Monday, June 4, 2012

Anchor Rising: "Truth Once Again Blowin' In The Wind At PolitiFact"

Monique Chartier of Anchor Rising brings our attention to likely case of PolitiFact bias.

This looks like another classic case where PolitiFact (PolitiFact Rhode Island in this case) applies a hyper-literal interpretation to a statement that is plainly true when given normal charitable interpretation.

Specifically, Lisa Blais of the Ocean State Tea Party In Action group appeared on WHJJ 920's Helen Glover Show.  During that appearance, Blais said ""As you know, we came out against Deepwater.  And everybody is now paying for it in their electric bills." 

Blais' comment came in the context of a different case of potentially wasteful government intervention.  Taken in context, Blais is saying that the Deepwater wind turbine project receives its financing from electric bills.  Blais was not communicating the message that persons paying electric bills today are directly paying for the Deepwater project.  Find Blais' comments at about the two minute mark of the following audio.

PolitiFact ruled based on the idea that the listener would conclude that today's electric bill directly pays for the Deepwater project and gave Blais a ruling of "Barely True."  The PolitiFact story concedes that the project indirectly increases utility bills for today's energy consumer:
In 2009, the legislature and Gov. Donald Carcieri modified that law, requiring National Grid to actively encourage renewable energy projects; one of them was to be an undersea power line from Block Island to the mainland.
National Grid has racked up some legal costs dealing with that power line and those costs are being passed on to consumers as part of a 0.007 cents per kilowatt hour surcharge on their bills. For the typical residential customer -- who uses about 500 kilowatts per month -- that surcharge translates to no more than 3.5 cents per month.
Even taken hyper-literally Blais' claim was partly true, but the real crime is PolitiFact's decision not to give credit Blais' statement with a normal interpretation.

Blais appeared again today on the Helen Glover Show and gave PolitiFact an appropriate and well-delivered pushback.  Blais point out how PolitiFact went easy on a liberal in a different fact check when the literal interpretation was egregiously wrong.  She correctly observes that PolitiFact's standards abuse the term "standards."

Chartier provided the following update:
Permit me to be more specifical as to how PolitiFact is miss-serving the public and the truth in the case of Lisa's statement. The headline of today's rating is

Tea Party leader Lisa Blais says Rhode Island consumers are now paying for Deepwater wind turbine project in their electric bills.

However deplorable, not everyone delves into an article or an issue. On any given day, many people are only going to skim headlines to pick up the news - I'm guilty of that myself.

And in skimming mode, the all-important modifier "now" in the PolitiFact headline is not likely to register. What will certainly register, however, is the "False". So people are going to come away from this rating thinking, "That's that offshore windmill project, isn't it? I thought it was going to be funded by our electric bills. But PolitiFact says it isn't. That's good!"
Of course PolitiFact is acting hypocritically.  Blais' statement might mislead people.  That's bad, and it deserves a "Mostly False."  PolitiFact similarly misleads people.  That's good, because it gives people an easy way to find the truth in politics without reading every word of a fact check.

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