Sunday, June 8, 2014

PolitiFact and coal-lovin' Alison Lundergan Grimes

PolitiFact's blindness to its own inconsistency continues to amaze.

This week, PolitiFact fact-checked that conservative bastion of coal-production protectionism, Alison Lundergan Grimes.  Grimes is a Democrat, running against incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell, the coal-hating Republican.

Or something like that.

The fact check deals with the following ad from Lundergan Grimes:

Grimes is primarily attacking President Obama, particularly the administration's new EPA regulations. Grimes presents herself as the defender of Kentucky's coal-mining and electric utility industries. She's telling voters she'll stand up to Obama's restrictions on coal better than Sen. McConnell.

Grimes uses a quotation of McConnell as her evidence. During an April 2014 interview, McConnell said it wasn't his job to bring jobs to Kentucky. But as PolitiFact points out, McConnell said during the same interview he would protect Kentucky's coal-mining jobs. So the Grimes campaign is presenting a comment McConnell made that includes a commitment to protect Kentucky's coal industry as evidence McConnell won't protect Kentucky coal.

PolitiFact gives Grimes a "Half True" rating:
Grimes said, "Sen. McConnell said it’s not his job to bring jobs to Kentucky." She took this comment from a brief interview McConnell gave to a small-town newspaper in April.

We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the news report, but while the Grimes campaign has a point that McConnell used that particular phrase, they are glossing over some nuances in what he said by selectively quoting the report. McConnell also told the paper that he has a responsibility to protect jobs, and that some of his work in Congress has led to job creation in Kentucky. In addition, McConnell’s legislative record shows a concern for local employment. We rate this claim Half True.
For those of us who pay close attention to PolitiFact's shenanigans, this ruling carries an overpowering parallel to PolitiFact's ruling on Mitt Romney's 2012 Jeep ad during the presidential election.

Here's PolitiFact's summary of the Romney ruling:
The ad miscasts the government’s role in Fiat’s acquisition of Chrysler, and it misrepresents the outcome. Chrysler’s owners had been trying to sell to Italy-based Fiat before Obama took office. The ad ignores the return of American jobs to Chrysler Jeep plants in the United States, and it presents the manufacture of Jeeps in China as a threat, rather than an opportunity to sell cars made in China to Chinese consumers. It strings together facts in a way that presents an wholly inaccurate picture.

We rate the statement Pants on Fire!
These cases are far more similar than PolitiFact's summaries would suggest.

Both ads said something true.  The Grimes ad claimed McConnell said something McConnell did say.  The Romney ad accurately claimed the Obama administration sold (as a broker) Chrysler to Italian-owned Fiat.  It also rightly claimed Fiat proposed to build Jeep vehicles in China.

Both ads contained misleading elements.  The Grimes ad painted a picture of McConnell as a senator who did not care to preserve Kentucky's coal industry.  The Romney ad did not estimate the number of jobs the United States would lose as a result of manufacturing Jeeps in China, leaving the audience to assume the worst.

Both ads left out information.  The Grimes ad left out statements by McConnell that contradicted the picture it painted of McConnell.  The Romney ad, PolitiFact said, left out jobs gained by U.S. Jeep plants after the sale to Fiat.

Of the two, we think the Romney ad contains more truth.  Manufacturing Jeeps in China shrinks the market for Jeep vehicles built in the United States, with obvious implications for domestic production.  We're open to suggestions as to what is true about the Grimes ad other than an accurate out-of-context paraphrase of McConnell.  We can't think of anything.

We'd have little problem with PolitiFact's rating of Grimes if the rating was consistent with past ratings.  But it isn't.

And that's all too normal for PolitiFact.

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