Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Washington Post: "PolitiFacters respond to ‘weekend dump’ allegations"

Erik Wemple of the Washingon Post delivers the third in his series following the current dust-up between the Republican Party of Virginia and PolitiFact Virginia.

Wemple, as he promised, visits the GOP's claim that the timing of PolitiFact Virginia stories appears to maximize the impact of negative stories while burying positive ones.

As detailed in Part One of this extensive series, the Republican Party of Virginia is claiming that PolitiFact Virginia, which is run from the offices of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, discriminates against Republican politicians in the most insidious of manners: It times positive fact-checks of Republicans for the weekends, when people aren’t logged on, and “saves” the negative stuff on Republicans for high-traffic mid-week slots. That’s the claim.
Wemple's off the mark.  The document doesn't claim that the stories are deliberately timed.  Rather, it claims that the timing of the stories yields a discriminatory result.  The discrepancy between Wemple's report and the reality of the GOP document is easy to see in the passage Wemple quotes:
Here’s a relevant excerpt from the 86-page slameroo report that the Republican Party of Virginia compiled on PolitiFact Virginia:
PolitiFact Issued Only Two “False” And One “Pants On Fire” Ruling On Republican Statements During The Weekend (Starting After 5 P.M. On Friday), Saving 37 “Mostly False,” “False,” “Pants On Fire,” And “Full Flop” Reports To Be Issued Between Monday And Thursday.

The GOP claim is obviously couched in objective terms and makes no judgments about PolitiFact's intent.  The claim concerns the result, not the intent.

And, of course, the PolitiFact response is a total joke.

Rick Thornton of the Richmond Times-Dispatch says “We typically print in the newspaper PolitiFact rulings on Sunday and Monday . . . . We post our rulings online pretty much as soon as they’re done . . . . A number of our rulings on both sides are on Fridays because they’re being finished up on Friday for Sunday.” 

That doesn't answer anything.

PolitiFact editor Bill Adair, who heads the national operation, says "It’s ridiculous to suggest that any of our PolitiFact sites schedule publication of some items to get smaller audiences."

Adair gravitates directly toward the same straw man that fascinated Wemple.  If the GOP document has the facts right and the good gets the small audience while the bad gets the big audience then the discrimination exists regardless of whether the PolitiFacters possess an awareness of the fact.  And one would think that PolitiFact Virginia would know about the alleged problem from its communications with the RPV.

Neither Thornton nor Adair addresses the charge from the RPV.  And it's a pity that Wemple reported it inaccurately.

Why is this so hard?  If the Sunday paper has more readers than weekday papers then PolitiFact can give an objective response to the charge from the RPV:  Those weekend stories often may have the larger audience.  If that defense isn't accurate then perhaps admit that the RPV has a point but assure everyone that it wasn't on purpose.

Is PolitiFact dissembling for the sake of a CYA strategy?   Yeah, could be.  In any case, the responses from PolitiFact scarcely count as serious.  And we let these people check facts for us?

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