Friday, July 20, 2012

The Republican Party of Virginia vs. PolitiFact Virginia

We promised to take a closer look at the Republican Party of Virginia's challenge to PolitiFact Virginia's objectivity.

The document works on some levels and not on others.  The best evidence it contains showing PolitiFact Virginia's lack of objectivity comes from anecdote and circumstantial evidence.

Open Letter

The "open letter" section comes across well, but almost immediately afterward the document suffers from accuracy issues. 

Overall Proportions

The graph of rulings by number and by party is off, as pointed out by the semi-daily clockwork accuracy of Karen Street:  The "False" column for Democrats is too short.  The document uses the correct figure for "False" rulings in determining the proportion of "False" statements attributed to Republicans but incorrectly asserts that PolitiFact "ruled disproportionately against Republicans" in that category.  The 40 percent figure used in the comparison is disproportionately low compared to the 48 percent baseline derived from the listed numbers.

Individual Proportions

The criticism based on the individual breakdown mostly rings true.  Virginia has two Democrats in the U.S. Senate.  How does ex-senator George Allen warrant more fact checks than both combined?  Complaints about the attention on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor don't carry much weight.  Cantor serves as a major voice for congressional Republicans.

The Weekend Dump

While it served as an intriguing idea to criticize PolitiFact Virginia for the timing of its stories, we were instantly skeptical of this claim.  News dumps by the government are fundamentally different from the news reporting cycle, yet the GOP document relies on the comparison.  Here's the problem:  Dumping stories over the weekend can put them in the Sunday newspaper, which is often the most widely read portion of a major newspaper.  No case is made for the significance of a weekend dump for either a daily paper or an Internet news site.  If the Richmond Times-Dispatch literally publishes the most positive Republican stories in its least popular editions then the Virginia GOP may have a legitimate gripe, but that evidence does not appear in this document.

Case Studies 1 & 2

The case studies hit the mark more often than not, pointing out a good number of times where PolitiFact Virginia used stilted reasoning to reach conclusions unfavorable to Republicans.

Comparative Case Study

The argument from the case study makes PolitiFact Virginia's actions look fishy, but it's far from conclusive without better evidence.  It does contribute to the stated aim of the letter, however.  This section is at its best when criticizing individual rulings from PolitiFact Virginia.

Appendix starting on Page 54

From Page 54 through the end of the 86-page document, the Appendix simply gives a rundown of PolitiFact Virginia's ratings without any commentary or criticism.  It's hard to see the point, other than to help produce stories about an 86-page criticism of PolitiFact Virginia.  If that was the case, the mission was accomplished.

In summary, the report scores with the anecdotes and not much else.  The presentation softens the potential impact.

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