hook, line and sinker:
Both claims are supported by the evidence, so we're assigning it a rating of True.
There are a few differences between the claims, to be sure, but two things are equally sure:  If the PolitiFact Ohio rating is accurate then the PolitiFact Florida rating is wrong.  And if the PolitiFact Florida rating is accurate then the PolitiFact Ohio rating is wrong.

Welcome to the wonderful world of PolitiFact fact checking.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

PFB Semi-Smackdown: Kossack "Brash Equilibrium"

Ordinarily, we use the "PFB Smackdown" feature to critique liberal criticisms of PolitiFact.  This "Semi-Smackdown" deals with something different, a misrepresentation of this blog along with yet another irresponsible attempt to use the ratings of mainstream fact checkers to draw conclusions about the persons whose statements they rate.

Our pseudonymous subject goes by "Brash Equilibrium."  Brash goes through the trouble of adding Kessler's Pinocchios together with PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" ratings and then calculates confidence intervals for various sets of ratings, based on the apparent assumption that the selection of stories is essentially random.

And there's this (bold emphasis added):
If instead we believed like a moderate conservative that the true comparison was reversed - that is, if we believed that Obiden spewed 17% more malarkey than Rymney - then it suggests that the fact checkers's [sic] average bias is somewhere between 16% and 54% for the Democrats, with a mean estimated bias of 34%.

It seems unrealistic to me that PolitiFact and The Fact Checker are on average that biased against the Republican party, even subconsciously. So while I think it's likely that bias could inflate the difference between the Republicans and Democrats, I find it much less likely that bias has reversed the comparison between the two tickets. Of course, these beliefs are based on hunches. Unlike's rhetoric and limited quantitative analysis, however, it is based on good estimates of the possible bias, and our uncertainty in it.
It's hard to believe Brash put much time into any investigation of our rhetoric and analysis, considering his estimates ignore one of our favorite pet peeves, selection bias.  It's a waste of time calculating confidence intervals if the data set exhibits a significant degree of selection bias.  Giving our site more than a cursory read should have informed Brash on that point.

Our case against PolitiFact is based on solid survey data showing a left-of-center ideological tendency among journalists, an extensive set of anecdotes showing mistakes that more often unfairly harm conservatives and our own study of PolitiFact's bias based on its ratings.

Our study does not have a significant selection bias problem.

Brash's opinion of PolitiFact Bias consists of an assertion without any apparent basis in fact.

We need more large-scale fact checking institutions that provide categorical rulings like The Fact Checker and PolitiFact. The more fact checker rulings we have access to, the more fact checker rulings we can analyze and combine into some (possibly weighted) average.
How often have we said it?

Lacking a control for selection bias, the aggregated ratings tell us about PolitiFact and The Fact Checker, not about the subjects whose statements they grade.

We need fact checkers who know how to draw the line between fact and opinion.  And critics who know enough to whistle a foul when "fact checkers" cross the line and conflate the two.

Correction Oct 28, 2012, 11:30 a.m.:  The second paragraph was originally published in this post minus its true beginning, "It seems unrealistic to me that." 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

PolitiFact presidential debate irony alert

PolitiFact has for the umpteenth time given a "Pants on Fire" rating for saying that President Obama went on an "apology tour."

The graphic accompanying the rating calls for an irony alert.

We've been over this before, but here's the condensed version:

  1. PolitiFact arbitrarily dismisses the expert testimony it solicited from Nile Gardiner.
  2. PolitiFact ignores the presence of the basic elements of an apology (expressing regret for actions that offend the other party in an effort to help smooth things over) in favor of focusing on the absence of "I'm sorry."
The ruling makes no sense, but PolitiFact keeps repeating it as though the repetition will make it true.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The burden of the burden of proof

Often we have criticized PolitiFact for employing a potentially fallacious criterion among its principles (emphasis added):
Burden of proof -- People who make factual claims are accountable for their words and should be able to provide evidence to back them up. We will try to verify their statements, but we believe the burden of proof is on the person making the statement.
In practice this often means that if a person makes a statement and has no evidence to back it up, as with Harry Reid claiming that Mitt Romney paid no income taxes for 10 consecutive years by the account of an anonymous friend, then Harry Reid receives a rating along the lines of "Pants on Fire."

While it was extremely unlikely that Romney escaped income taxes for 10 straight years, part of the reasoning PolitiFact used in its judgment comes from the burden of proof fallacy (bold emphasis added):
Burden of Proof is a fallacy in which the burden of proof is placed on the wrong side. Another version occurs when a lack of evidence for side A is taken to be evidence for side B in cases in which the burden of proof actually rests on side B.
Which brings us to PolitiFact's latest bending of its own rules.  In rating a claim by Vice President Joe Biden, PolitiFact removed the burden of proof from Biden and placed it on Biden's target, Mitt Romney:
Biden said that under Romney’s tax plan "the average senior would have to pay $460 a year more in tax for their Social Security."

That figure is just one way to fill in the blanks in Romney’s largely unexplained tax proposal. It’s an average of a hypothetical, and it’s at odds with what Romney has said he’ll do, which is to protect deductions for the middle class and not raise taxes.
When Biden moves to "fill in the blanks" he's making stuff up.  Otherwise there's no blank to fill.  Romney is not obligated to fill in the blanks, yet PolitiFact lets Biden skate essentially because Romney's failure to provide detail supposedly provides some justification for Biden making stuff up.

That's not fact checking, and it does not represent consistent adherence to PolitiFact's statement of principles.  It adds another brick to the edifice indicating a liberal bias at PolitiFact.

Flashback Oct. 2010: "Just the Hacks, Ma'am"

Note:  Jeff D. originally posted this story about PolitiFact's treatment of Obama's campaign contribution policies back in October of 2010 on his personal blog.  With renewed focus on the Obama campaign's handling of credit card donations, we feel a review of PolitiFact's past treatment of the issue has renewed value.  The post was edited for style in this incarnation.

Few media outlets are as disingenuous and misleading as the supposed "fact checking" outfit PolitiFact. Despite making the claim that they "help you find the truth in American politics", the project is simply an extension of the unabashedly left-wing St. Petersburg Times editorial page, and their consistently flawed "Truth-O-Meter" shtick betrays this bias.

This week produced a fine example of the bizarre contortions this "unbiased" outfit will go through to defend Obama. On Tuesday they offered up RNC chairman Michael Steele and his comments regarding disclosure of campaign donors. Specifically, PolitiFact chose to rate Steele's charge of Obama's hypocrisy-
When President, then candidate, Obama was asked to disclose some of his donors because there was suspicion of their being the foreign source of money into his campaign, they refused to do it. So don't give me this high-and-mighty, holier-than-thou attitude about special interests flooding the political marketplace.
With Obama's false narrative about the Chamber of Commerce, and Pelosi's hysterical warnings about plutocracies, Steele's comments were timely and spot on (for a change).

Was Obama asked to disclose donors, and did he refuse? It seems simple enough to verify.

It is a well documented fact that during the 2008 presidential campaign Obama refused to disclose the names of over 2 million donors. These particular donors contributed less than $200 each, and therefore fell below the reporting requirements. While Obama had no legal obligation to disclose them, he was under pressure to do just that. The reason was Obama had reduced the security safeguards on his campaign website that prevent fraudulent or illegal contributions. Obama claimed this was necessary due to the high volume of donations and the fact that the security measures slowed the process down. Fair enough.

Then erratic and abnormal donation patterns began to appear, including odd and un-rounded amounts (e.g. $133.29-suggesting foreign currency conversion), and curiously named donors like John Galt and Nodda Realperson, and of course Adolf Hitler and "Hbkjb,jkbkj".

In allowing donors to evade standard verification procedures, it became easier for people in Gaza, or even passionate supporters in Vermont, to circumvent donor disclosure laws. Basically, a single person using phony names could make multiple donations, with each individual donation under the $200 limit, but totaling tens of thousands of dollars in the aggregate, in order to avoid the reporting threshold.

These types of contribution shenanigans aren't unique to Obama's campaign. They happen to all politicians. What was unusual however was Obama's steadfast refusal to disclose the names of donors so independent journalists could vet the legitimacy of erroneous contributions.

Several groups started asking Obama to disclose the full list of donors in order to investigate these discrepancies. Obama refused.

The Republican National Committee went as far as filing a complaint with the FEC over the irregularities claiming Obama was accepting foreign cash. The Center For Responsive Politics asked Obama twice to disclose the names of "bundler" donors.

When the supposedly tech savvy Obama campaign finally responded with the ridiculous claim that compiling the list of names would be too technologically difficult, left-leaning asked "So how come we were able to do it in a couple hours?"   Slate also noted:
Politically, there would be several advantages in releasing the names. Obama has campaigned on a platform of making government more transparent...
Ultimately the Obama campaign refused to disclose the names of over 2 million donors representing roughly $400 million in donations. In response to Obama's recent misleading attacks against the disclosure policies of Republican PAC's, the Wall Street Journal pointed out the hypocrisy in an editorial:
Mr. Axelrod told CNN the White House "believes deeply in disclosure"...But it wasn't always the case. During 2008, the Obama campaign didn't show any interest in going beyond the letter of the law in disclosing its donors to the general public. Despite public pleas from campaign-finance reform groups such as Common Cause and Democracy 21, Team Obama refused to...release names of donors who gave less than $200, even though such donors supplied about half of the $800 million the Obama campaign raised.
The bottom line is Obama accepted donations from contributors who were likely foreign nationals and he refused to publicly disclose the names. With all of this evidence it wasn't hard for PolitiFact to rate Michael Steele's claim......False?????

 PolitiFact tries to frame the "facts":
Despite the context of the conversation, Steele was not contending that the Obama campaign was asked to disclose donors to independent groups funding attack ads. That's a somewhat new phenomenon this election cycle. Trade groups and other 501 (c) groups were always allowed to keep donors anonymous. But the Supreme Court's Citizen United case upped the stakes with a ruling that allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts to independent efforts to support or oppose a candidate.
What the what?!

PolitiFact correctly notes that Steele didn't imply that Obama refused to disclose donors of independent PAC groups. So why bring it up except to confuse the issue? And speaking of confusing the issue, what exactly does the Citizens United case have to do with Obama's 2008 campaign? Well, nothing except to throw the controversial ruling into the mix to get the base all fired up and attempt to connect two things that are otherwise unconnected. In this case it's diversionary and misleading.

Steele's statement begins and ends with calling Obama a hypocrite because in 2008 he refused to disclose his donors, and now Obama's complaining about right wing groups failing to disclose donors. All they need to determine is whether or not Obama refused to name names of donors. But if PolitiFact did that they'd have to call Obama a hypocrite.

Surprisingly, Politifact had the balls to cite to "prove" Obama's innocence while also taking a thinly veiled swipe at John McCain-
In fact, an analysis of campaign contributions by the Center for Responsive Politics found that the Obama campaign scored slightly higher than McCain's when it came to full disclosure of donors. The center found the Obama campaign fully disclosed 90 percent of the donations to the campaign, as opposed to 87 percent for the McCain campaign..
Those numbers are accurate. But what the unbiased, non-partisan, help you sort out the truth, fact checkers at PolitiFact fail to tell you is that those numbers don't include donor's who contributed under $200, which is the exact group of donors Steele was talking about. Oh, what Politifact also fails to mention in their snub was that unlike Obama, John McCain did release the names of donors who contributed less than $200. Why was this fact left out of the article?

What other gems did PolitiFact come up with?
We think Steele's comment is misleading in the context of responding to Democrats' complaints about tens of millions of dollars anonymously making their way into this election via independent groups like Crosssroads GPS. Steele's comments aren't directly related to that issue.
Huh? The argument is about transparency. How is it not a relevant criticism? And even if it was irrelevant, that doesn't make it false.
Again, it's not that the Obama campaign was asked for names of foreign donors and refused.
Well, except for the fact that that is exactly what happened.

 And finally they offer up their conclusion:
There was no issue of the Obama campaign willfully refusing to disclose the names of foreign donors.
Yes. There was. For PolitiFact to ignore the mountain of evidence that supports Steele's claim can only be a deliberate evasion of reality. PolitiFact's disingenuous "fact checking" can only be considered ideological cheerleading, and yet another example of media bias.

This latest disservice to facts is not new for PolitiFact. Bryan White over at Sublime Bloviations has been documenting their flawed and misleading ratings for a long time. His site is an invaluable source for exposing the misleading conclusions and flexible standards PolitiFact employs in their farcical "truth seeking" project.

Politics is full of misleading statements and outright lies. A truly unbiased source providing actual facts would be a welcome addition to political discourse.

But PolitiFact is not unbiased. They are simply a liberal opinion site riddled with inaccuracies, rhetoric, and ideology.

Falsely claiming to be objective purveyors of truth is wholly offensive, and PolitiFact should be exposed for the left wing ideologues they are.

Edit 10/09/12-Removed broken embed to video of Steele/MSNBC interview. It can still be found here. -Jeff

Edit 3/9/13-Removed link from words "
warnings about plutocracies" for dubious source. - Jeff

Friday, September 28, 2012

PolitiFact Never Rates Hyperbole Sometimes

"We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole."

PolitiFact doesn't rate hyperbole.

In fact, in 2007 they "decided on a policy against it."

Just don't tell that to Republican George Allen, who recently criticized Democrat Tim Kaine for his position on tax hikes:

Image from (arrow added)

Poor George Allen. No license for hyperbole for you!

Some longtime PolitiFact readers may remember back in the olden days of three months ago that Harry Reid got a pass from the gimmicky graphic:
We recognize Reid was using hyperbole, so we won't put his claim to the Truth-O-Meter.
That line sparked the following exchange on PolitiFact's Facebook page:
Mark FitzSimmons: What? Wasn't the first pants on fire Biden referring to Bush as brain-dead? How is that not recognized as hyperbole?

PolitiFact: Mark,you have a very good memory! It was after that check (and partly because of that check) that we decided on a policy against it.
As we pointed out in a previous post, on three separate occasions since January of this year, PolitiFact has given a Pants on Fire rating to statements (all by Republicans) it described as hyperbolic. Since the Biden claim that was the impetus for the anti-hyperbole policy came out, they've rated roughly 20 statements described as hyperbolic. As far as we can tell, Reid is the only one who has escaped the Truth-O-Meter due to the policy.

But PolitiFact doesn't rate hyperbole.

They have a policy against it.

Take comfort, George Allen.

Bryan adds:

The evidence suggests that Republicans are much more likely to use hyperbole without a license.

Edit: 9/28/12: Changed the word "graph" to "graphic"-Jeff

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Media Trackers: "At PolitiFact Ohio, Democrats Outnumber Republicans 4 to 1"

Media critics continue to identify bias in the political affiliation of fact checkers at PolitiFact.

Jason Hart of Media Trackers (Ohio) published a report today indicating a solid majority of the PolitiFact Ohio staff shows as registered Democrats according to election records.

Records indicate the following twelve Plain Dealer employees assigned to PolitiFact Ohio are registered Democrats:

  • Robert Higgs, PolitiFact Ohio editor
  • Jane (Murphy) Kahoun, Plain Dealer deputy metro editor
  • Tom Feran, Plain Dealer reporter
  • Henry J. Gomez, Plain Dealer reporter
  • Aaron Marshall, Plain Dealer statehouse reporter
  • Reginald Fields, Plain Dealer statehouse bureau chief
  • Jo Ellen Corrigan, Plain Dealer librarian
  • James Ewinger, Plain Dealer reporter
  • Laura Johnston, Plain Dealer reporter
  • Peter Krouse, Plain Dealer reporter
  • James McCarty, Plain Dealer reporter
  • Robert Schoenberger, Plain Dealer reporter

We at PolitiFact Bias are on record defending the potential ability for a Democrat (or Republican) to report news or even perform news analysis fairly, so we take reports like this one with a grain of salt as supposed proof of a reporting bias.

Clearly, though, Hart's report exposes a failure of disclosure.  PolitiFact presents itself as non-partisan.  Part of PolitiFact's strategy for conveying an image of neutrality is to hide the political affiliations and leanings of its staff members.

In practice, the high proportion of Democrats on the PolitiFact Ohio staff can easily exert an ideological influence on its reporting.  It is a team of three editors who vote on the "Truth-O-Meter" ratings.  Hart identifies no Republican editors at PolitiFact Ohio.  So a Democrat is likely to do the reporting and a majority of Democrats will vote on the "Truth-O-Meter" rating.   Yet people will still criticize PolitiFact Bias compared to PolitiFact because Jeff and I admit we're personally biased against liberalism.

We're the ones exhibiting honesty, inviting readers to take our bias into account when they consider what we write.

If there's one secret the mainstream press is unwilling to divulge to its audience under any circumstances, personal ideology is it.  But it's dishonest to pretend to an objectivity of viewpoint that doesn't exist in reality.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Relevant: The AllSides project

A new venture called "AllSides" tries to meet democracy's need for trustworthy information by using ideological transparency, crowdsourcing and some technical inspiration from Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo.

We've previously emphasized the relevance of Groseclose's book "Left Turn" to our ongoing critique of PolitiFact's bias problem.

AllSides appears to represent an entirely new attempt to address the problem of getting quality information to voters in a constitutional republic.  We're not big fans of crowdsourcing, but it seems like a potentially reasonable approach to grading sources for their degree of bias.

And speaking of the degree of bias, the quotation that largely accounts for our interest in the AllSides project (bold emphasis added):
During the Democratic National Convention (DNC), Bill Clinton asserted that over the last 52 years, America had experienced more job growth under past Democratic presidents (42 million) than under Republican presidents (24 million).

In covering this assertion, both PolitiFact and The Washington Post's Fact Checker determined that Bill Clinton's job numbers were essentially correct. PolitiFact (AllSides Bias Rating "Left") gave it a "True" rating and went on to make the case that the numbers were even stronger than they appear.
PolitiFact's "Left" rating for bias especially interested me because I've often wondered how PolitiFact would stack up against other fact checkers in terms of sustaining reader trust.

Unless AllSides confused PolitiFact with Politico (which looks somewhat likely), it looks like PolitiFact wears a broad reputation for liberal bias.

We'll look forward to more from AllSides.

Jeff adds:

Consider me one of the skeptics. Crowdsourcing has undeniable value. Whether it's Yelp reviews or an Ebay member's rating, the opinions of large amounts of random people can mean something. But the authority of the masses doesn't hold the same weight with regard to objective reality. An overwhelming number of otherwise rational people vouched for the Macarena's awesomeness. Large groups of people can be wrong. Reality is unencumbered by the burdens of popularity. The fact that most people think PolitiFact is biased to the left doesn't make it so. That finding is better explored through critical study with verifiable and reproducible evidence.

I took AllSides' 'test' and it's no surprise I ended up on the 'Right' side of their scale. The whole process seemed a bit push-poll-ey to me. If someone considers flag burning immoral, but supports flag burning as a constitutional right, which box do they choose on AllSides test? Do you feel extremely strong that abortion is a right [left box] while rejecting the notion that it's the government's responsibility to pay for it [right box]?

Self-assessment is inherently flawed. And it's even less reliable when dealing with convoluted subjects like political philosophy and moral convictions.

Regardless, I say kudos to AllSides for assembling a respectable team of experts. There's no doubt about their sincerity and they deserve the benefit of the doubt. I commend them on their sincere efforts and it's possible they will provide interested readers with valuable, if only anecdotal, information as their project progresses.

I'm not convinced, but I'm looking forward to them proving me wrong. At the very least they deserve credit for producing a much more honest and transparent project than PolitiFact ever has.

[Note: A draft version of this Jeff adds portion was inadvertently published simultaneously with the original post and then immediately removed.]

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Cathy Young: "But who fact-checks the fact-checkers?"

I was surprised yet pleased to see a PolitiFact-related criticism in the Star Tribune, traditionally a liberal newspaper.

Cathy Young's "But who fact-checks the fact-checkers?" was written for Newsday and treads on some familiar ground, namely fact checks of Paul Ryan regarding the closing of the GM plant in Janesville and allegations that the Obama administration "gutted" the back-to-work provisions in the Welfare reform bill signed by President Clinton in the 1990s.

Young doesn't expand much beyond past criticisms of the corresponding fact checks but very aptly describes one of PolitiFact's foundational problems:
Especially on complex policy issues, facts are rarely just facts. Is Obama's health care law a "government takeover" of health care, or merely an expansion of government's role? Would Ryan's Medicare reform plan represent the "end" of Medicare, or merely an overhaul? Is rhetorical exaggeration a lie? Is an out-of-context statement false?
Young's questions lead the reader toward a point we make repeatedly at PolitiFact Bias:  PolitiFact often reaches well past the bounds of objective fact checking to judging the limits of rhetoric.  The same impulse that leads PolitiFact to grade clearly hyperbolic statements as "False" or worse leads PolitiFact to make judgments as to whether politicians provide sufficient context with otherwise true statements.

Are such judgments within the purview of journalistic fact checking?  Arguably so, yet not without a label to ensure that readers know they're reading news analysis or even opinion.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
Credit to Young for a solid article and credit to Newsday and the Star Tribune for publishing it.  Young's story is especially good for introducing readers to the Janesville and Welfare reform fact checks.  Those unfamiliar with those stories will get a concise and accurate treatment by reading the whole of Young's story.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ben Shapiro: "Politifact Cites Three Liberal 'Apology Experts' to Condemn Romney"

Ben Shapiro, writing for's Big Peace, pre-emptively steals my thunder on PolitiFact's ridiculous story on Mitt Romney and the statement from the American embassy in Libya.


Just when you think Politifact can’t make any more of a mockery of itself than it already has – over and over and over and over again – they wade into the breach today on foreign policy. More specifically, they took issue with Mitt Romney’s statement today that “I think it’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values.”
PolitiFact has a history of denying that things Mitt Romney says are apologies are, in fact, apologies.  Shapiro has fun with PolitiFact's method of undercutting Romney in this case:
So, what did Politifact have to say? They interviewed three “apology experts.” Seriously. First, they interviewed Professor John Murphy, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who said it wasn’t an apology because “the statement does not use the word ‘apology’ or ‘apologize’ and does not use any synonym for that word.” Second, they interviewed Lauren Bloom, “an attorney and business consultant who wrote The Art of the Apology.” What did she say? Romney’s “once again allowing his emotional allergy to apology to interfere with his judgment.” Finally, they interviewed Professor Rhoda E. Howard-Hassman, who said the statement was “not an apology.”
But is that PolitiFact's fault?  PolitiFact tried to contact a fourth expert who did not respond.  By looking at the earlier fact checks we can confirm that the expert was conservative foreign policy analyst Nile Gardiner of the Heritage Foundation.

What did Gardiner have to say in PolitiFact's original story?  Here it is:
Nile Gardiner, a foreign policy analyst with the the conservative Heritage Foundation, said Obama is definitely apologizing, and it's not good. He co-wrote the Heritage analysis, "Barack Obama's Top 10 Apologies: How the President Has Humiliated a Superpower."

"Apologizing for your own country projects an image of weakness before both allies and enemies," Gardiner said. "It sends a very clear signal that the U.S. is to blame for some major developments on the world stage. This can be used to the advanage of those who wish to undermine American global leadership."

He noted that Obama tends to be most apologetic about how the U.S. has fought terrorism and its approach to the Iraq war. "There is a very strong partisan element to his apologies, but the biggest driving factor is Obama's personal belief that the U.S. is not an exceptional, uniquely great nation," he said.
As I noted in an earlier analysis, PolitiFact completely discounted Gardiner's statement in ruling Romney "Pants on Fire" for saying Mr. Obama went on an apology tour.  PolitiFact did not explain its reasons for discounting Gardiner's expertise.  If partisanship was a problem then we should expect PolitiFact to find an entirely new set of experts.  Choosing the expert opinion of three liberals over one conservative looks simply like an expression of partisan bias by the fact checker when unaccompanied by a solid rationale.

In the latest apology for Obama, PolitiFact's three experts make a show of distinguishing between condemnation and apology.  But that approach obscures a potential relationship between condemnation and apology.

One cannot condemn an entity and apologize for that same entity at the same time with the same statement.  Those aims work against each other.  But very clearly, one can easily work a condemnation into an apology:  "My son was bad, bad, bad, bad, bad--a thousand times bad for breaking your window, Mrs. Jones."

In the above example we have an apology and a condemnation in the same sentence.  It works because the apology is directed at one entity (Mrs. Jones) while the condemnation is directed at a third party (the son).  By throwing a natural ally under the bus for breaking the window, the condemner sends a clear implicit message of regret to the offended party, Mrs. Smith.

It's important to emphasize the role of an apology in both personal and international relations:  An apology is an attempt to smooth things over with the offended party.  Condemning the breaking of the window sends a message to Mrs. Jones that something will be done to the window breaker to help balance the scales of justice.  Absent that implication, condemning the window-breaker isn't likely to sooth Mrs. Jones' ire.
In the case of the Libyan embassy, embassy officials clearly released the statement with the aim of defusing anger at the United States.  One can claim that it was a condemnation rather than an apology, but that's obfuscation.

It was a classic apology, delivered by implicit means.

Shapiro's sharp, pithy and to the point.  Visit Big Peace and read the whole of his take.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

PolitiFact and the gutting of Welfare reform (Updated)

Many of us on the political right heard about the Obama administration's proposed waivers for Welfare work requirements cast in a frame suggesting Obama had rolled back a significant aspect of the Republican-led Welfare reform plan Clinton signed into law in the 1990s.

The Romney campaign didn't take long to produce ads criticizing the change.

Almost as quickly, mainstream fact checkers found fault with such ads.

The ad’s claim is not accurate, and it inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance. Pants on Fire!
 We were suspicious.  But to call the fact checkers on a mistake takes research.

Enter Mickey Kaus, piggybacking on The New York Times:
Here’s how the Times describes what Nevada wants to do:
[Nevada] asked to discuss flexibility in imposing those requirements. Perhaps, the state asked, those families hardest to employ could be exempted from the work requirements for six months while officials worked with them to stabilize their households. [E.A.]
“Exempted from the work requirements for six months.” That’s not just “weakening” work requirements–the safe, milder charge I chose to make a couple of days ago. It’s explicitly tossing them out the window for an extended period–“to allow time for their barriers to be addressed and their household circumstances stabilized”, in Nevada’s words.
Nevada, recall, was one of the states the Obama administration cited as requesting waivers from the Welfare reform work requirements.

This piece of evidence alone doesn't make the Romney ad accurate.  But it does render the "Pants on Fire" verdict very questionable.

And then there's Robert Rector, writing for the National Review:
(I)t appears the administration intends to do away with standards of the reform law that require 30 to 40 percent of the work-eligible TANF caseload to engage in clearly defined activities for 20 to 30 hours per week. It will replace those standards with a new standard urging that the work-eligible caseload engage in vaguely defined activities for as little as one hour per week. This sounds a lot like “gutting” to most reasonable people.
Read all of Rector's argument and look for additional information before making a final judgment.  Don't trust in mainstream fact checkers like PolitiFact.

We'll keep following this issue as it develops.

Update 9/11/2012:

Our apologies for neglecting information pointed out in August by Senior Attorney Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute:
The Obama Administration’s move to gut welfare reform puzzled Kaus, who voted for Obama in 2008. But perhaps it shouldn’t have baffled him, since it reflects Obama’s longstanding antipathy to reforms of the welfare system aimed at reducing dependency on welfare and requiring welfare recipients to work. “For example, in the years immediately after passage of the [1996 reform] law, Barack Obama himself pledged to do all he could to undo it,” noted the Washington Examiner. As the Examiner's Chief Political Correspondent, Byron York, noted, on July 12, the Obama administration ‘released an official policy directive rewriting the welfare reform law of 1996’” to allow the “Department of Health and Human Services to waive the work requirement at the heart of welfare reform.”

Obama also gutted welfare reform in other ways, such as supporting and signing into law a stimulus package that rewarded states for promoting welfare dependency, giving state governors an incentive to try to water down any work requirements for welfare recipients to keep federal welfare money flowing.
In a subsequent essay, Bader delivers appropriate words for PolitiFact:
In arguing that waivers won’t lead to the gutting of the 1996 welfare reform law, since the Obama administration now says it won’t approve waivers unless it makes welfare reform more successful, left-leaning “independent” fact-checkers like PolitiFact and chose to rely on political spin from the Obama administration in response to the furor over its action, and self-serving, unsubstantiated, and non-binding statements about its intentions, rather than on what the Obama administration actually did in claiming for itself the broad authority to waive the work requirements at the heart of the welfare-reform law (and what it actually said in its July 12 HHS memo claiming that authority, which discussed “the sort of waivers they want to grant,” which do indeed “weaken work requirements,” and did so in response to a waiver request by Nevada, which expressly sought to weaken work requirements, as Mickey Kaus has noted at The Daily Caller).
We echo Bader's question:  Why did PolitiFact remain effectively silent regarding contrary expert opinion?

This is the game we end up with so often from PolitiFact.  PolitiFact ends "he said/she said" journalism by arbitrarily picking the clear winner between two plausible opposing viewpoints.  The result gives us "PolitiFact says" journalism.

Jeff adds:

I looked through PolitiFact's source list but wasn't able to see a poll they cited that determined Romney's ad "inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance." How did PolitiFact determine the reaction millions of viewers had to the ad? Unless they offer some evidence of the audience reaction, PolitiFact is simply editorializing.

PolitiFact takes another cue from the opinion pages in its summary:
Romney’s ad says, "Under Obama’s plan (for welfare), you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check."

That's a drastic distortion of the planned changes to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.
How is that a drastic distortion? If Romney had used Nevada's language, and said "You could be exempt from work requirements and you'll still get a welfare check" would PolitiFact have awarded Romney with a shiny True? PolitiFact's hyperbolic description is raw opinion that shouldn't be confused with verifiable evidence of a falsehood.

And check out this gem describing the same policy that allows states to provide a six month exemption from work requirements:
"The requirement was for more work, not less."
That's a portion of a Bill Clinton statement that PolitiFact rated True.

I'm also struggling to imagine the fantasy world where PolitiFact would ever write this paragraph:
That's a drastic distortion of the planned changes to the Affordable Care Act. By granting waivers to states, the Romney administration is seeking to make health insurance mandates more successful, not end them. What’s more, the waivers would apply to individually evaluated pilot programs -- HHS is not proposing a blanket, national change to ObamaCare.
In PolitiFact's world of facts, illegally granting waivers and exemptions to laws is a way to strengthen policy. Keep that in mind should the GOP control the White House and Congress next year.
Romney's claim is entirely accurate. Partisans can argue about whether or not it's misleading, or if it's a reasonable summation of Obama's policy. But Romney's statement that a person could still receive a welfare check without working or training is unarguably based on fact. Attempts to claim otherwise are pure editorial spin.

This is how the non-non-partisans at PolitiFact have always operated, though in the past they did better at keeping their campaign chaff out of their research wheat. They must be getting antsy, or perhaps they're getting cocky. Either way, their unabashed defense of liberal policies is less and less camouflaged as the election nears.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Bearing Drift: "Who Watches The Watchers?"

There's been a lot of good criticism on PolitiFact lately, and Brian Schoeneman over at Bearing Drift provides a great example. While his post discusses fact checking and fact checkers in general, he hits the mark when panning three recent PolitiFact ratings that went against Paul Ryan:
What Ryan said in each statement he made was factually accurate.  Politifact claimed what he said was misleading, which is their opinion, not a fact.  Politicians using facts to persuade and not giving the entire context is to be expected, and there’s nothing wrong with it.  We can’t expect a politician to act like a journalist or a lobbyist, presenting both sides of every story.  That’s not what they do.  As Gabriel Mallor noted in the New York Daily News, “the bottom line is that the fact checker criticisms of Ryan’s speech come in only one form: ‘Yes it’s true, but here’s some context that Democrats want to talk about.’ That’s not fact checking; that’s advocacy. And it’s not persuasive, it’s absurd.”

And that’s the point – Ryan’s statements weren’t false, so calling them false is dumb. We should expect more from folks who want to sit in judgment over “the truth.”

When fact checkers stop actually checking facts and begin checking opinion or try to place facts in “context,” they enter into murky water where bias is inevitable.
Schoeneman goes on to offer advice for fact checkers to help them avoid the pitfalls of opinion journalism, and serves up plenty of thoughtful criticism while he's at it. I won't say that Schoeneman writes anything particularly unique or anything that we haven't been saying here for years, but his observations are spot on, well written and carry a message well worth repeating. His post isn't a specific critique of PolitiFact, but he hits so many solid points in such a short post we consider it recommended reading. Check out the entire article here.