Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tommy Christopher: "My conclusion isn't all that different from yours"

We panned Mediaite's Tommy Christopher over his critique of PolitiFact earlier this week.  Christopher has responded via Twitter, resulting in a correction and update of our original item.

Christopher responded again via Twitter not long ago, in response to our tweet about the update:

Gasp! @tommyxtopher responds by pointing out...a typo. Will he address actual flaws in his analysis? Here's our update: politifactbias.blogspot.com/2012/08/pfb-sm…

@PolitiFactBias Well, you don't seem to have read it. My conclusion isn't all that different from yours.
Christopher accurately notes that PolitiFact's ratings make for an inconsistent and unsatisfactory whole.  But our conclusions based on that common observation are fundamentally dissimilar.

Christopher (bold emphasis added):
Fact-checkers like Politifact are tremendously valuable for the research that they aggregate and conduct themselves, but inconsistent, contradictory, and capricious rulings badly undercut that value, especially when those are what politicians and media outlets pay the most attention to. Either a more consistent ratings scale is needed, or they ought to scrap them entirely, and let each fact-check stand on its own merits.

Until then, though, these are the numbers we have to work with, so if these presidential campaigns are going to rely on Politifact when it’s convenient, then they ought to live with these results, and media organizations who constantly quote Politifact should report them.
In our original review of Christopher's piece, we noted the following:
In short, contrary to Christopher's suggestion, aggregating PolitiFact's ratings is a useless exercise for purposes other than evaluating PolitiFact.
Christopher says, despite the problems with PolitiFact's inconsistency, that the media should report the aggregated "Truth-O-Meter" results as if they tell us something valuable about the candidates, hence his headline about Romney's supposed dominance of Obama in the lying department.

We say that the flaws in PolitiFact's process preclude useful comparison of the aggregated results except as a means of evaluating PolitiFact.

We say our conclusion is quite different from Christopher's.  It's irresponsible for the media, including PolitiFact, to slap together the results in a way that suggests to readers something about the tendency of candidates to lie. 

Christopher, despite providing some legitimate caveats, places himself in the irresponsible camp.

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