Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Got 29 States but a Fact Ain't One

On Tuesday PolitiFact published a rating on Martina Navratilova that caught the ire of liberal bloggers:

PolitiFact gave Navratilova the dreaded Half-True rating, and this upset Wonkette writer "DOKTOR ZOOM," who complained:
Politifact, which now apparently is fact-checking retired pro athletes, to contribute to serious political discourse, checked into Navratilova’s claim, determined that employers in 29 states can indeed fire people for being gay, and rated Navratilova’s statement as “half true,” because it turns out that there are a few exceptions.
It doesn't happen often, but we're inclined to agree with ZOOM on this one.  We think it's a legitimate gripe. Of course, that's probably because it's a gripe we've been making for years, but we won't hold it against the suddenly enlightened left for (probably temporarily) noticing how arbitrary PolitiFact's ratings system really is.

The Wonkette article highlights PolitiFact's lame logic:
But what are these exceptions? First off, the Politifrackers acknowledge that 21 states and the District of Columbia “explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation,” and that in the 29 states that do not have such laws,
“employees in these states who believe they are discriminated against would not have grounds to win a lawsuit alleging discrimination.”
OK, so Navratilova was right, and her statement is true, right? Well, no, you see, because what she said took a single sentence, and there are paragraph-length exceptions
The gist of it is that Navratilova is correct that in 29 states there is no statewide protection for gay and lesbian employees from being fired for their sexuality. PolitiFact knocks the tennis star down a few notches because, gee golly, some companies have policies against discrimination, and some employees are protected by federal statutes. That's a bogus argument, and it's not fact checking. The fact that some people in specific employment situations are protected does not negate the fact that other people are not protected.

Navratilova is right, and PolitiFact is playing its usual word games.  

Our regular readers might wonder why we chose to highlight this as an example of PolitiFact's liberal bias. Since we started this site we've acknowledged that PolitiFact's arbitrary standards will eventually harm both the left and the right. This rating doesn't change that. PolitiFact simply doesn't offer quality fact checking, and it will inevitably flub ratings both ways. As we've documented, PolitiFact's inadequacy overwhelmingly harms those on the right more often than those on the left. This rating provides an example of how flawed their system is.

Any reputation PolitiFact has as a dispassionate arbiter of facts is completely undeserved. For all the bluster, they're a run-of-the-mill commentary site. Wonkette is correct to point out the subjective nature of this rating, but it's nothing out of the ordinary for PolitiFact. Navratilova is simply collateral damage in PolitiFact's inept carpet bombing of reality.

Our purpose is to highlight PolitiFact's liberal bent. But PolitiFact puts out shoddy work and opinionated claptrap that often distorts the truth instead of clarifying it. Eventually both sides of the aisle will take a hit.

The reality is no one should trust them.

Bryan adds:

It's worth emphasizing just how normal it is for PolitiFact to rule "Half True" for a claim that is true.  As Rachel Maddow notes, facts are either true or false.  One look at PolitiFact's list of "Half-True" rulings shows a great set of recent examples like the one Maddow complained of, including specific ratings of Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Jeff Sessions.

Rubio said the Gang of Eight immigration bill isn't amnesty.  PolitiFact said that it depends on how one defines "amnesty."  Yet Rubio used the normal, commonly understood definition.  "Half True," said PolitiFact.  Maddow went ballistic.  Just kidding.  She was able to contain herself until the Navratilova rating served as the last straw.

Sessions said prosecutions for failing gun background checks were down every year under Obama.  It's true for every year for which records have been published, and PolitiFact claims to rule according to information available when a claim is made.  "Half True," said PolitiFact, reasoning that Sessions kind of implied a trend that continued through the current year, and we can't confirm that yet.  PolitiFact also reasoned (!) that since prosecutions were also low under Bush therefore prosecutions under Obama "didn't nosedive."  The left wing blogosphere yawned if it noticed at all, as if "Half True" is the best we should expect from those lyin' Republicans.

Edit 5/8/13: Originally this post inadvertently included a draft paragraph at the end that was not intended for publication. It has been removed-Jeff

Edit: 5/9/13: Added "We think" to third paragraph-Jeff

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