Monday, March 31, 2014

A classic case of biased story focus

We've pointed out ad nauseam the way story selection bias provides an avenue for ideological bias to find its way into PolitiFact's fact checks.  But bias can also easily find its way into a story through the story's focus.

We've got a classic example.

March 25, 2014
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PolitiFact picked up on a Facebook meme (see image to right) noting a radical increase in the number of black children born with no father in the home.  The graphic implies, via its concluding question, that Great Society programs carried responsibility for the increase.

PolitiFact found that statistics backing the claim were sketchy and that the 7 percent claim in particular wasn't supported.  So,  yes there as an increase, but not to the extent the graphic suggests.

PolitiFact reminds readers that correlation isn't causation, and uses the implied claim about the "Great Society" program as part of its justification for ruling the claim flatly "False" on its trademarked "Truth-O-Meter."

March 28, 2014

Skip forward all of three days and we have a similar case, this one published by PolitiFact Rhode Island.  Again we have a would-be claim of fact married to an implied argument that one party's policies are responsible.

Image from
PolitiFact found that the facts were not quite as suggested.  Via three measures, nine of 10 of the poorest states were "red," which was determined by how the states voted in the 2012 election.

But when PolitiFact factored in cost-of-living data on top of individual income, the numbers went awry.  Four of 10 of the poorest states were blue states, with deep blue California coming in at No. 1.

And with that, PolitiFact administered a "Mostly True" rating using its trademarked "Truth-O-Meter."

What about the part of the graphic implicitly blaming low incomes on "Republican economic policies"?

PolitiFact chose not to consider that part of the claim when making its ruling.  Does the claim carry any real meaning without the accompanying argument about Republican economic policies?  We don't see it.

In these types of cases, it is PolitiFact that misleads by selectively ignoring the context.  And it's worth noting that the data associated with the "Great Society" argument show a more significant trend relative to the "poorest states" argument.

Celebrate, liberals!  Your Facebook meme is "Mostly True" while the conservatives' attempt is "False"!  PolitiFact says so.

Clarification Dec. 14, 2015: Removed a couple of unneeded words that made the opening paragraph less clear.

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