Most media outlets lean (or fall) toward the view that the study is saying something about the veracity of Republicans. That's not the point of the study. It's a media study. It's studying PolitiFact, not politicians. Conclusions from the study apply to PolitiFact, not to politicians.
What's the value of this study? Not much at all. It proves nothing, as John Sides points out, because so many different explanations may explain the facts. This study simply records what PolitiFact did with its ratings over a given time period. So as much as we might like to see a study that quantifies PolitiFact's selection bias or outright spin in writing stories, this isn't it. Our study probably remains the best of the lot when it comes to showing PolitiFact's bias.
We've run across a couple of media reports that get things mostly right: Peter Roff at U.S. News & World Report and John Sides of Washington Monthly and "The Monkey Cage."
Roff doesn't clearly describe the point of the study except in terms of his own view (bold emphasis added):
The fact that, as the Lichter study shows, "A majority of Democratic statements (54 percent) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18 percent of Republican statements," probably has more to do with how the statements were picked and the subjective bias of the fact checker involved than anything remotely empirical. Likewise, the fact that "a majority of Republican statements (52 percent) were rated as mostly or entirely false, compared to only 24 percent of Democratic statements" probably has more to do with spinning stories than it does with evaluating statements.It's likely Roff is describing the purpose of the study. He's not explaining anything new to the researchers (nor to Sides at The Monkey Cage).
But, hilariously, the media have largely interpreted the GMU press release in terms of liberal orthodoxy.
The Poynter Institute, owner of the Tampa Times and PolitiFact, ran the ambiguous headline "Study: PolitiFact finds Republicans ‘less trustworthy than Democrats’" and published comments from long-time PolitiFact editor Bill Adair to the effect that PolitiFact doesn't try to measure "which party tells more falsehoods." Newsflash, Bill Adair: That's not the point of the study.
Typically the media published semi-accurate accounts like the one at Poynter. But a few others flatly interpreted the study as saying Republicans tell more falsehoods.
The Huffington Post
Evidence Republicans tell more falsehoods
The Raw Story
Talking Points Memo
The two in the "ambiguous" category should write clarifications. The four in the latter category should write corrections.