Tuesday, February 28, 2012

PolitiFact's sham fact checking

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and  President Barack Obama had something in common last week, and Jeff Dyberg noticed.

Both made statements about majorities that were graded "Mostly True" by the fact checkers at PolitiFact.  The justifications PolitiFact used for the rulings was similar.  PolitiFact cited poll data showing that pluralities rather than majorities obtained, and ruled favorably based on the underlying points.

Note the summary paragraph for the Rubio story:
Rubio said that the majority of Americans are conservative. A respected ongoing poll from Gallup shows that conservatives are the largest ideological group, but they don’t cross the 50 percent threshold. So we rate his statement Mostly True.
Compare the summary paragraph for the Obama item:
So overall, the poll numbers support Obama’s general point, but they don’t fully justify his claim that "the American people for the most part think it’s a bad idea." Actually, in most of the polls just a plurality says that. On balance, we rate his statement Mostly True.
Rubio and Obama no longer have the "Mostly True" ruling in common.

PolitiFact received numerous complaints about the Rubio ruling and changed it to "Half True."

Of course, in the case of Rubio, PolitiFact found more information that bolstered the downgraded "Half True" rating.

Just kidding.  Go through the updated story with a fine-toothed comb and Rubio's claim ends up looking even more similar to Obama's, except maybe better.  Note the concluding paragraph of the updated Rubio story:
So by the two polls, he was incorrect. By one, he was correct and we find support for his underlying point that there are more conservatives than liberals. On balance, we rate this claim Half True.
This case makes it appear that PolitiFact is sensitive to scolding from the left, perhaps particularly when it comes from media elites like Jay Rosen.  And maybe that's understandable in a way.  But if the left doesn't complain about the Obama rating until it's downgraded to "Half True" then both the left and PolitiFact (or is there a difference?) look pretty inconsistent.

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