Monday, August 20, 2012

Dustin Siggins: "Is PolitiFact Campaigning for Obama?"

Dustin Siggins offers up another solid critique of PolitiFact in an article that was first posted at Right Wing News and then promoted at Hot Air. This time Siggins takes apart a PolitiFact Wisconsin rating on Nobel Teen Choice Award-winning actress Eva Longoria:

Image from
This seems like an easy claim to rate. Ryan's budget either cuts Pell Grant scholarships to 10 million students or it doesn't. How can PolitiFact screw this one up? Siggins fishes out the flaws:
PFW ranks this claim as “half-true.” Their primary evidence? An unsubstantiated claim by President Obama in April 2012:
Fortunately, our colleagues at PolitiFact National evaluated a similar statement made by Obama himself in April 2012, a few days after the GOP-controlled House approved Ryan’s budget resolution. (The plan didn’t pass in the Democratic-controlled Senate.)

Obama said that if spending reductions in the resolution “were to be spread out evenly,” nearly 10 million college students would see their financial aid cut by an average of more than $1,000 each. The White House told our colleagues the president was referring to the Pell Grant program.

So, Ryan’s plan does not specify cuts to Pell Grants. Obama is simply applying the total spending cuts in the plan evenly across the overall budget to derive a Pell Grant number.
This alone should make PolitiFact’s claim laughable.
Laughable is the right word. All PolitiFact has done here is accept Obama's dubious and "Half True" talking point as an actual budget number, and used it as a baseline to judge the accuracy of Longoria's claim. That's not fact-checking, that's the kind of spin the Obama campaign pays for from Robert Gibbs.

Siggins zeros in on another critical point PolitiFact uses to make Longoria's (and Obama's) talking point hold water:
[F]ollowing a link from the PFW analysis to the Department of Education’s website, one sees the Department has requested Pell Grants whose cost will total $36.629 billion – meaning that in a budget proposal that spends nearly one hundred times what the Department has requested, PolitiFact is making big assumptions.
It's hard to reconcile this type of rubber stamping of stump-speech rhetoric with the title of "non-partisan fact-checkers." There's simply nothing in Ryan's budget that identifies specific cuts to Pell grants, and it's only in the fast and loose world of political talking heads that assumptions like Obama's and Longoria's pass muster. Rather than sorting out the truth of the matter, PolitiFact runs to the kitchen to toss more ingredients into the soup.

Siggins has plenty more to say and we recommend checking out the entire piece.

On one point we don't quite agree with Siggins. He offers his own assessment of the correct rating without basing it on PolitiFact's definitions. We agree that Longoria's claim is false on its face, however, we tend to think that once one starts rolling around in the mud with PolitiFact's specific ratings, one may fall into their trap of trying to parse words to fit claims into its ready-made Truth molds. For my part however, I'm sympathetic to Siggins' point that this rating fails to meet PolitiFact's own standards for Half-True. The "important details" Longoria and Obama leave out happen to serve as the entire basis for their respective claims.

Bryan adds: 

I'm skeptical whether any of PolitiFact's logical hopscotch reasonably overcomes the hurdle of PolitiFact's "burden of proof" criterion:
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.
If we have evidential support of the Pell grant cuts then Sasquatch is "Half True" based on fur samples and footprints.

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