Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Turning up the heat on mainstream fact checkers

Crossposted from Sublime Bloviations

Dustin Siggins' post at the conservative blog "Hot Air" serves notice that I'm not alone in pointing out the failure of mainstream fact checkers in testing claims about effective tax rates.

The Obama campaign is running an ad claiming that Mitt Romney pays a lower tax rate than that of the average American.  Following the ad’s release, PolitiFact published an article rating it as “Half-True.”  From the article:
There are two main ways to make this calculation, and they lead to opposite conclusions. While we believe that including payroll taxes in the calculation offers a more accurate picture of what the American public pays the IRS, it’s also true that the Obama ad didn’t specify which measurement it was using, and in fact used a figure for Romney — 14 percent — that was based on income taxes alone. On balance, then, we rate the claim Half True.
Unfortunately for PolitiFact, their analysis completely misses the boat.
Siggins links to an analysis from "Just Facts," a not-for-profit independent fact checker:
Specifically, CBO found that households in the middle 20% of the U.S. income distribution paid an effective federal tax rate of 11.1% in 2009. Using CBO’s new estimate for allocating the burden of corporate income taxes, Just Facts and Ceterus calculate that Romney’s federal tax rate was 23.3% in 2010, which is twice the middle-income tax rate in 2009.
Just Facts published the above the same day I published my critique of Farley's fact check (Aug.7).  Their fact check goes much deeper than mine--I simply noted that Farley had short shrifted an entire body of evidence indicating that Romney almost certainly paid a higher effective tax rate than the average American. 

I criticized PolitiFact along the same lines on Aug. 10, but Siggins takes note of something I missed:
(T)he PolitiFact analysis ignores data cited by its own resource.  The article cites the Tax Policy Center to look at what tax levels are at for all income quintiles.  However, PolitiFact fails to note that the Center’s chart (the same one cited in the article) shows that the top 1% (which Romney definitely falls into) pay 7.7% of their income into the corporate tax structure.
So the PolitiFact researcher, Louis Jacobson, had the information staring him in the face and missed it or ignored it.  That's on top of somehow missing the CBO studies on effective tax rates.

Not good.

Correction Aug. 15, 2012:  Apologies to Dustin Siggins for consistently finding ways to put the vowel "a" in his name where it doesn't belong.

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