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.


  1. Can I have a little clarification? I've been examining this story as part of research on Politifact, and I'm interested in feedback.

    I agree that using Forbes magazine is an arbitrary way of determine America's wealthiest Americans, but I read The Chronicle article link, and the data seems to contradict Limbaugh's statement.

    The article says that only 1.4% of the top 1% of Americans are African Americans. I do not believe this would justify Limbaugh's statement of "some". I find it nominally low.

    Personally, I believe the intent of Limbaugh's statement was to justify that African Americans are comparatively in the same socioeconomic class as Whites. But, just because wealthy African Americans exist does not justify their "comparability".

    With my examination I find Politifact correct in this instance, but disagree with the determination of the claim.

  2. We'll do what we can to help.

    "The article says that only 1.4% of the top 1% of Americans are African Americans. I do not believe this would justify Limbaugh's statement of "some". I find it nominally low. "

    It *is* nominally low, but it isn't clear how this would contradict Limbaugh's statement.

    "Personally, I believe the intent of Limbaugh's statement was to justify that African Americans are comparatively in the same socioeconomic class as Whites."

    You can certainly argue for that view, but we don't see anything in Limbaugh's statement that justifies it. If there's no solid justification for so judging Limbaugh's intent, then he gets the same charitable interpretation any other human being should get. It's improper for a fact checker to interpret ambiguity to a speaker's detriment without clear cause.

    Also, using the top 1 percent figure as the line of demarcation for "wealthiest" also qualifies as arbitrary. President Obama, remember, called those making over $200,000 per year the "wealthiest Americans" without drawing a contrary comment from PolitiFact. We settled on the 1 percent figure simply for its utility in demonstrating PolitiFact's hypocrisy when it interpreted Limbaugh's statement.

    We're fine with anyone, including PolitiFact, ruling on where Limbaugh was drawing the line when he spoke. But if the decision isn't backed with evidence then it doesn't fly in the world of fact-checking.

    Go for it:

    It seem to me most likely Limbaugh was simply making the point that blacks are making forward progress in society, not that they have achieved economic equality. Conservatives, of course, tend to deny the legitimacy of putting the government in the role of supporting economic equality in the first place.

  3. But if we're assuming that the "line" is the vaguest theme imaginable, then Limbaugh's statement is simply that he recognizes that black people exist. That doesn't signify anything about the current state of socioeconomic equality between African-Americans and whites, which was the subject of Limbaugh's statement.

    Also, whether we argue about the intent of Limbaugh's statement, it doesn't change the fact that some of the wealthiest Americans are NOT African Americans. His statement was false, and the article linked here proves it.

  4. "But if we're assuming that the "line" is the vaguest theme imaginable"

    We're not doing that. We're taking it as vague and applying charitable interpretation.

    "the current state of socioeconomic equality between African-Americans and whites, which was the subject of Limbaugh's statement."

    Where did you establish Limbaugh's point other than by assumption? We say he's asserting progress by blacks in the U.S. And we can argue our point from the transcript. Can you argue yours that way? If so, then do it.

    "the fact that some of the wealthiest Americans are NOT African Americans."

    What article are you talking about? You already admitted that some of the wealthiest Americans *are* African American, though you made up some line about how there were too few to count as "some." Thus throttling the English language.

  5. So your site is allowed "charitable interpretation", but Politifact fact isn't?

    I established my point about Limbaugh's statement by reading what he said. I believe it is called "perceiving the world around us". But perhaps you need a source on that, Socrates approximately 400 BC.

    Rush Limbaugh is a pundit. He is allowed to his opinion, and what he does is analyze the news and information. But, every analysis and opinion is based in fact. For example, one cannot have an opinion over whether they think "owls exist". Owls do exist, and you are just wrong.

    Like this, we, or anybody for that matter, including Limbaugh, are not entitled to look at the data of 1.2% and say "some of the wealthiest Americans are African Americans". That is inherently false, unless you believe that any number above zero would satisfy the notion of "some". But, if you believe that, then the data itself is trivialized into your own magical world of narrowcasting.

    This site, and Politifact for that matter, needs to learn the effective usage of "significant data". Let's look at another example.

    Statment: More than 10 people died in 2013.

    Now as the civilized adults that we are, I think anyone who reads this can agree that that statement is true, regardless of textual evidence.

    Now "technically" this statement is true, but it doesn't mean it's "effective data". It abuses the word "more", the same as you abuse the word, "some". We also know that lots of people die each year. Significantly more than 10. We know this is "significant" because we gain nothing from the data.

    So what do we gain by the statement that "some of the wealthiest Americans are African Americans"? Absolutely nothing if you interpret "some" as a vague uncertainty. If you don't, then the data of 1.2% is significant in proving the opposite.

    Now time for some hypotheticals, just for fun.

    If President Obama announced that next year "some" of the federal budget would go to defense spending, and upon the further questioning of what clarified as "some", he said "1.2%". There would be public outrage form Democrats and Republicans alike.

    If Wayne Lapierre came out said that only "some" of Americans should hold fire arms, and his definition of "some" was 1.2%, then he would crucified on the spot.

    So then taking these ridiculous hypothetical, and looking at the real world data being discussed, what gives anyone the right say that 1.2% justifies "some of the wealthiest Americans"?

    If you don't think it justifies, then you agree with me. If you do believe that it justifies, then you're literally admitting that the statement your defending is no longer significant.

    And if it is no longer significant, then both you and Politifact are at the end of joke. You two were made for eachother.

  6. "John Meets World" heads off the rails:

    "So your site is allowed "charitable interpretation", but Politifact fact isn't?"

    We practice charitable interpretation consistently. PolitiFact does not. If there's a statement PolitiFact made that you think needs our charitable interpretation, simply identify it and we'll try to help you improve your understanding of the concept.

    "I established my point about Limbaugh's statement by reading what he said."

    Reading's not enough. Interpretation is necessary for understanding, and if you interpreted what Limbaugh said then we can expect you to be capable of explaining how and why you interpreted it as you did. We've invited you to justify your interpretation. Is it your intention to dodge that request?

    The rest of what you wrote helps illustrate the problem with basing an argument on a questionable premise. If your interpretation of what Limbaugh wrote is correct, then maybe the rest of what you wrote isn't rubbish. But we see no reason at all to accept your interpretation without a case accompanied by supporting evidence. You're capable of arguing your point, aren't you? Please proceed.

    We think Limbaugh was talking about the advancement of blacks in American society because of stuff like this, by the way:

    **"If we're just gonna go from picking cotton balls to picking basketballs without the dignity of a relationship then we're not making progress"? See, this is where it all breaks down, because we have made I don't know how much progress.**

    See, he talking about progress and even uses the word "progress." That's how one provides evidence supporting an interpretation. Now you try it.

  7. Like I said, you and and Politifact were made for each other :D Both with blind bafoonish hypocrisy, saying that just because they've cited evidence of some kind then they're immediately justified.

    Bye now ;)

  8. Doubtless we could improve by adopting your practice: We could instead say that even though we've cited no evidence of any kind we're immediately justified. Toodles.

  9. John Meets World makes good points. You guys are burying the realities in comments and subtexts rather than being up front in the articles. You are doing the same thing you're damning others for doing. Quite sad.

  10. Anonymous wrote: "John Meets World makes good points."

    Yeah? Like what? Name his best point.

    What's worse than an anonymous blog criticism that contains nothing at all specific?

  11. An obviously biased blog criticizing an obviously biased fact checker? Just to name one.

  12. Thank you for pointing out we're biased, even though we already pointed that out on our FAQ page.

    Any chance you can fill us in on the reason PolitiFact writers are able to define "wealthiest Americans" as the top 1%, but Rush Limbaugh has to use the more strict Forbes top 400 standard?

    We'd appreciate it if you could do it without "burying the realities in comments and subtexts rather than being up front." Because that's our shtick. Or something.

  13. With apologies to Jeff and his initial answer, "An obviously biased blog criticizing an obviously biased fact checker" is not a specific criticism. Accusing the blog of bias is a generalized charge, the observation that we're criticizing is a generalized observation, and the charge that PolitiFact is obviously biased is likewise a generalized charge. Granted, if JMW believes the last is true then our mission, so far as it goes with respect to him, is finished.

    Beyond that, I think it's important to distinguish between two types of bias. One is the innate bias every person carries, including Jeff and me. That's the bias we freely admit in our FAQ, and it distinguishes us from PolitiFact, which tries to present itself as objective and nonpartisan. As for our criticisms of PolitiFact, including the one in the post above, those are based in objective data and sound analysis. The reasonable person should readily admit, as Jeff mentions, that something's amiss when PF uses "wealthiest Americans" to mean anything from persons making over $200,000 per year to persons in the top 1 percent of earners while assuming the term means Forbes' top 400 when Limbaugh uses it.

    PF's type of inconsistency serves as evidence of the second type of bias: Inconsistency of standards based on the writer's point of view. Jeff and I are conservative, but we'd make this same criticism if PF had made Randi Rhodes its victim.

    Specific criticisms from now on JMW & co. Anything else will be banished from the thread and archived in the silly comments equivalent of Purgatory.

  14. Clearly if someone said none of the wealthiest americans were black. Pit would be a lie and blacks would be outraged. Saying some are, is clearly a true statement


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