Saturday, April 20, 2013

Media Trackers: "Arbitrary PolitiFact Opinion Defends DPI, Liberal Bias"

PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair may be moving on to Duke University, but as the watchdogs at Media Trackers help show, the remaining editors stand ready to continue Adair's legacy of lamely responding to criticism.

Brian Sikma of Media Trackers pressed PolitiFact Wisconsin editor Greg Borowski for the justification of a fact check of conservative columnist George Will.

Sikma identified a key problem with the rating:
PolitiFact insists that the reason Will is wrong is because DPI merely made the flyers and materials available to educators, and DPI never specifically told students what to do. But is it possible to promote something to educators and expect for that to not be potentially, either overtly or covertly, promoted to the students of those educators?
 Sikma followed up by trying to grill Borowski:
Asked why they rated Will’s statement the way they did, PolitiFact Wisconsin insisted that they did not give Will a “False” rating, only a “Mostly False.” Greg Borowski, editor of PolitiFact Wisconsin, which is housed at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, pointed out that the definition of a “Mostly False” rating is “The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.”

Asked how Will’s statement, which was also true, didn’t at least merit a “Mostly True” rating, Borowski replied, “I’m not going to be drawn into your little game here.”
 Borowski refuses to let Sikma draw him into the "game" of specifically justifying a PolitiFact rating.

Seriously, how is that a game?  PolitiFact supposedly exists to make these ratings and help readers decide whether they agree with the rating.

Sikma's approach exposes the fact that PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" only plays at objectivity.  If a statement is false, PolitiFact can still justify a rating of "Mostly False" or higher.  If a statement is true, PolitiFact can still find ways to rate it "False" or even "Pants on Fire."  PolitiFact does this by inconsistently applying its set of standards.  The standards assist in the process by including few objective criteria on which to justify ratings.  Subjective and arbitrary ratings result, which may explain why PolitiFact editors get a bit cagey when pressed to justify a rating.

Jeff adds: Sikma highlights a longstanding gripe of ours. PolitiFact likes to present itself as answering some noble journalistic cause and providing an unbiased and objective view. But the reality is their ratings are ordinary commentary typical of any editorial page. There's simply nothing unique about PolitiFact's op-ed's ratings, save for the gimmicky Truth-O-Meter graphic and the conceit that they're immune to partisanship.

Borowski's sensitivity to being questioned betrays the joke. Facts, by definition, are non-partisan. But PolitiFact can't settle for simply publishing facts. That's why Romney's truth that Jeeps will be built in China becomes a Lie of the Year after PolitiFact expounds on what they think Romney was implying. Their Truth-O-Meter and hilariously ambiguous ratings definitions allow the editors to apply their own bias to tell you what the facts mean.

That's not fact-checking. That's political commentary. Sikma touched the right nerve with Borowski, and judging by the snide response it was a sensitive one.

Edit 4-22-13: Corrected spelling of "Sikma" in Jeff adds section

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