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