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.

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