Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Volokh Conspiracy: "Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” – Part Deux"

Jonathan H. Adler, writing at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, highlights an overlooked aspect of PolitiFact's 2013 "Lie of the Year" snafu:
Avik Roy writes on how Politifact’s assessment of the “if you like your plan, you can keep it” promise went from 100% true to half-true to a “pants on fire” lie to the “lie of the year.”  The column is fairly devastating by itself, but then Politifact’s Angie Holan, who authored some of the relevant evaluations, tried to defend Politifact with a tweet:
The mind reels.  Then-Senator Obama’s 2008 health care plan had numerous elements that were sure to disrupt health insurance markets, as Roy noted in the column.
Drobnic Holan's right that the campaign proposal was different from the eventual law.  But Roy and Adler are obviously correct that the campaign proposal was, on its face, even more disruptive than the Affordable Care Act with its individual mandate.

With Drobnic Holan's response we can count her as a worthy successor to former PolitiFact editor Bill Adair, who was also notably inept at dealing with criticism.

Drobnic Holan wants to forget about the "True" rating Obama received for the "If you like your plan" pledge based on his campaign proposal.  The campaign proposal was different from the ACA, she says.  But at the same time, Drobnic Holan wants everyone to accept without question that PolitiFact can combine Obama's ACA version of the "If you like your plan" pledge with his later "What we said was" hedge.

PolitiFact combined those two statements to produce a Frankenstein's monster candidate for its 2013 "Lie of the Year" candidate.

Dr. Holanstein doesn't want the 2008 "True" rating connected to her monster.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

PolitiFact can't handle the truth about its "Lie of the Year"

Yesterday PolitiFact published an article called "The most interesting reactions to the 2013 Lie of the Year."*

It leads with a half-truth:
Last week, we unveiled our 2013 Lie of the Year, President Barack Obama’s statement, "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it," making the announcement live on CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper and simultaneously publishing an in-depth story on our website.
Either it's a half-truth or else Angie Drobnic Holan lied to CBS' Jake Tapper when she said "They're both the lie of the year," referring to a different claim from President Obama that PolitiFact rated "Pants on Fire" in 2013.

Half true, as PolitiFact describes it, means "the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."  Forgetting to mention the co-winner of the award would appear to count as an important detail.

It's delicious hypocrisy from fact-checking's weakest link.  This year's "Lie of the Year" was all about covering PolitiFact's arse as it failed to adequately cover President Obama's inaccurate speech about the Affordable Care Act.

And we can't resist pointing out how PolitiFact tries to keep the bloodsucking vampires of criticism at bay with a garlicky cliche:
We had defenders on Twitter, too, like David Podhaskie, a legal editor. "Maybe people are getting mad at @Politifact because they haven't actually read their entries on Obamacare?" He linked to a few. "If a fact-checking site is making both sides mad, it's doing its job."
Kind of like John Beale was doing his job if both Democrats and Republicans are outraged at the way he defrauded the EPA and the American people.  Isn't it past time to retire that lamest of defenses?

Conservatives and liberals have the same legitimate complaint about PolitiFact:  It's inconsistent with its past practices to name a "Half True" statement as its "Lie of the Year."  Beyond that, conservatives think the "Half True" rating was too kind while liberals think a "Half True" statement shouldn't be eligible for the award.

The criticism from both sides means PolitiFact isn't doing its job.  The unusual way a "Half True" statement qualified as a "Lie of the Year" deserved a full and complete explanation from PolitiFact.  We're not getting one because PolitiFact is succeeding with the deception it intended for this year's "Lie of the Year."

*The fact that we warranted no mention in that article shows clearly we should have worked a cabal of fascist cannibalistic lesbian spies into our PolitiFact Lie-of-the-Year conspiracy article.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Hot Air: "Congratulations, Barack Obama, on winning PolitiFact’s 'Lie of the Year'!"

We're not much for using PolitiFact as evidence for much of anything, but Allahpundit's "Lie of the Year" article for Hot Air avoids some of the missteps we're seeing from other conservative voices.

Rather than simply trusting that the LOTY award hits President Obama where he lives, Allahpundit notes some of the fishy circumstances surrounding the selection and echos some of the good questions Jake Tapper posed to PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan when the award was announced on Tapper's CNN program, "The Lead":
And yet, as Sean Higgins noted last month, the hacks at PolitiFact backed Obama up on it in whole or in part no fewer than six times between 2008 and 2012. Last year, in the thick of the presidential campaign, O actually had the balls to say, “If you’re one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance.” That’s even more categorical than his infamous phrasing at the AMA conference in 2009. PolitiFact’s rating: Half-true.
We do wish commentators like Allahpundit were more clear on the point that PolitiFact is not budging from its "Half True" rating of  "If you like it" despite the LOTY award.  PolitiFact is using a different and later claim from Obama as a shoehorn to help squeeze "If you like it" in as the winner.

As PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan explained, "They're both the Lie of the Year."

Red Alert Politics: "PolitiFact attempts to downplay “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” falsehood even while dubbing it ‘Lie of the Year’"

How can we not like a "Lie of the Year" blog post that dovetails with our own painstaking analysis?

Red Alert Politics:
In both 2009 and 2012, the website gave the President’s ‘if you like it, you can keep it’ assertions “half-true” ratings.

But in its “Lie of the Year” designation, PolitiFact still claimed the President was simply using “a catchy political pitch and a chance to calm nerves about his dramatic and complicated plan to bring historic change to America’s health insurance system” — instead of outright lying to achieve his political ends.
Red Alert Politics' Kelsey Osterman is right, and when one also considers the pains PolitiFact undertook to link President Obama's "If you like it" promise to his later "What we said was" explanation, the magnitude of PolitiFact's deceitfulness starts to show clearly.

PolitiFact editor: "They're both the Lie of the Year."

Alternate title:  "Oh, fuuudge"

Yesterday PolitiFact awarded its "Lie of the Year" for 2013.  The award was announced on "The Lead with Jake Tapper."

On Dec. 4 we predicted that the winner would be President Obama's 2013 claim that he said people could keep their health insurance plan if it hadn't changed since the law was passed.  We believed PolitiFact was using Obama's earlier claim that people could keep their health plans ("Period") to help sell people on the political impact of the president's "What we said was" claim.

On Dec. 10 I accepted that PolitiFact's presentation of its "Lie of the Year" nominees made it certain that "What we said was" did not receive a nomination, but "If you like your plan" was the true nominee even though PolitiFact hadn't rated it in 2013 and it had received a "Half True" rating in 2012.  We charged that PolitiFact was using the "Pants on Fire" rating for "What we said was" to make the selection of a statement from 2012 more palatable to readers.


We were wrong, along with pretty much everybody.  The "Lie of the Year" for 2013 ended unexpectedly in a tie!

PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan explained it to host Jake Tapper.

Newsbusters relates the key part of the conversation:
"So, the lie about what he originally said is Lie of the Year?" asked Tapper.

"They're both Lie of the Year, because this is something that unfolded over a bunch of years," Drobnic Holan answered.
PolitiFact combined the two statements into one candidate.  But didn't explain that to readers voting in their reader's poll.

We're grateful to Jake Tapper for asking some of the right questions.

If time had allowed we'd have liked to see Tapper ask one or two more questions:

How does "This is something that unfolded over a bunch of years" justify combining the two very different statements into one "Lie of the Year" candidate?  Isn't "Lie of the Year" a misnomer if candidates can unfold over a bunch of years?

It would have been fun to see Drobnic Holan's floundering turn a touch more obvious on national television after a little more questioning.

Conservatives:  Don't trust PolitiFact.  They rated the co-winner of the Lie of the Year for 2013 "Half True" and they'd do the same thing tomorrow.

Liberals:  You should complain that PolitiFact gave half the "Lie of the Year" award for 2013 to a statement PolitiFact rated "Half True" in 2012 and didn't rate again in 2013.

Conservatives and liberals should demand consistency from PolitiFact.  If it doesn't happen, get your fact checks somewhere else.


Here's another line of evidence showing how PolitiFact deliberately misled its readers with this year's "Lie of the Year":

2009 finalists
2010 finalists
2011 finalists
2012 finalists
2013 finalists

PolitiFact traditionally lists candidates on its reader's poll including the graphics for the ratings ("Related rulings").  But there's no "Half True" among the ratings listed in 2013.  PolitiFact did not want its readers knowing they might be voting for a "Half True" claim made in 2012.  That would be controversial.

Here's how PolitiFact described the process back in 2011 (bold emphasis added):
Later this month, we'll announce PolitiFact's Lie of the Year -- the most significant falsehood of 2011, as chosen by the  editors and reporters on the PolitiFact National staff. We're reviewing claims we've rated False or Pants on Fire and will choose the one that played the biggest role in the national discourse.
One assumes now they're reviewing claims they've rated Half True, Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.  Though there's no obvious reason to think a "Mostly True" or "True" claim couldn't win it all one day.  Or at least earn a tie.

Pre-publication update:  

After PolitiFact publishes its LOTY selection we get the visual "Half True" rating reveal.  At the bottom, third of three after voters were already misled:

Better late than never?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The PolitiFact "Lie of the Year" conspiracy of the year

PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" for 2013 will prove its most embarrassing effort to date.

My PolitiFact Bias co-editor, Jeff D, figured out why.  At first I didn't quite buy it.  I'm a tough sell for conspiracy theories.  The mainstream journalists I've met virtually all seem decent, and I'm typically willing to grant the benefit of the doubt.

But this year's "Lie of the Year" is a travesty.  And as a former skeptic I'll explain it to the other skeptics.

Jeff's earlier post, PolitiFact's Bait and Switch: "If You Like It" is Not a Lie of the Year Finalist, was toned down and altered at my urging.  It concludes that Obama's "If you like it" promise is not one of this year's "Lie of the Year" finalists.

But we think PolitiFact intends people to think it is one of the finalists.

Why is there any question about it?


In our earlier post, we noted that PolitiFact used bold emphasis to identify each candidate for its "Lie of the Year" prize except for one:

Why did I think "If you like it" wasn't one of the choices despite occurring with bold emphasis?  Two reasons, both mentioned by PolitiFact right along with the choice:
  1. The claim in bold came from "previous years"
  2. The description mentions a different, though related, claim from 2013 that received a "Pants on Fire" rating.  That claim would more naturally qualify as a candidate.
I charitably assumed PolitiFact would not nominate a claim it rated "Half True" in June 2012 as its 2013 "Lie of the Year" without carefully justifying that decision.  The evidence suggests that charity was misplaced.

    But the "Pants on Fire" claim is really the same thing, isn't it?

    As mentioned in our earlier post, Jeff noticed that Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith appeared to think "If you like it" was one of the candidates.

    A writer for PolitiFact Oregon, Ryan Kost, said "(I) think for all intents and purposes it represents the same claim to readers."

    Does it represent the same claim to readers?

    The "If you like it" line was used repeatedly to sell the Affordable Care Act. The "What we said was" line was used in an embarrassing and short-lived attempt at damage control when the "If you like it" line came under withering criticism (after hundreds of thousands of people started receiving cancellation notices from their health insurance carriers).

    They're not the same thing at all. "If you like it" was politically important for years, and remains a major issue for the entire Democratic Party this year. "What we said was" is politically unimportant in comparison, just one of many implausible excuses Democrats have offered for Obama's failed promise. The final proof they're not the same? PolitiFact rated one of them no worse than "Half True" but rated the other one "Pants on Fire." That's a big difference.

    Why are the two different claims linked in the "Lie of the Year" competition?

    That's the key question right there.

    PolitiFact has to know the two claims aren't essentially the same, or else the two claims would receive essentially the same rating.
    Click image for larger view

    "If you like it" counts as the pre-emptive favorite. The rest of this year's candidates are pretty weak. Without "If you like it" picking favorites would be tough. There's really nothing of comparable political importance, and PolitiFact has consistently used political importance as a key criterion for making its "Lie of the Year" selection.

    PolitiFact has a problem. It didn't rate its strongest "Lie of the Year" candidate at all in 2013, so how can it justify nominating the claim? Worse, PolitiFact has rated it no lower than "Half True." Half is quite a bit of truth for a "Lie of the Year," especially if it's a 2012 rating receiving special consideration in 2013.

    Is there any way out of the conundrum?

    What if PolitiFact just sort of combined the two claims? It's not really a cop-out if the claims aren't formally combined! Mentioning the related "Pants on Fire" claim may help deflect attention from the fact PolitiFact is nominating a "Half True" claim from 2012 as a "Lie of the Year" in 2013.

    That's why PolitiFact linked the two claims when describing the nominations. No other rationale makes sense of the decision (see our handy-dandy flow chart up and to the right). Though we're mindful of Hanlon's razor, mentioning "What we said was" in the description of "If you like it" has no bearing on whether the latter is a worthy "Lie of the Year" unless the two are formally combined into one choice. PolitiFact mixed the two claims to help neutralize the downside of nominating a "Half True" statement as its "Lie of the Year."

    But it's just the reader's poll!  Who cares?

    With a hat tip to Vicini, it's inconceivable that PolitiFact will choose a claim other than "If you like it" as the "Lie of the Year" from its list of nominees.  Having gone out of the way to nominate a claim from years past made relevant by the events of 2013, PolitiFact must choose it or lose credibility.

    But what about the reader's poll?  That's just entertainment, right?

    That's what I argued to Jeff, since that's how I've viewed the "Lie of the Year" reader's poll.  But once we see the utility in PolitiFact's decision to cloud the picture by mixing the two claims, we can also see how the reader's poll helps PolitiFact fulfill its aim.

    If PolitiFact's readers support voting for a claim PolitiFact rated "Half True" in 2012, then PolitiFact gains valuable justification for doing the same thing.  With luck, PolitiFact can claim strong public support for its decision.  And mixing in that "Pants on Fire" claim with "If you like it" will help deceive readers into providing that support.

    "Lie of the Year" as political messaging

    There's good reason for anger in response to PolitiFact manipulating its "Lie of the Year" competition to burnish its own image.

    We've criticized PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" as an obvious piece of editorializing.  Picking a "Lie of the Year" is not fact-finding.  It's editorial judgment all the way.  But think about the implications of PolitiFact using "What we said was" for purposes of misdirection.  PolitiFact is using its "Lie of the Year" in 2013 as a cover for its failure to adequately report on the "If you like it" claim as well as for its failure to admit the first failure.  And it's very hard to imagine the strategy is not deliberate.

    Jeff Adds:

    Make no mistake: Obama's "What we said was" claim will be PolitiFact's winner. Furthermore, you can guarantee that the headline announcing the winner will be pretending "If you like it" is the actual winner, despite PolitiFact failing to actually rate that claim this year.

    It hardly takes magical powers to predict PolitiFact's announcement. The field is intentionally weak in order for PolitiFact to justify the outcome. It strains credulity to even consider Obamacare will question your sex life as one of "the most significant falsehoods of the year." The notion that a chain email suggesting Muslims are exempt from Obamacare was a nationally compelling story doesn't pass the sniff test. The only one that comes close to "If you like it" is Ted Cruz's claim about Congress being exempt from the ACA. However, that rating is so comically flawed (and easily debunked) it's unlikely PolitiFact would like to draw attention to it.

    Notably absent in the finalists is any mention of Obama's claim that he didn't draw a red line on Syria's use of chemical weapons (PolitiFact courageously avoided that claim by writing an In Context article, claiming it was too nuanced. Of course, PolitiFact Wisconsin later gave Paul Ryan a Half-Flip on the red line they couldn't tell Obama drew.)

    What about James Clapper lying under oath to Congress regarding the NSA's surveillance activities? No, PolitiFact gives us an Ann Coulter article to vote for.

    Oddly enough, in the year of Lois Lerner and the IRS scandal, PolitiFact selected a chain email that unbelievably claimed Obamacare means forced home inspection as candidate for most significant falsehood of the year. 

    Once you understand PolitiFact is a self-aware political animal as opposed to an unbiased arbiter of facts, it's hardly difficult to figure out which direction they'll take. The fix is in.

    Wednesday, December 4, 2013

    PolitiFact's Bait and Switch: "If You Like It" is Not a Lie of the Year Finalist

    On Monday PolitiFact announced the Lie of the Year nominees for 2013. Twitterers went to work spreading the not-so-shocking news: Obama's claim that "If you like your health care, you can keep it." was a finalist. The lie is pretty obvious by now and the claim certainly fits PolitiFact's criteria for Lie of the Year. So what's the problem?

    It's not actually on the list.

    Let's remind readers that PolitiFact's harshest rating of Obama's most notable deception on ObamaCare is, in fact,  "Half True." As Sean Higgins chronicled over at the Washington Examiner, at least six times PolitiFact has rated some variation of this claim, once even rating a version True.

    When millions of American's [Disclosure: Including this writers' minor child] began getting their health insurance cancelled and were offered more expensive, less valuable plans in their place, Obama's promise and PolitiFact's shoddy work were exposed as frauds. Instead of issuing a correction for their obviously flawed rating, PolitiFact decided to stand firmly on both sides of the fence. Their response to the uproar over cancellations was to issue an article on a new specific target; namely, how Obama described his own promise:

    In case the slight of hand was too subtle, we'll explain: PolitiFact stands by the Half True rating of "If you like your health care, you can keep it." What they're rating Pants on Fire is Obama's new claim that his promise came with a caveat. This Pants on Fire rating is the one listed in the Lie of the Year finalists, not the widely known claim that if you like your health care, you can keep it.

    How can so many people have been fooled into misrepresenting PolitiFact's Lie of the Year nominees, and incorrectly announcing Obama's "If you like your health care, you can keep it" claim made the cut? Probably because that's exactly what PolitiFact editor Angie Holan told them in the article.  Holan highlighted in bold each of the "Lie of the Year" candidates, except kinda-sorta for one:

    If we accept Holan's claim that "If you like your health care, you can keep it." is indeed a Lie of the Year finalist, then she needs to reconcile that with the original Half True rating. Can something that is Half True simultaneously be the "most significant falsehood of the year"?

    Holan was the editor on both ratings. It's reasonably assumed she knows what she's writing about. A glance at the "Lie of the Year" announcement shows that all other finalist claims are listed in bold. Only in the "If You Like It" case does Holan choose bold font for a tangentially related claim, and further on identifying the actual finalist. It defies credulity to justify this as a mistake. The implication is that Holan is making an attempt to confuse readers as to which claim is actually being nominated.  

    The bottom line is PolitiFact included this claim to save face. The "Half True" for "If you like your health care" resulted in an embarrassing exposure of PolitiFact's ineptitude. This is another attempt to make up for it. Don't be fooled. They've stood by the "Half True" rating for years and to this day refuse to acknowledge they are wrong. PolitiFact hasn't changed the rating and they haven't changed their tune.

    "If you like your health care, you can keep it." is not a finalist for Lie of the Year. PolitiFact still rates that claim Half True. Don't let them pretend otherwise.


    If Holan's deceptive writing was too subtle for you, you're in good company. Check out a Tampa Bay Times editor making the same mistake:

    Holan even managed to fool one of PolitiFact's own writers (who also apparently didn't get the memo that he's not allowed to acknowledge we exist):

    Bryan adds (12/5/2013):

    It's worth noting that the voting form uses the same format as PolitiFact's post about its LOTY readers' poll. The wording will strongly encourage readers (like "anonymous" in our comments section below) to believe they have voted for Obama's "you can keep it" promise from previous years.

    Note:  I didn't vote in the poll.  I just put a check mark next to it to help make clear the screen capture comes from PolitiFact's ballot page.

    It looks like the real fun will start when and if this item wins either the readers' poll or PolitiFact's official award.  Will they say a "Half True" claim from last year won the award?  Or make clear that the winner was Obama's 2013 follow-up fib?  Or simply continue muddling around in the middle?

    Update (12/12/13 1859PST): Make sure to read Bryan's follow-up post which gives a more thorough explanation of PolitiFact's deceit: The PolitiFact "Lie of the Year" conspiracy of the year

    Friday, November 29, 2013

    Planetizen: 'How Many Bicycles Can Park In The Space Required By One Car? Don’t Ask PolitiFact'

    Though we think PolitiFact unfairly harms conservatives more than liberals, we recognize that PolitiFact's ineptitude can potentially harm anything it touches.  We have a handy example of that from PolitiFact Oregon, courtesy of Todd Littman and the website Planetizen.

    Littman wrote a report that undergirded Democrat Earl Blumenauer's claim that 20 bicycles can park in the space required by one car.

    PolitiFact pulled its patented methods of misinterpretation and assumed that the "space required by one car" is a parking space.  Littman explained that his report isn't about parking spaces alone but takes into account the total space of a parking lot on a per-car basis.  He then related how he went through the all-too-typical runaround with the PolitiFact gang trying to get them to see his point and change the ruling.

    His dealings with PolitiFact culminated in yet another disappointing exchange with the editor of PolitiFact national, this time with new national editor Angie Drobnic Holan:
    I then contacted PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan, who, after several queries finally replied,
    I looked at the report and I didn't see anything that wasn't factually accurate. In addition, the report seemed very thorough. I appreciate that you disagree with the rating, but at the end of the day, the rating is the judgment of the editors.
    These responses indicate that the PolitiFact organization has little interest in helping their readers understand complex issues. It is news as sport rather than education. They showed no interest in making the column more accurate and fair by explaining the difference between on- and off-street parking facilities, and admitting that the statement would be "True" for the majority of car parking. Most readers will simply look at the Truth-o-Meter rating, few will understand that the conclusion only applies to a subset of total car parking.
    The only way we could imagine PolitiFact could justify its stand was if Blumenauer was clearly talking about an individual parking space.  So we looked up the statement from Blumenauer:
    Between 6 and 20 bicycles can be parked in the space required by one car.  The average cost of one parking space for a car in a paved lot is $2,200; in parking garages, a single car space averages $12,500. An independent cost-benefit analysis of Portland Oregon’s Bicycle Master Plan concluded that the plan would lower fuel costs by as much as $218 million (depending on the level of final investments) by 2040. (Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Vol 8 Supplement, January, 2011)
    The context supports Littman.  Did PolitiFact object to the difference in cost between a parking space in a paved lot and that same space in a parking garage?  There's no excuse for the disparity in price unless one considers the structures as a whole.

    This sort of thing is all too normal for PolitiFact.

    We recommend Littman's critique.  He's got all the support he needs for some scathing commentary about PolitiFact.

    Monday, November 18, 2013

    PolitiFact: Pay no attention to the experts behind the curtain!

    Over at my other project, Zebra Fact Check, I just finished a review of a research paper that defended the accuracy of the mainstream fact checkers partly because they tend to agree with each other.

    I was thinking "How can they overlook the many cases where PolitiFact disagrees with itself?"

    And moments ago, we have another case in point:
    PolitiFact previously reviewed Obama’s claim that "our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years" and rated it True.

    The deficit was 10.1 percent of GDP in 2009, but fell in 2012 to 7 percent -- a decline of 3.1 percentage points. The period between 1946 and 1949, when the deficit as a percentage of GDP fell 7.4 percentage points, produced the only bigger decline.

    Experts have criticized Obama’s point as misleading.
    PolitiFact's "Principles" page lists its criteria for choosing statements to rate. One of them is "Is the statement leaving a particular impression that may be misleading?"

    PolitiFact rated President Obama "True" for a statement experts found misleading.


    Note:  Zebra Fact Check also found the statement misleading.

    Saturday, November 9, 2013

    Letters to PolitiFact: "Losing Credibility"

    Alert reader Michael Schmidt shared this letter he wrote to PolitiFacter Louis Jacobson. Mr. Schmidt raises some excellent points and makes a good comparison. We appreciate him granting us permission to post it so you can read it as well. The following is unedited with the exception of formatting:
    Your continued statements regarding the following being "half true" impacts your credibility since you treat two individuals in nearly identical situations differently. Here is the statement on Obama:
    After the Supreme Court upheld the health care bill he’d signed into law, President Barack Obama applauded the decision in a speech at the White House. In that speech, Obama responded to critics, including Mitt Romney, who say the law could force many Americans off their health care plans.

    "If you're one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance," Obama said. "This law will only make it more secure and more affordable."
    The next statement is regarding Valerie Jarrett:
    But critics of the law have been on the attack about what they call Obama’s broken promise. Defending the law, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett sent out this message via Twitter on Oct. 28, 2013:

    "FACT: Nothing in #Obamacare forces people out of their health plans. No change is required unless insurance companies change existing plans."
    Both instances are in response to defending Obamacare. One uses "nothing" while the other states "if you are one of". Your ruling points out that "nothing" is an extreme claim. Obamacare effectively stated "all" of the 250 million people will get to keep their health insurance which appears to be extreme also.

    In defense of your ruling for Obama's statement and partly as a critique, you state that Obama "suggests that keeping the insurance you like is guaranteed."  In the statement I read, the statement was explicitly stated versus implied. To soften the statement to "suggests" is a misrepresentation.

    I enjoyed the PolitiFact site for a while and I go back from time to time but its apparent bias to a Democratic president and the criticisms I have seen regarding the disparity in rulings between Democrats and Republicans is convincing me that the site is biased and therefore guilty of the same behavior as both politicians and mainstream media outlets (on either side of the political spectrum).


    Michael Schmidt
    Mr. Schmidt repeats a common theme we've talked about here, and that is PolitiFact's inconsistency. Obama makes a definitive statement, and PolitiFact mitigates it by painting it as merely a vague implication. Jarrett does the same but fails to earn PolitiFact's protective nuance allowance. It's true that both Obama and Jarrett are Democrats, but we've pointed out before that inept ratings toward liberals can be indicative of just how incompetent and arbitrary PolitiFact's system is. It's also worth noting that Jarrett is hardly the figurehead of liberalism that Obama is, and throwing her under the bus is a small price to pay for PolitiFact's appearance of neutrality.

    Ultimately, PolitiFact's inconsistency overwhelmingly falls against one side of the political aisle, but there's so much inconsistency there's certain to be liberals hit by friendly fire. PolitiFact's ratings are arbitrary, and should be treated as the commentary pieces they are.

    Many thanks to Mr. Schmidt for allowing us to share his letter. Of course, if Mr. Jacobson would like to respond to Schmidt's letter we're happy to publish it here with his permission.

    Edit 11/10/13 2104PST:  Added links to two PolitiFact articles in both instances of the word "statement" in Mr. Schmidt's letter. The links did not appear in the original letter sent to us, but it's our policy to link to the PolitiFact articles we are critiquing. - Jeff

    Thursday, November 7, 2013

    The Washington Examiner: "Politifact's pants are on fire on coverage of Obamacare promises"

    Sean Higgins of the Washington Examiner makes the logical expansion on the criticism of PolitiFact's "Half True" rating of President Obama's "You can keep it" promise.  Higgins looks at PolitiFact's entire account of the promise.

    Higgins may have pre-empted a similar story I had planned for Zebra Fact Check.  He did such a good job there's little room for improvement except by making the story longer and more detailed.

    The first of these six Politifact columns ran Oct. 7, 2008, and evaluated Obama's comment, “[I]f you've got a health care plan that you like, you can keep it.” It rated this as “true” since Obama was “accurately describing his [then-proposed] health care plan.”

    In other words, it was grading him on the basis of “Did he really promise this?” and not the more relevant “Is this a plausible promise?”
    Higgins makes a great point in the second paragraph.  What kind of fact check is this for then-candidate Obama?  A test of whether he can accurately describe what his health care plan promised at the time?

    The inside story on health care reform from the Obama campaign helps fill in that picture.  Obama was telling people what they wanted to hear.

    Perhaps of greatest interest to me was the response Higgins received from PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan:
    I asked Politifact’s editors whether they still stood by these columns. Editor Angie Holan did not respond directly, instead emailing me a round up of their more recent columns on aspects of the Obamacare debate. I asked again and she did not respond.

    Apparently, Politifact thinks accountability is something that only applies to other people.
    It seems that way sometimes.  I've sent a fair number of emails to PolitiFact writer/editor teams pointing out unambiguous errors.  It's normal to receive no response and to see the error go uncorrected.

    Tuesday, November 5, 2013

    Ethics Alarms: "The Washington Post’s Integrity And Trustworthiness Test Results: Mixed; Naturally, PolitiFact Flunks"

    We've highlighted PolitiFact-related stories from Ethics Alarms before.  This one offers some plaudits and criticisms for the Washington Post Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler.  And it pulls no punches in its assessment of PolitiFact:
    PolitiFact ... is an unethical fact-checking site that often doesn’t even try to cover its tracks as a partisan resource. It dishonestly uses the “fact check” format to challenge conservative positions and bolster Democrats. As I would have expected, PolitiFact employs euphemisms and convoluted descriptions to describe Obama’s flat out falsehood, like “overly optimistic” (you aren’t being overly optimistic when you know the sunny results you are promising won’t happen—you are lying), “less accurate” (a Clintonism), and “a different impression than what Obama is suggesting” (He wasn’t “suggesting” that nobody would be forced off their health plan; he was asserting it with no qualifiers at all, “period.”)
     There's plenty more worth reading, so visit Ethics Alarms and take it all in.

    The president's promise that people could keep the healthcare plan and the doctor they like has appropriately focused attention on PolitiFact's (in)competence.

    We're delighted.

    Wednesday, October 30, 2013

    The Weekly Standard: 'Will PolitiFact Ever Correct Its Biggest Obamacare Error?'

    Just a few weeks ago, I was lamenting the decreased volume of criticism directed at PolitiFact.  But as Obamacare promises continue to crash and burn, picking on PolitiFact is back in style.  And few do it better than The Weekly Standard's Mark Hemingway:
    PolitiFact has a pretty terrible and rather partisan history of Obamacare fact checks. However, there's one, in particular, about Obamacare that remains especially puzzling. It's the "half-true" rating the organization gave when President Obama promised that, If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance under Obamacare. This was not a casually tossed-off statement by the president, either. It was made repeatedly and quite deliberately in an attempt to sell America on Obamacare.
    Treat yourself to reading every word.  Hemingway nails it, and his conclusion is not to be missed.

    Knee Deep in PolitOffal

    It's been said before but I'll repeat it / Don't you feel like you've been cheated?
    It's been shoved down your throats...you eat it / They say it's true...you believe it,
    There is one thing I will never do...Trust you.
    -NoMeansNo, "Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed"

    It's getting more difficult to notice the difference between PolitiFact and Obama's campaign group OFA with each passing rating. The latest installment of PolitiFact's propaganda is a truly stunning piece of spin:

    Image from PolitiFact.com

    Fear not, Truthseekers: PolitiFact fills us in on their target:
    In this fact-check, we wanted to dig into what’s happening to the American health insurance system to see what policies are being canceled, how many, why and how you might be affected.
    And what unarguable facts did they uncover?
    Before the health care law was passed, the individual market was widely considered a mess. Insurers could turn you down for pre-existing conditions, and none of the insurance was standardized, so if you bought a policy, it wasn’t always crystal clear what you were getting.
    Let's parse that paragraph line by line. Who considered the individual market a mess? The roughly 15 million people that voluntarily made up that market? By what objective standard is it a fact that insurance companies turning down people with pre-existing conditions a bad thing? It's actually a very good thing for the people without said pre-existing conditions. The final, and most offensive of the newspeak is this: "...none of the insurance was standardized..."

    GASP! PEARLS GRASPED! People had to choose between different insurance plans! THE HORROR! What if they made the wrong choice? How can people make decisions about what product best fulfills their needs without PolitiFact or Obama telling them what's best for them?!

    The point that insurance policies weren't standardized goes to the heart of the ObamaCare debate. The fact that people have less choice now about what coverage they must pay for is precisely the reason insurance companies find themselves canceling hundreds of thousands of policies. It's why parents are now forced to pay for mental health and drug counseling coverage for their toddlers. It's why menopausal women are forced to have birth control coverage. But don't let that bother you. PolitiFact tells us it's a fact that standardization is a good thing.

    This "standardization" point makes even less sense when you realize offering people "more choices" has been one of Obama's biggest selling points for the ACA (a claim PolitiFact has yet to rate).

    But finally, we get to PolitiFact's most insulting and dishonest sentence in the entire article:
    Experts told us there is no precise data to determine how many people will be forced to change health care plans, but they generally agreed the number will be small this year.
    Hopefully the 300,000 people in Florida, 279,000 in people in California, 140,000 in Michigan, or the 800,000 people in New Jersey whose health insurance policies were cancelled as a result of the ACA, can take comfort in knowing experts considered their numbers "small." (A term, by the way, that PolitiFact determined using some unknown, but surely objective, measurement.)

    This offal served up by PolitiFact is about as shameless a shilling for Obama's signature law as can be. Rather than clarify the truth, PolitiFact only clouds the issue with diversions and partisan commentary. Editor Aaron Sharockman is either hopelessly incompetent or is enveloped in a painful lack of self-awareness. One wonders what kind of denial is going on in the offices of PolitiFact to miss such obviously biased writing and letting it see print. PolitiFact is an embarrassment to journalism.

    Bryan adds:

    The farce is strong with this one.

    It's pretty obvious in context that Axelrod's sparring partner, Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), was referring to policies changing, not to loss of insurance.  Axelrod switched tracks on Coburn to talk about cancellations.

    That's a patented technique of misdirection, and PolitiFact either didn't notice or didn't care.

    "Bryan adds" Update, Oct. 30, 1:35 p.m. EDT

    Jeff sent me this article via email a few minutes ago:
    [T]he sad reality is that David Axelrod himself also is dead wrong: it’s more accurate to say that the president’s pledge will be shattered for a solid majority of Americans with private health insurance coverage.

    More precisely, of the 189 million Americans with private health insurance coverage, I estimate that  if Obamacare is fully implemented, at least 129 million (68%) will not be able to keep their previous health care plan either because they already have or will lose that coverage by the end of 2014.
    Axelrod moves goalposts.  PolitiFact smiles and nods.

    Edit: 10-30-13 1851PST: In final paragraph, removed extra "the," added missing "a" and "in.") -Jeff

    Tuesday, October 29, 2013

    More PolitiPundit

    We've written before about (former PolitiFact editor) Bill Adair's desire to have it both ways with regard to PolitiFact's ratings. When cornered by skeptics, Adair usually defended himself by saying "PolitiFact rates the factual accuracy of specific claims; we do not seek to measure which party tells more falsehoods." However, when preaching to his flock he would proclaim PolitiFact's ratings create "report cards for each candidate that reveal patterns and trends about their truth-telling." and the tallies of those ratings "provide interesting insights into a candidate's overall record for accuracy."

    Either the ratings are scientific measurements or they're not, and they're either revealing patterns or they're not. PolitiFact cannot promote the cumulative results of its ratings as indicative of a person's honesty while simultaneously hiding behind a mask of random curiosity.

    Apparently new editor Holan has bought into this contradiction with her eyes wide shut. It also appears Holan has convinced herself and her staff that they can don a magical cloak of objectivity when checking pundits as well as they do with politicians. PolitiFact's selection bias is only poised to be more evident when checking pundits than it is with public servants. Pundits, by definition, deal in nuance and opinion.

    But the real howler with this PolitiPundit announcement was the apparent lack of self-awareness in this line (emphasis added):
    Although PolitiFact has done occasional fact-checks of pundits and talk show hosts, the new venture will mark the first time that staffers have been dedicated to checking media figures.
    I bet the best part of being the Unquestionable Arbiter of Facts is you get to decide what words like "occasional" mean. Are Rush Limbaugh's 17 ratings an occasional event? What about Glenn Beck's 23 ratings, or Rachel Maddow's 16? I suppose Sean Hannity's eight ratings or Bill O'Reilly's 10 count as rare?

    It's been common practice for PolitiFact to rate pundits and commentators since its inception. The only thing new here is the devotion of additional resources to its fact checking farce.  I'll go out on a limb and predict PolitiPundit will be an even bigger embarrassment than their flagship site.

    Bryan adds: 

    Some new readers might wonder:  What's the big deal with PolitiFact being a bit imprecise?  "Occasional" covers a good bit of ground, so what's the big deal?

    PolitiFact has often downgraded political figures and pundits for rhetorical imprecision.  It's hypocritical.  To mimic PolitiFact's typical judgmental tone:

    PolitiFact left a misleading impression by saying it "occasionally" rates pundits.  The facts show otherwise, so the statement tells a partial truth but leaves out important details.  That meets our definition of "Half True."

    The Burger King of Fact Checking

    Some of the best anecdotal evidence of PolitiFact's liberal bias can be found by comparing its treatment of various statements. While PolitiFact's standards are laughably inconsistent, the victims of its inconsistency are overwhelmingly on one side of the political spectrum. Check out this recent rating PolitiFact published on Marco Rubio:

    Image from PolitiFact.com

    Here's PolitiFact's reasoning for Rubio's "Mostly False" rating:
    Rubio appears to be making the case that he would have liked to have achieved his goals without having to shut down the government, and that he would have been happy to fund the government fully if doing so was paired with provisions defunding or delaying Obamacare. He may have felt that way, but both of the specific claims he makes are problematic.

    His claim that "I never was in favor of shutting down the government" is undercut by two separate comments in which he supported a strategy of opposing Obamacare even if that meant rejecting a bill that would have kept the government open. And on the question of whether he "voted to fund the government fully," he arguably may have done so once, but took the opposite position nine times.

    Given the political realities of the budget battle, Rubio's words and actions suggest he wanted Obamacare defunded more than he wanted to keep the government open.
    Set aside for a moment that it's impossible to determine the  factual accuracy of Rubio's feelings. And let's forget the reality that if Rubio "voted to fully fund the government" even once, as PolitiFact admits he did, then his claim is an actual fact. For now, we'll just point out PolitiFact's logic: If Rubio had really wanted to keep the government open, he wouldn't have been so supportive of the specific tactics used.

    For comparison, let's have a look at a different Rubio rating PolitiFact published back in February:

    Image from PolitiFact.com

    Back in those days, things were different for the Fact Chumps:
    Rubio said the defense cuts known[sic] that are part of sequestration were Obama’s "idea in the first place."

    That doesn’t tell the whole story -- particularly the fact that Obama does not favor these cuts. The White House proposed them as a means of driving the two sides to a compromise over the deficit, not as a real-world spending plan.
    You see, in PolitiFact's world, the fact that the sequester cuts were "Obama's idea in the first place" is somehow less of a fact because Obama had good intentions. It was just a negotiating tool! Those coots in the GOP weren't supposed to call his bluff! 

    In one case, Rubio bears the full responsibility for his actions, regardless of his stated motivations. Obama, on the other hand, bears no burden for his negotiating tactics if they don't turn out the way he wanted.

    Facts are not like Burger King hamburgers.  You cannot have them your way.

    What this all points out (again) is that PolitiFact operates more as a liberal op-ed than an actual fact checking unit. PolitiFact applies its standards inconsistently to fit whatever narrative they want to push. It's uncomfortable to accept Obama's role in the sequester, so they mitigate it. But they're not about to let Rubio get away with pretending he didn't want to shut down the government.

    This is just another example in a long history of PolitiFact's incoherent and sometimes contradictory rulings. Until PolitiFact can adhere to a consistent set of standards it should be considered liberal punditry.

    Monday, October 28, 2013

    PolitiFact: We're not social scientists, but you sure can tell plenty about a candidate from our 'candidate report cards'

    PFB editor Jeff D. took notice that new PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan recently affirmed PolitiFact's minimalist admission of its practice of selection bias (bold emphasis added):
    PolitiFact's goal is not to end inaccuracy in political discourse, just to point it out for voters' information, Holan says. And the site doesn't cover everything politicians say, either in ads or interviews. "We're journalists. We pick statements based on what we think is most newsworthy,'' Holan says. "We fact check things that make people go 'Hmmm, I wonder if that's true.''
    Not at all to our surprise, PolitiFact's announcement of its "PolitiPundit" project, dedicated to fact checking media figures and pundits the PolitiFact way, reiterates PolitiFact's intent to keep right on publishing "report cards" for the people and organizations it fact checks. 

    It's the same old mixed message from PolitiFact:  No, it doesn't use basic scientific methods in choosing its stories.  Yes, readers should treat PolitiFact's "report cards" as though PolitiFact uses scientific methods.

    "Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss."
    --The Who

    Thursday, October 10, 2013

    Hoystory: "Fact checking frauds"

    Self-described "reformed journalist" Matthew Hoy's disgust with PolitiFact only occasionally bubbles over into blog posts at his blog, Hoystory, but this week we have a double helping.

    Hoy starts out by pulling the rug out from under PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" rating of Jeb Hensarling's claim that Congress leaves itself as the only ones not receiving subsidies on the "Obamacare" exchanges.

    The point Hensarling was making, which is obvious to anyone with half a brain (which explains Politifraud’s problem), was not that no one was getting subisides, but that Congressional staffers, many of whom make north of $100,000 a year, would be the only ones at that income level who get subsidies from the federal government.

    And Hoy continues by pointing out PolitiFact's failure to apply its own standards consistently in rating "False" an obvious use of hyperbole, this time when conservative bloggers mocked the Obama administration for closing the ocean as a result of the partial government shutdown:

    In their effort to protect their lord and savior, Barack Obama, from himself, Politifarce conveniently disregarded two of  their own rules on what statements deserve their attention:
    In deciding which statements to check, we ask ourselves these questions:
    • Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.
    • Would a typical person hear or read the statement and wonder: Is that true?

    Visit Hoy's Hoystory blog for the whole takedown, and let this serve as a reminder that PolitiFact's problems are legion. We don't have the hours in the day to expose them all, so we're grateful to people like Hoy who take the time to expose PolitiFact's errors and distortions.

    Thursday, October 3, 2013

    Out: Bill Adair. In: Angie Drobnic Holan

    Yesterday, PolitiFact announced that Angie Drobnic Holan will replace Bill Adair as the organization's chief editor.  Adair, despite his difficulty in coming to grips with the concept of selection bias, was recruited by Duke University into the halls of academia.

    What does this mean?

    Well, it gives us an opportunity to see how PolitiFact performs with and without Bill Adair.  We expected/hoped to see some improvement in PolitiFact's performance when Adair departed.  But we got the impression that PolitiFact was even worse after Adair moved on to Duke.  Is it the effects of a rudderless ship, or do we have an early preview of the new PolitiFact since Holan has already assumed much of Adair's role?

    We're inclined to give Holan a clean slate.  But we don't have our hopes up.  Holan's been inside the PolitiFact bubble since its initial inflation, and we have plenty of evidence of her participation in various PolitiFact missteps (more).

    Comical note:

    About an hour before PolitiFact published its announcement about Holan, I emailed J.D. saying "When are they announcing Holan's new role as PF head editor?"

    Am I psychic?  No.  The timing of my question was hilariously coincidental, but I'd noticed a recent increase in search engine queries including Angie Drobnic Holan in the search terms.  It made sense to take that information as a sign that leaks had started to occur.

    J.D. adds:

    I'll go on record as saying PolitiFact has become brazenly more partisan since Adair's departure, something I didn't think was possible. I'm not sure if Adair was actually a half decent editor or simply better at hiding the St. Petersburg Obama Fan Club's bias. Either way the results have been comically awful. Whatever leash Adair was holding on Jacobson has been cut loose by Holan.

    Regardless, we look forward to critiquing Holan's tenure as the Undisputed Arbiter of Fact. We'd also like to congratulate Bill Adair for the unforgettable impression he's making on Duke University's future Pulitzer winners.

    Tuesday, October 1, 2013

    The partisan view of bipartisanship

    PolitiFact offers us implicit instruction in the partisan view of bipartisanship:

    Image from PolitiFact.com

    PolitiFact says "bipartisan" doesn't mean just one or two votes from one partisan group.  What does the dictionary say?
    representing, characterized by, or including members from two parties or factions: Government leaders hope to achieve a bipartisan foreign policy.
    Cruz is correct using the loosest definition of "bipartisan."  Why would PolitiFact fail to recognize that in its rating?  The rating arbitrarily discounts a clear element of truth in Cruz's statement.

    In contrast, when President Obama claims Democrats and Republicans voted to keep the government open, PolitiFact finds that no Republicans supported the final bill that would have prevented a partial government shutdown.

    Is Cruz objectively misleading his audience more than Obama misleads his?  Look in vain for the evidence in the fact checks of Cruz and Obama.

    Friday, September 27, 2013

    Right Wisconsin: "Kooyenga Rips PolitiFact Rating" (Updated)

    State representative and C.P.A Dale Kooyenga responds via Right Wisconsin to PolitiFact's "Mostly False" rating of his statement that the legislature has used GAAP accounting principles for the past two years.

    We're not professional accountants, but it looks like Kooyenga has a good case that PolitiFact Wisconsin's Dave Umhoefer gave his statement an unreasonable interpretation.
    I have spoken to dozens of CPAs about your rating - they all agree your rating is simply wrong.  I would be happy to arrange a meeting with several CPAs from academia and the private sector to resolve the misinformation you printed in today's paper.  Ironically, your rating is simply wrong and I hope you are willing to revisit this matter. 
    Read the whole thing, and then go get yourself some popcorn.

    Update 9/27/2013

    The MacIver Institute's MacIver News Service updates the story with a news video:

    Monday, September 23, 2013

    Gingrich/O'Malley: The Fix is In

    With our previous post we took note of PolitiFact taking the unusual though not unprecedented step of unpublishing a story while preparing a revised version.

    PolitiFact didn't take long to publish its update.  The new version was published the same day.  And, if readers will pardon the pun, the fix is in.

    PolitiFact rated a battle of stats between one of the hosts of CNN's new "Crossfire" show, Newt Gingrich, and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, focusing mostly on a statement from Gingrich.  In the original version of the fact check, PolitiFact rated Gingrich "False."  We find a relic of the original rating in the text of the new version:
    One of the disputes focused on the two states’ population growth, with co-host Newt Gingrich suggesting that Texas was growing and Maryland shrinking because of their economic performance.
    Originally, PolitiFact thought Gingrich was saying Texas' population had grown while Maryland's shrank.  Since both states grew, PolitiFact gave Gingrich the "False" rating.  Here's PolitiFact's telling of what Gingrich said:
    Gingrich: "Let me ask you this. As an objective fact, in the five years you've been governor, Texas has gained 440,000 people. According to the U.S. Census, Maryland has lost 20,000. Now, if we're having all this upward trajectory, why is Texas doing 22 times better in population migration over the last five years than Maryland?"
    In context, Gingrich makes clear he's talking about population migration, not population growth.  Granted, one might initially think he was talking about population growth since he doesn't specify population migration until the end.  That's a good excuse for O'Malley responding with stats that don't fit Gingrich's question, but it's a poor excuse for fact checkers having more time to consider context.

    In the new version of its fact check PolitiFact upgraded Gingrich to "Half True."

    Why "Half True"?  Supposedly because of this:
    Essentially, they’re both right -- they just used different measurements. O’Malley is right if you use overall population figures, while Gingrich is right if you look at migration from other states. We’ll split the difference and call this one Half True.
    They're both right, but Gingrich gets a "Half True" because O'Malley is right about a different figure.  PolitiFact apparently splits the difference between Gingrich's "True" and O'Malley's "True" and Gingrich gets a "Half True" as a result.

    Does it make any sense at all to lower Gingrich's rating because O'Malley offered a competing statistic that was also true?  We're not seeing it.

    This looks like nothing less than a post-hoc rationalization for not doing a full reversal and giving Gingrich a "True" rating.  To justify a lower rating PolitiFact should explain something about the missing context we need in order to understand what Gingrich was saying.