Wednesday, April 30, 2014

PolitiFact finds true Rush Limbaugh claim "False"

Unbelievable.  That's PolitiFact's "PunditFact."

Rush Limbaugh said African Americans are now some of the wealthiest people in America.  PunditFact sprang into action:

The key to PunditFact's "False" rating for Limbaugh was simplicity itself.  PunditFact defined "wealthiest" to mean that a person appeared on the Forbes list of wealthiest people.

No, really.  That's what PunditFact did.
"You've got a black president. You've got a black attorney general. You've got the wealthiest TV performer in American history is a African-American woman. That would be The Oprah," Limbaugh said. "Some of the wealthiest Americans are African-American now."

That last line is quite incorrect.

The go-to source to learn about the wealthiest Americans is Forbes, which tracks the fortunes of the world’s elite. It publishes an annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans and a list of the world’s billionaires.
PunditFact reasoned that since Oprah Winfrey was the only African American to appear on the list of the 400 wealthiest Americans, therefore what Limbaugh said was false.

No, really.  That's what PunditFact did.

Did Limbaugh say something in context to justify PunditFact narrowing the definition of "wealthiest" to the Forbes top 400?  Not from what we can tell.  Certainly the fact check makes no mention of it.  PunditFact's decision seems entirely arbitrary, especially given how commonly media outlets like Vanity Fair, CNBC, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer use the term for the top 1 percent of earners.

Are those media outlets lying to us?  PolitiFact's analysis suggests they are.  But it gets worse.



PolitiFact is also among the media outlets comfortable with using "wealthiest Americans" to mean something other than the Forbes top 400.

PolitiFact New Jersey did it in a fact check of (Democrat) Steve Rothman.

PolitiFact Florida did it in a fact check of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, where defining "wealthiest Americans" as the top 400 would have reversed the ruling (DWS would have received a "True" rating, implying that CNN's Wolf Blitzer was wrong for claiming the wealthiest Americans foot most of the U.S. tax bill).

National PolitiFact did it in a Obameter item in 2013, rating President Obama's promise that he would raise taxes on those making over $200,000 per year--a figure PolitiFact paraphrased as the earning floor for the "wealthiest Americans."

PolitiFact Texas did it in a fact check of (Democrat) Lloyd Doggett, equating the top 1 percent of earners with the "wealthiest Americans" in a paraphrase.

Oh, and PunditFact did it in a fact check of MSNBC's Joe Scarborough earlier this year.

We could provide many more examples from PolitiFact, but you get the idea.  This is hypocrisy of the highest order.  PolitiFact has no right to decide where Limbaugh draws the line on what constitutes the "wealthiest Americans."  Limbaugh can draw that line anywhere he likes.  And if he happens to draw it at the top 1 percent of earners, like PolitiFact often does, then his statement is quite simply true.

The competition for worst fact check of the year is pretty intense in 2014.  And it's still early.

'Stu Fact-Checks PolitiFact'

"PolitiFact is an Organization Largely Built on Douchery"

--"Stu" Burguiere

Back in November of 2013, PolitiFact's pundit-rating PunditFact gave Glenn Beck a "Pants on Fire" rating for claiming half of Americans would lose their health insurance under Obamacare.

We're a bit late posting this, but we just found a video of Steve "Stu" Burguiere serving up a PunditFact fact-check fillet and flambé.  

Burguiere produces the Glenn Beck radio program.  His video is thorough and clocks in at just over 13 minutes.


We reached extremely similar conclusions about PunditFact's rating of Beck over at Zebra Fact Check.

Friday, April 25, 2014

More cartoonish ineptitude from PolitiFact/PunditFact

Image from
This time it's Doonesbury.

A character in Garry Trudeau's long-running comic strip claimed Charles and David Koch spent three times more than the combined spending of the top ten unions.

The statement was made as the character was bemoaning the ill effect of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court case, which allowed unions and certain nonprofit groups to increase their spending on political activities.

It makes sense to assume the spending is political spending.  PunditFact got that part right.  From there it's all downhill.

1) The Doonesbury character, Kim, says "a pair of nasty billionaires" spent three times what the top ten unions combined spent on politicking.  But PunditFact doesn't check what the Kochs spent directly.  PunditFact gives Doonesbury a pass by looking instead at what nonprofit groups connected to the Koch brothers spent.

A limited comparison is possible, and we’ll get to that in a bit, but when it comes to tracking Koch money, the two brothers have set up a Byzantine network of nonprofits that make it impossible to know how much of their own money they have put into the game.
There's no way of knowing how much of that money came from sources other than the Kochs.  So this is fact checking?

2)   PunditFact's "limited comparison" tracks a narrow type of political spending by a certain class of organization.  PunditFact calls this an apples-to-apples comparison, but in fact the comparison gives unions a free pass on the bulk of their political spending.  A Wall Street Journal analysis makes this clear.  From 2005 to 2012, combined political spending for the top ten union groups averaged over $230 million per year.

3)  PunditFact cited a Huffington Post article in its fact check, but managed to hide from its readers reporting from the HuffPo that figured total union spending at four times that spent by the Koch political networks.  That wouldn't have helped the narrative, would it?

Chart credit:  Huffington Post

PolitiFact, again, communicates using exactly the type of one-sidedness and cherry-picking it was supposedly created to combat.  We don't learn whether the Koch brothers spent more on politics than did the top ten labor unions combined.  We get an estimate of the total shadow spending by political groups associated with the Kochs, compared with a similar estimate for the top ten labor unions.  That estimate doesn't count labor unions' own filings of their total political spending as publicized by the Wall Street Journal.  It's a rigged comparison.

In addition, PolitiFact's ruling effectively ignores its "burden of proof" criterion.  Cartoonist Trudeau provided PunditFact with a cooked set of numbers that failed to support the claim he put in character Kim's word balloon.  PolitiFact gave up on interpreting Kim's words according to their normal meaning and accepted Trudeau's cooking as "Half True."

Again, this isn't fact checking.  It's editorializing from behind a deceitful mask of objectivity.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin's version of the gender pay hack

Context matters – We examine the claim in the full context, the comments made before and after it, the question that prompted it, and the point the person was trying to make.
--"Principles of PolitiFact, PunditFact and the Truth-O-Meter"

It's often difficult to take seriously PolitiFact's claim that it examines context.  We have our latest example of this PolitiFailure via PolitiFact Wisconsin, on the subject of--what else?--the gender pay gap:
"Women deserve equal pay for equal work. It's just that simple," Burke, a Madison School Board member, said in an April 8, 2014 news release.

"In Wisconsin, a woman only earns 80 cents for every dollar a man earns--and pay discrimination doesn't just hurt our families, it hurts our economies, too."
What's so complicated about doing this fact check correctly?  If Democrat gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke is arguing that women deserve equal pay for equal work, then the statistic she's using is highly misleading.

PolitiFact Wisconsin explains why, in the same fact check:
In rating a number of pay-gap claims, we and our PolitiFact colleagues have found that wording is crucial. Two of those fact-checks help put Burke's claim into perspective.

Former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, while campaigning for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to challenge Walker in the 2012 recall election, said Wisconsin women "are paid 81 cents to the dollar of a man doing the same job."

The key phrase was "same job."
PolitiFact Wisconsin rated Falk's claim "False." And in rating similar claims before this year, PolitiFact gave them no higher than a "Mostly False" rating.

This year, however, the national PolitiFact gave President Obama a "Mostly True" for a claim closely parallel to Burke's. Apparently a Democrat politician can say it's important that we establish laws to help ensure equal pay for equal work--that's for men and women "doing the same job"--then throw in the statistic for men and women working full-time at different jobs and like magic the "Truth-O-Meter" rating rises to "Mostly True."

It's ridiculous.  This is an intentional deception.  PolitiFact overlooked it.  PolitiFact Oregon overlooked it.  And now PolitiFact Wisconsin has signed on to sell the Democratic Party's lie du jour.

The stat doesn't fit.  And if the stat doesn't fit, PolitiFact must acquit.

Monday, April 21, 2014

PunditFact's PolitiMath

Here at PolitiFact Bias, we keep some tabs on what we call "PolitiMath"--the mathematical indicators that correspond (or not) to various positions on its "Truth-O-Meter" scale.

This week offers us another potentially informative case, as PunditFact looks at whether Michael Eric Dyson was accurate in claiming that Sunday morning political talk shows "usually" feature conservative white men.

In terms of math, this case is fairly simple.  PunditFact counted 25 percent of the Sunday show guests as conservative white males--a little short of a plurality.

PunditFact also shared parallel figures compiled by the left-wing Media Matters organization.  Media Matters put the figure for conservative white men at about 29 percent, which did count as a plurality.

"Usually" means more than half the time, so using PunditFact's count Dyson was off by 50 percent.  Using the Media Matters count, Dyson was off by about 42 percent.

PunditFact rated Dyson's claim "Mostly False":
Dyson described the Sunday shows as having been "given over" to conservative white males. While that phrase isn't exact, it does suggest a dominant presence. The numbers don’t back that up. Conservatives outman the liberals but by the time you drill down to white, male, conservatives, they lose much of the edge.

Dyson pushed too far on his adjectives. We rate the claim Mostly False.
We don't understand PunditFact focusing on "given over."  It is the extended phrase "mostly given over" that provides the basis for the fact check.  "Mostly" communicates a "given over" figure exceeding 50 percent.

Going by the "Principles of PolitiFact, PunditFact and the Truth-O-Meter," a "Mostly False" statement contains an element of truth.  We are unable to identify what PunditFact thinks is the element of truth in Dyson's statement.

This case featuring Dyson compares very naturally with PolitiFact Florida's rating of Sen. Marco Rubio's statement claiming Americans are mostly conservative.  PolitiFact Florida gave Rubio a "Half True" for that one, though only one of three polls had conservatives self-identifying in majority numbers.

We certainly think there's much to criticize in the way PolitiFact's fact checkers went about rating both of these claims, but in terms of PolitiMath we can set those concerns aside and simply look at how PunditFact's numbers correlated to the "Truth-O-Meter" rating.

By the two measurements PunditFact offered, Dyson was at least 42 percent in error.  That resulted in a "Mostly False" rating.  By three measurements, Rubio was correct on one and off by a maximum of 36 percent by the two polls that showed conservatives as the plurality.

It's easy to see how Rubio's statement could count as at least partly true.  One poll unambiguously supported him.  But Dyson?  Not so much.

That's how PolitiMath works, for what it's worth.

Edit 11/16/2014: Added Link to PunditFact article in 6th graph - Jeff

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PolitiFact's shaky and debatable conclusions (Updated)

On April 10, 2014, PolitiFact graded Sen. John E. Sununu "False" for a statement he made about the health care reform law's effect on the number of uninsured Americans.

There's plenty wrong with PolitiFact's reasoning in that fact check, starting with its assumption that federal spending on the ACA has to do with an increase in the number of people who sign up for insurance through an employer.  Contrary to PolitiFact's skewed focus, Sununu was making the point that the insurance exchanges were providing little bang for the buck in reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

But rather than writing an opus dealing with the entire misguided fact check, we're going to narrowly focus on one particular PolitiFlub:
A Rand survey that debuted a couple days after Sununu’s comments put the previously insured rate at about 36 percent of new marketplace enrollees. The Rand survey did not account for people who signed up for insurance in the final days of March.
If 36 percent of the marketplace enrollees were previously insured, then that leaves the balance, 64 percent, as enrollees moving out of the ranks of the uninsured.  That's a big win for Obamacare and the insurance exchanges!

Actually it's a big blunder by PolitiFact.  Our unbiased, Pulitzer Prize-winning (2009, not 2014) fact checkers left out a little "un" that reverses the percentages.  Here's how the RAND study put it (bold emphasis added):
Our estimates suggest that only about one-third of new marketplace enrollees were previously uninsured. While this percentage seems low in absolute terms, it is slightly higher than an earlier figure reported by McKinsey & Company.
So PolitiFact was way off.

We tried to give PolitiFact warning that might result in a correction.  PolitiFact solicits fact checks with the #politifacthis Twitter hashtag.  We obliged with the following:
The error in PolitiFact's reporting persists.

Update 4/15/2014 8 p.m.PolitiFact issues a correction, less than 12 hours after we posted.  It probably didn't hurt that we repeated the above tweet @KatieLSanders earlier today.

We appreciate PolitiFact making the correction, particularly since it doesn't always happen.

Monday, April 14, 2014

No 2014 Pulitzer for PolitiFact (VIDEO)

Adolf Hitler learns PolitiFact failed for the fifth consecutive year to win a Pulitzer Prize

We're not kidding that the Tampa Bay Times' chief executive, Paul Tash, chairs the Pulitzer Prize committee this year.

We're not kidding that PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair had a life-sized cutout of President Obama standing in his office.  We don't know how long it was there or if it ended up in the office of Adair's replacement, Angie Drobnic Holan.

Why are we tweaking PolitiFact over its failure to win a Pulitzer this year?  Because PolitiFact uses its 2009 Pulitzer to burnish its reputation for reliability.  But PolitiFact has never been particularly reliable.  The 2009 Pulitzer was likely awarded mostly in recognition of PolitiFact's innovation, specifically producing an attractive and popular online outlet for what journalists think is serious journalism.  The Pulitzer was awarded in 2009 for a set of 13 stories.  That's what the Pulitzer committee was judging, not overall reliability.

Don't forget that hogwash has won Pulitzers in the past.

Friday, April 11, 2014

More gender wage gap shenanigans from PolitiFact Oregon

Back in February, we pointed out PolitiFact Oregon's blunder in ruling it "Mostly True" that women in Oregon earn 79 cents on the dollar compared to men for doing the same job.

PolitiFact Oregon is back today with another misleading take on the gender wage gap.
The National Partnership For Women & Families, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, released a new analysis April 8, 2014, to coincide with Equal Pay Day. It cited U.S. Census data showing that women who work full time in Oregon are paid 79 cents for every dollar paid to men -- a claim PolitiFact Oregon has investigated previously and found solid.

But it went further. If the wage gap were eliminated, it said, "a working woman in Oregon would have enough money per year for 2,877 gallons of gas, 72 more weeks of food for her family or nearly 12 more months of rent.["]
PolitiFact Oregon apparently doesn't remember that its earlier fact check examined a version of the gender wage gap claim that had men and women doing the same work.

So we've got a fact check that focuses on a wage gap that exists primarily because men and women work at different jobs and men tend to put in longer hours.

This is a little like hearing "If you step on a crack, you'll break your mother's back" and then focusing intently on whether somebody stepped on a crack.

The National Partnership for Women & Families drew PolitiFact's attention with an April press release expressly designed to encourage support for paycheck fairness measures--measures that would do next to nothing to reduce the 21-cent gap that creates all the would-be disparities PolitiFact carefully verifies.

OMG!  We stepped on a crack!  Our poor mothers!

PolitiFact Oregon rules it "True" that we stepped on a crack the average woman in Oregon could afford to pay for more stuff if the wage gap was eliminated.  PolitiFact Oregon ignores the fact that the paycheck fairness measures the NPFWF supports would narrow the gender wage gap fractionally if at all.

Looks like PolitiFact Oregon is too busy fact checking to worry about little details like that.


We liked The Oregonian's added touch of promoting its gender wage gap story with teaser headlined with "That 79-cent gender pay gap and what it will buy."

A 79-cent gap!  What happened to the 21-cent gap?

The accompanying video has PolitiFact Oregon reporter Dana Tims expressing the NPFWF's argument, saying the pay gap would narrow if women were compensated fairly.  Tims also says the claim of a 21-cent pay gap in Oregon pretty much holds up when women and men are doing the same work, which is baloney.

Correction 4/12/2014:  Replaced the "e" in "women" in the next-to-last paragraph with an "a," changing it to the grammatically correct singular form.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

PolitiFact's PunditFact fantasizes about Dick Morris

The title and deck say it all:

When PunditFact is quoting conservative pundit Dick Morris, Morris plainly uses the word "probably."  In PunditFact's deck paraphrase, the "probably" disappears, and Morris is portrayed as saying there is proof that over 1 million people voted twice in 2012.

PunditFact's full quotation of Morris shows that he did not even say there was proof that over a million people "probably" voted twice in the 2012 election:
"It's most important data I've read in a year," Morris said on Fox News’ Hannity. "The elections commissioner there, Kim Strach, did a study of those who voted in North Carolina who also voted in another state in 2012 and she found 35,500 people voted in North Carolina and voted in some other state.

"And only 27 states pool that data. Texas, California, New York and Florida did not pool their data. So you're talking about probably over a million people that voted twice in this election. This is the first concrete evidence we've ever had of massive voter fraud. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam. This proves it."

Morris was obviously talking about proof of massive voter fraud, not proof of any specific number of fraud cases.

It's great having fact checkers who simply make things up, isn't it?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Twitter critic: '(N)ame one of [PolitiFact's] tweets today which is factually incorrect.'

Our would-be Twitter critic, Matthew Chapman, is at it again.  We're addressing some public criticisms owing to the possibility that the critics' thoughts echo those of left-leaning readers who visit this site.

PolitiFact had another bad week fact checking, and @nextinstinct tweaked Chapman (@fawfulfan) about it.  Chapman responded with the following:
I (@ZebraFactCheck) answered with this:
Mine was a specific answer to Chapman's challenge.  He asked for an example of a factually incorrect tweet, and I gave him one.  This is PolitiFact's tweet about Rubio:
What was it Rubio said?  Here's how PolitiFact quoted it in the body of its fact check (bold emphasis added):
"I mean, the purpose of Obamacare was not to get 7 million people or 6 million people, or whatever the number now is, to sign up on a website," Rubio said. "The purpose of Obamacare, according to them, was to get more people insurance. And by all accounts, it's going to fall woefully short. You're still going to have 30-some-odd million people in this country uninsured."

We wanted to know if Rubio’s claim was correct that the health care law was falling short of its goals.
We posit that any intelligent person ought to be able to consider Rubio's statement and see that he does not say that Obamacare is falling short of its 7 million signup goal.  He's saying it's falling short of its goals for lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  PolitiFact's tweet about Rubio is false.

Chapman doesn't see it.

He's posted a fair number of tweets in response.  He said it's true the goal was 7 million and 7.1 million signed up.  He said PolitiFact was simply checking "Rubio's claim that ACA's signup goal was 30 million in 1st yr."  He said I didn't read the article.  He said Rubio was comparing apples to oranges.  He said I confuse the long run with the short run.  It appears he thinks we're somehow moving goalposts.

Chapman said plenty of things, many of which ought to embarrass him.  And he doesn't address the specific problem we identified with PolitiFact's tweet.  We've reminded him that Twitter is a poor venue for debate and have offered him commentary space in response to our post about the dispute.

Our argument is simple.  When Rubio says the purpose of Obamacare was not to get 7 million people to sign up on a website but rather to get more people insured, we say Rubio is distinguishing between the 7 million signups and lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  When Rubio says the ACA will fall short of its goals for lowering the number of uninsured persons, we assert that Rubio is not talking about exchange signups, which reports indicate are mostly people who already had insurance, but rather he's talking about the ACA's goals for lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  We say that when Rubio says "30-some-odd million" will remain uninsured he's talking about the number of uninsured persons, not the total number of exchange signups.  Nor was Rubio referring to any goal of 30 million signups, contrary to Chapman's assertion.

Considering the above, we think it's perfectly obvious that PolitiFact tweeted falsely when it claimed Rubio said the ACA was falling short of its signup goals.  Rubio was saying the 7 million goal for exchange signups is hardly relevant to the ACA's central goal of lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  Therefore, this serves as a good example to offer Chapman when he asks for an April 4 PolitiFact tweet that was factually incorrect.

PolitiFact could have accurately claimed Rubio said the ACA was falling short of its goals for lowering the number of uninsured Americans.  That would have been a fact.  But that's not what PolitiFact tweeted.

We think all of this is pretty obvious, and we stand ready to defend our view with facts and logic against whatever argument Chapman is able to bring.

Reply below, Chapman.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

PolitiFact rates two false statements "Mostly True" (Updated)

We're still puzzling over this one, thinking perhaps that a double negative equals a positive, or something like that.

Yesterday PolitiFact published a fact check of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Reid said billionaires Charles and David Koch are the richest family in the world.  PolitiFact checked the statement and found that the Koch brothers are a relatively distant second to the Walton family (Walmart).

Reid said that the Koch brothers rank fifth individually among the richest billionaires.  PolitiFact checked the statement and found the Koch brothers are tied for sixth.

So Reid was pretty close on both statements but wrong on both statements.  So PolitiFact rated Reid "Mostly True" on the two false statements:
Reid said the Koch brothers are "the richest people in the world. Individually they're only fifth. Put them together they're the richest in the world." If you look at families -- which is what Reid is essentially doing -- then Charles and David Koch rank second internationally to six members of the Walton family, at least according to Forbes. That’s still pretty close to the top of the list. We rate his statement Mostly True.
Just a reminder:  This was published on April 2, not April 1 (April Fool's Day).

Here's another reminder.  PolitiFact's definition of "Mostly True":
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
The trick, in this case, is that the clarification or additional information means the statement isn't accurate.  This is just another rating based on whim.  It can't meet the definition of "Mostly True."

Coincidentally, the beneficiary of this blinkered ruling is a Democrat.  This is the wonderful world of PolitiFact fact checking.

Update, April 3, 2014

Perhaps Reid's rating was as high as it was because PolitiFact literally paid no attention to its own fact check.  We just noticed a discrepancy between the concluding paragraph and the body of the fact check.  In the conclusion, PolitiFact says "Individually they're only fifth."  In the body, PolitiFact checks with Forbes and concludes "Currently, Charles and David Koch, when measured as individuals, are tied for sixth place on the international list, with $40.7 billion each."

Fifth.  Sixth.  What's the difference, right?

Update April 4, 2014Jeff correctly points out an obvious point I somehow missed in my update comment:  PolitiFact was quoting Reid in the summary paragraph.  That erases what I took as a discrepancy.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Voter fraud and shark attacks, recycled

With a recently recycled news item on illegal voting in Florida, it's a fine time to revisit PolitiFact Florida's fraudulent fact check from 2012 of an ACLU attorney who claimed voter fraud is less common than shark attack.
"There are probably a larger number of shark attacks in Florida than there are cases of voter fraud," he said.

We couldn’t resist diving in: Are there more shark attacks than cases of voter fraud in Florida?
The challenging aspect of the fact check comes from figuring out how many cases of voter fraud occurred in Florida.  PolitiFact Florida stacked the deck by defining "case" as "deemed legally sufficient for an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement."  It's April 1, but we're not kidding.

Florida doesn't make it easy to ferret out fraud.  Somebody has to notice something and report it, then law enforcement has to decide whether the report warrants an investigation.  Florida's "motor voter" law permits voter registration without verification of citizenship.  Which brings us to the aforementioned news item:

Pierrotti's report actually aired in 2012.  We're guessing some news recycling site posted something about it without including a date and created renewed buzz in the blogosphere.

Still, it's a good excuse to review one of PolitiFact's past sins.  The number of voter fraud investigations doesn't give us the number of cases of voter fraud.  It gives us the number of investigations.  PolitiFact Florida never checked the number of cases, and gave the ACLU attorney a Truth-O-Mulligan on the "burden of proof" criterion PolitiFact uses fallaciously and inconsistently.