Thursday, August 28, 2014

Layers of editors at PolitiFact Florida.

We ran across some faulty after-publication editing at PolitiFact Florida while doing some research.

A picture tells the story (red ovals and yellow highlights added):

Why pick on PolitiFact Florida over something relatively minor? We think it's a healthy reminder that the people who work for PolitiFact are fallible. Seeing this type of mistake reminds us that we shouldn't be too surprised to see other types of mistakes in their work, including mistakes in the research and conclusions.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

David Friedman: "Problems with 'Fact Checking'"

Academic David Friedman, on his personal blog "Ideas," fired off a Sunday salvo aimed at PunditFact, the wing of PolitiFact that fact checks pundits.

Friedman has plenty to say and says it well, so we'll just tease our readers with his first paragraph and provide our usual encouragement to click the link and read the whole thing:
I recently came across a link on Facebook to a claim that "Over Half of all Statements Made on Fox News are False," based on a story in the Tampa Bay Times' PunditFact. My first reaction was that I had no more reason to trust the Tampa Bay Times than to trust Fox, making the story pure partisan assertion, so I followed the link to see what support it offered. To their credit, they listed the statements on Fox that they based their claim on and provided the basis for their conclusions. But looking at them in detail, their evaluation was clearly biased in favor of what they wanted to believe.
We never tire of highlighting good criticism of PolitiFact. If only there were more hours in the day.

Marc Lamont Hill and PolitiMath

A PunditFact rating of CNN pundit Marc Lamont Hill drew our attention today for its PolitiMath content.

PolitiMath takes place when math calculations appear to bear on whether a figure receives one "Truth-O-Meter" rating instead of another.  In this case, Hill received a "False" rating for claiming an unarmed black person is  shot by a cop every 28 hours.

PunditFact found Hill reached his conclusion using the numbers for black persons armed or unarmed. The total figure for both was 313. The figure for unarmed black people was 136.  The calculation is uncomplicated. Taking the number of hours in a 365-day year, we get 8760. Divide 8760 by 313 and we get Hill's 28-hour figure. Use what PunditFact said was the correct figure and we get 64 hours (8760/136).

Hill exaggerated the frequency of a unarmed black person dying from a police shooting by 124 percent.

We're certainly not saying that PolitiFact is in any way consistent with how it classifies errors by percentage, but for comparison Florida lawmaker Will Weatherford made a statistical claim that was off by about 49 percent and received a "False" rating. Democrat Gerry Connolly, on the other hand, managed to wring a "Mostly False" rating out of a statistic that was off by about 45 percent.

Perhaps this is just science at work. Given reality's liberal bias, it may make sense to grade errors of the same percentage more harshly where they affect liberally-biased truths. Fact checkers could be guilty of false equivalency by acting as though the truth is simply objective.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Unearthing a truth PolitiFact buried,


We've often reminded readers that we only scratch the surface of PolitiFact's mountain of journalistic malfeasance. Reminding us of that point, we have an item from way back on Sept 15, 2009, when PolitiFact was still connected to Congressional Quarterly.

The issue? Economist Thomas Sowell wrote that President Obama let the economic stimulus bill sit on Obama's desk for three days before the president signed it.

In a recent column in Investor's Business Daily, economist and political commentator Thomas Sowell said that President Barack Obama was trying to rush his health care bill through Congress. Sowell cited the quick passage of the economic stimulus bill in February 2009 as proof that Obama is too hasty in passing major legislation.

Sowell wrote that "the administration was successful in rushing a massive spending bill through Congress in just two days — after which it sat on the president's desk for three days, while he was away on vacation."
In truth, Sowell wasn't trying to prove Obama was too hasty in passing major legislation. He was arguing Obama passes legislation hastily when there's no apparent reason to rush the legislation.

"Allow five days of public comment before signing bills"

A PolitiFact item from earlier that same year, on January 29, 2009, helps provide some context for Sowell's complaint:
"Too often bills are rushed through Congress and to the president before the public has the opportunity to review them," Obama's campaign Web site states . "As president, Obama will not sign any nonemergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days."

But the first bill Obama signed into law as president — the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — got no such vetting.
So, Obama promised he would wait at least five days before signing non-emergency legislation.  The three-day wait for the stimulus bill implies it qualified as an emergency bill. But not such an emergency that Obama couldn't wait a few days before signing it.

The key to PolitiFact's argument? The ultra-literal reading of "sat on the president's desk." In PolitiFact's judgment, since the bill wasn't literally sitting on the desk waiting for the president's signature therefore the case won't support Sowell's point.

Sowell expresses his point:
The only reasonable alternative seems to be that he wanted to get this massive government takeover of medical care passed into law before the public understood what was in it.

Moreover, he wanted to get re-elected in 2012 before the public experienced what its actual consequences would be.

Unfortunately, this way of doing things is all too typical of the way this administration has acted on a wide range of issues.
The example using the stimulus bill followed. Sowell points out spending from the stimulus bill took place over an extended period, making a joke of the notion the stimulus was intended as a strong short-term Keynesian stimulus.

Sowell's point with his example remains: If the stimulus bill was an emergency, then why not sign it as soon as possible?

How did PolitiFact miss Sowell's point? Maybe PolitiFact wasn't interested in Sowell's point. How did PolitiFact miss the context of President Obama ignoring his broken pledge of transparency on legislative action? Maybe PolitiFact wasn't interested in that context.

Correction 8-25-2014:  Referred to the Affordable Care Act in one instance where the stimulus bill was intended.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Missed opportunity?

Now they tell us.

PolitiFact's pundit-checking operation, PunditFact, reveals on Aug. 24, 2014 that the Obama administration originally planned to leave 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq as part of a status of forces agreement.

Let's imagine an alternative universe in which PolitiFact could have done this fact check during a presidential election after President Obama appeared to deny he wanted a status of forces agreement that would have kept troops in Iraq.  Via NPR:
MR. ROMNEY: Excuse me. It's a geopolitical foe. And I said in the same — in the same paragraph, I said, and Iran is the greatest national security threat we face. Russia does continue to battle us in the U.N. time and time again. I have clear eyes on this. I'm not going to wear rose-colored glasses when it comes to Russia or Mr. Putin, and I'm certainly not going to say to him, I'll give you more flexibility after the election. After the election he'll get more backbone.
Number two, with regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should have been a status of forces agreement. Did you —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's not true.

MR. ROMNEY: Oh, you didn't — you didn't want a status of forces agreement?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, but what I — what I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.

Just another in a long line of missed opportunities for PolitiFact.

PolitiFact offers Christmas miracle

We so often ding PolitiFact for its lack of consistency that we have to count it a miracle that PolitiFact ruled consistently on similar claims by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and President Barack Obama.

Both men, one a Republican and one a Democrat, said Congress was on "vacation" when there were important things to do.

PolitiFact gave both the same rating, "Mostly False."

Knock us over with a feather.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Nothing To See Here: CNN anchor buys automatic weapon (Updatted)

With hat tips to Hot Air and Twitchy, here's a layup for PunditFact featuring CNN anchor Don Lemon:
Don Lemon: What do you mean anyone can’t wa— Listen, during the theater shooting in Colorado, I was able to go and buy an automatic weapon, and I, you know, have maybe shot a gun, three, four times in my life. I don’t even live in Colorado. I think most people can go out and buy an automatic weapon. I don’t understand your argument there.
In reality, it's not so easy to run out and buy an automatic weapon.

Nothing to see here? We'll see.

Update 8-26-2014

PunditFact published a rating of Lemon today, rating his statement "False."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Nothing To See Here: Grimes outs sexist McConnell?

Does Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell want women to receive less pay for the same work as men?  McConnell's Democratic Party challenger for his senate seat, Alison Lundergan Grimes, wants people to think so (
"When you finally see Sen. McConnell and I on the same stage, you realize only one of us believes women deserve equal pay for equal work. If Mitch McConnell were a TV show, he'd be "Mad Men," treating women unfairly, stuck in 1968 and ending this season." -- Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democrat
Maybe PolitiFact would be interested in this?

But hasn't PolitiFact been tough enough on Grimes already? And this item was from Aug. 4.  Surely if it was important then PolitiFact would already have rated it.

Nothing to see here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

PunditFact gives Tucker Carlson biased fact check

PolitiFact's PunditFact, the fact-checking arm that rates the statements of pundits, gave Fox News' Tucker Carlson a hilariously slanted "Pants on Fire" rating last week. PunditFact's August 15, 2014 fact check of Carlson was chock full of the baloney we're used to finding in PolitiFact's fact checks.

Carlson objected to the tone of a Fox News segment playing up the dangers of unsecured firearms.  Carlson tried to add perspective to the story by claiming accidental bathtub drownings claimed the lives of far more children last year than did accidental gun deaths.

That looked like a job for ... PunditFact!

The PunditFact writer, Jon Greenberg, used search tools at the Centers for Disease Control website to research the numbers.  The CDC tracks the causes of death logged on death certificates.  That information is logged using ICD-9 or ICD-10 codes like those hospitals use in medical billing.

Greenberg flubbed up his work in a number of ways.

First, Greenberg used 2011 to check Carlson's claim about 2013.  It's fair to ding Carlson for trotting out an unverified claim, but the fact of the matter is that 2011 is not 2013.  Any fact checker should know this.  PunditFact rated Carlson "Pants on Fire" on a fact that PunditFact could not check for lack of data.

Second, Greenberg assumed 2011 was a suitably representative year to substitute for 2013.  That's not fact checking.  It's possible to estimate whether Carson was in the ballpark with his claim by looking at trends for the two types of accidental death.  But 2011 isn't a trend.  It's just one year.

Third, Greenberg used three ICD-10 coded deaths to represent accidental gun deaths.  The third code accounted for the largest number, and it's a catch-all code that includes deaths from flare guns and airguns.

Fourth, Greenberg excluded from the other side of the ledger accidental bathtub drownings that also included a fall into the bathtub.  Yes, there's an ICD-10 code just for deaths caused by a fall into a bathtub with a subsequent drowning.

None of these problems should occur in a competent fact check, at least not unexplained.  Yet Greenberg doesn't explain how any one of these problems affects PunditFact's ability to verify Carlson's claim.

The bogus chart for "Drowned in a bathtub" vs. "Accidental gunfire"

Here's PunditFact's bogus chart:

We looked at the numbers affecting 0-14 years.  The total for the first column on PunditFact's chart, with the deaths from a bathtub drowning associated with a fall, rises to 95.  Additional deaths from accidental bathtub drownings may have ended up under another ICD-10 catch-all code: "Unspecified cause of accidental drowning and submersion."  So the number may be higher than 95.

Also for the 0-14 age group, we checked the numbers for accidental gunfire deaths.  Of the 74 deaths in the that age range in 2011, 56 were documented using the catch-all code for "Accidental discharge and malfunction from other and unspecified firearms and guns."  That code is one of three alternatives.  The first code, W32, specifies handguns.  The second code, W33, specifies rifles and shotguns.  The third code, W34, covers everything else, including BB guns and paintball guns.

We don't know how many W34 deaths were caused by guns in the commonly understood sense of the term.  Neither does PunditFact.

One might argue that it makes sense to lump in deaths caused by every type of gun, including flare guns and paintball guns.  But if that's the case, shouldn't bathtub drowning get the same broad treatment?  Isn't a swimming pool essentially a large bathtub?

We're not saying Carlson was right that many more children died in 2013 from accidentally drowning in a bathtub than from accidental gunshots.  But in the 0-14 age range more children died from accidental bathtub drowning than from accidental gunshots (W34's included) each year we checked, from 2009-2011.

That's enough to show that Carlson has something to his point about perspective.  And it's enough to show that PunditFact stacked the deck against Carlson.

The Howler

We can't end this review without mentioning one particularly hilarious line from PunditFact's fact check.  PunditFact tried to artificially narrow the definition of "child" to make Carlson's claim look worse (bold emphasis added):
Carlson didn’t say what age children he had in mind, but in the context of the story he was responding to — and his rhetorical question about something "I want to know before I let my child go over to your house" — this is not about children under 4 years old. Parents don't let toddlers "go over" to a friend’s house.
"Go over" gets the scare quotes, we suppose, to show that the term refers only to children sufficiently autonomous to safely go unattended to a friend's house.  That's assuming the neighbor isn't in the adjacent duplex apartment.  More importantly, it assumes no danger to toddlers posed by older children, such as babysitters, playing with unsecured guns.

How ridiculous.

That's PunditFact/PolitiFact fact checking for you.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

PolitiFact, the fact checker that makes stuff up

PolitiFact, PolitiFact, PolitiFact.

What can you say about a fact checker that makes up facts out of whole cloth?

The pictures tell the story (albeit the pictures have words embedded).

The PolitiFact fact check:

A capture of the relevant portion of the McConnell ad:

PolitiFact simply invents a straw man argument for Sen. McConnell, suggesting his ad claims the Republican alternative to the Democrats' version of the Violence Against Women Act offered stronger protections for women overall.  But that wasn't the argument in the ad.  The ad simply says "McConnell voted for stronger protections for women than Obama's agenda will allow."  Using that wording allows the ad to refer to select features of the Republican bill that Obama's agenda wouldn't allow.  And PolitiFact confirms it (bold emphasis added):
For starters, Republicans proposed mandatory minimum sentences — ranging from 5 to 15 years — on certain sexual assault crimes.

However, advocates of domestic violence awareness were specifically against the inclusion of these provisions.
So McConnell was right.  Democrats wouldn't support mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving violence against women.  Presumably Democrats opposed longer minimum sentences because allowing people with a history of committing violence against women out of jail sooner presents no threat to women.  Or maybe it gives lawyers more work.

This wasn't just the misleading headline that we so often see in mainstream journalism.  PolitiFact fact-checked the ad as though it was comparing the new VAWA of the Democrats to the Republican alternative.  It's obvious in the fact check's conclusion:
Perhaps McConnell could argue that the mandatory minimum sentences Republicans required in their alternative made for a "stronger" bill, but advocates of domestic abuse awareness opposed this measure as unnecessary.

And the Republican measure was absent several protections for certain groups that were included in the bill Obama signed. McConnell is within his right to oppose those provisions, but it makes it hard for him to prove that he supported "stronger" legislation.

We rate the claim Mostly False.
These fact checkers do not give the facts.  They make them up.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The minimum wage hike and PolitiFact's disappearing underlying argument trick

We routinely note that PolitiFact exercises discretion in deciding whether to judge political statements on their literal truth or on the underlying argument.  That editorial choice often makes a critical difference in the final "Truth-O-Meter" rating.

This editorial discretion provides one of the broad avenues through which the ideological biases of PolitiFact staffers may find their way into PolitiFact's ratings.

Let's examine yet another case in point.

On Aug. 8, 2014, PolitiFact rated "Mostly True" a claim from proponents of raising the federal minimum wage that a summer's worth of minimum wage work could pay for the public college education of choice in 1978.

PolitiFact summarizes the fact check (bold emphasis added):
The meme said that "in 1978, a student who worked a minimum-wage summer job could afford to pay a year's full tuition at the 4-year public university of their choice."

If you use the national average the figure is correct. The only problem is the part about a university "of their choice." The data is correct for in-state tuition -- not for any university in the country, where out-of-state rates may well have kicked up the tuition amount beyond a summer’s minimum-wage haul.

On balance, we rate the claim Mostly True.
Obviously in this case PolitiFact ruled on the literal truth of the claim. As noted in the summary, the claim wasn't literally true since it relied on the unmentioned caveat that the prospective student would take advantage of favorable in-state tuition rates. So students would pay the tuition to the in-state college of their choice, not the out-of-state college of their choice. So the claim's literally false but "Mostly True" on PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" before we even look at the underlying argument.

And what is the underlying argument?

We need to raise the minimum wage because its purchasing power has fallen off so much since 1978.

What's wrong with the underlying argument? Just the fact that the argument cherry-picks a notably inflated point of comparison.
From Businessweek:

Who thinks the 1978 baseline year is a coincidence?

Despite this obvious cherry-picking, PolitiFact declares as objective fact that the only problem with the claim stems from the out-of-state tuition exception.

The literal claim is false owing to an important and unmentioned caveat.  The underlying argument uses cherry-picking to exaggerate the decreased buying power of minimum wage work.

"Mostly True."

Coincidentally, raising the minimum wage is favored more heavily on the left than on the right.

This is supposed to pass as nonpartisan?

Friday, August 8, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin tries to scorch Scott Walker with its own burning britches

Though our research shows PolitiFact Wisconsin may have an axe to grind against the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, that doesn't necessarily mean PF Wisconsin isn't biased against Republicans.

On Aug. 4, 2014, PolitiFact Wisconsin published a hacktastic fact check of Governor Scott Walker.  This one certainly belongs in PolitiFact's crowded annals of fact checks too absurd or inept to qualify as fact checks.

Here's the statement from Walker, via Wisconsin Public Radio, that drew PF Wisconsin's attention:
"Mitt Romney did not run his campaign on the basis of arguing his experience in the business world was a reason to vote for him,” Walker said. “If he had, then I think it would be fair game to say then you need to look at all of his experience.”
PF Wisconsin contacted the Walker campaign about the statement.  Walker spokesperson Alleigh Marré said Walker was saying Romney didn't base his campaign all or mostly on his business experience.

While that reasoning may sound perfectly plausible to reasonable people, PolitiFact Wisconsin found reason to reject the Walker campaign's explanation:
But Walker did not couch his remark that way; he said Romney didn’t offer his business experience even as "a" reason to support him.

That’s a rewrite of history.

We're supposing that Walker's statement looked like this through the distorted PolitiLens:
Unfortunately for PolitiFact Wisconsin, striking "run his campaign on the basis of" and changing "arguing" to "argue" represent a rewrite of history.  With the quotation intact, Marré's explanation makes good sense and must warrant strong consideration as the correct interpretation of Walker's statement.

PolitiFact Wisconsin's argument based on a telltale "a" doesn't pass the sniff test.

Despite the obvious reasonable explanation, PolitiFact Wisconsin insists that if Romney offered his business experience as a reason to vote for him, then that means Walker's claim is ridiculously false.

So PolitiFact Wisconsin produces the smoking gun:  Scott Walker introduced Romney at a campaign rally and praised his business experience!

We reviewed the video clip.  Yes, Walker praises Romney's business experience.  But he he goes on to say that the big reason to vote for Romney stems from is leadership as governor in a state dominated by Democrats.

In short, the supposed smoking gun, along with the rest of PolitiFact's evidence, dovetails extremely well with the explanation from the Walker campaign.

Here's Walker's speech introducing Romney.

We can't imagine what would possess PolitiFact Wisconsin stalwarts Dave Umhoefer and Greg Borowski to see this as a "Pants on Fire" falsehood from Walker.  Unless they're liberally biased, of course.  Then it makes sense.

A serious fact check would accept the reasonable explanation from the Romney (bww 8-9-14) Walker campaign and then test whether the Burke campaign's emphasis on her business career differs significantly from Romney's.  Maybe Walker's claim would check out, and maybe it wouldn't.  If only there was somebody out there to help us find the truth in politics.  But alas!

For what it's worth, Burke's campaign website does emphasize her private sector business experience quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

PolitiFudging climate change consensus

PolitiFact jumped on Republican congressional hopeful Lenar Whitney's recent claim that global warming is a hoax.

We're not going to delve into whether Whitney's claim was true or false, or even whether her YouTube video promoting her beliefs was a wise election strategy.  We're simply concerned in this case with the methods PolitiFact uses to support the claim of a scientific consensus backing climate change (a.k.a. global warming).

Among climate researchers most actively publishing scientific articles, at least 97 percent believe in anthropogenic climate change, found one 2009 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal. The study examined published scientific articles and surveyed experts.
At Zebra Fact Check, I reviewed each of the evidences used to support the claim of a scientific consensus on climate change.

The study PolitiFact describes above was led by William R. L. Anderegg.  PolitiFact's description of this study is reasonably accurate, but glosses over the following concerns.  Anderegg and company deliberately narrowed the survey group down to the researchers publishing most actively.  That method allows intimidation of the editors of scientific journals to artificially establish the expertise of the survey group.  Part of the scandal discovered through the release of the East Anglia email concerned the efforts of scientists to keep journals from publishing articles by climate change skeptics.

It's manifestly obvious the study's methodology was designed to give added weight to the views of scientists who had published the most.  And that's not a good method for measuring scientific consensus in the field of study.

Another survey out of the University of Illinois found that 82 percent of earth scientists (out of more than 3,000 respondents) believe that global temperature shifts are human-caused. Among climate-specific earth scientists who responded, 97.4 percent said they believe in human-caused climate change.
In this case, PolitiFact and Lauren Carroll are simply guilty of bad reporting.  The survey PolitiFact used as its evidence, by graduate student Maggie Kendall Zimmerman and professor Peter T. Doran, concerned the answers to two questions:
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
In other words, 82 percent of earth scientists surveyed believe human activity is a significant contributing factor.  PolitiFact helpfully translates that into "human-caused."

Among earth scientists studying climate, 97.4 percent believe human activity is a significant contributing factor.  PolitiFact likewise translated that into believing climate change is "human-caused."

Thanks to the muddled definitions supported by the media, it's likely that most climate change skeptics believe humans are a significant cause of climate change. A skeptic may not believe humans cause most or all of climate change yet at the same time think humans contribute significantly to climate change.

It's heartwarming, if not exactly a cause of global warming, to see PolitiFact routinely engaging in behavior that, if performed by a Republican, would warrant something like a "Half True" rating (or worse) on the "Truth-O-Meter."

Clarification Aug. 9, 2014:
Added the word "following" in the midst of the first sentence of the fifth paragraph to clarify intent.

Guest post: PolitiFact rescues Juan Williams’ misplay of the race card

Politifact recently focused its attention on a statement made by self-proclaimed liberal and Fox News contributor Juan Williams on Fox News Sunday last weekend. Williams was asked if Republican opposition to Obama was based on race or policy. Williams chose not to answer the question directly and decided instead to use a false argument to insinuate that the lawsuit and the opposition to the President’s actions were in fact racially motivated.
PolitiFact evaluated a statistic Williams used, completely ignoring the point he was making.
Williams introduced the race issue to the panel discussion when he said many people see opposition to Obama’s executive actions as an attack on the first black president.  Chris Wallace, the Fox News Sunday moderator, followed up:

WALLACE: Wait a second, I want to pick up on exactly that point. Do you think that the Republican opposition to this president, you heard Hakeem Jeffries talk about hatred, is racial, or do you think it is based on principles and policies?
WILLIAMS: Well, all I can do is look at the numbers. If you look at the core constituency, the people who are in let's say Tea Party opposition, support of impeachment, there's no diversity, it's a white, older group of people. As to whether or not it's racial, look, President Obama and others have said there are some people who don't like him because of his race; some people who do like him. But I would say if you just break it down as a matter of political analysis and say who is this group, it reminds me that the Republican Party has become almost a completely white party.

Williams later added:

WILLIAMS: The people who want him impeached, they are almost all white and they are all older and guess what, they are all in the far right wing of the Republican Party.

PolitiFact does not address the meat and potatoes of Williams’ argument, namely implying conservatives are racist.  Instead, PolitiFact evaluates the flimsy statistical support Williams offered in his argument--with a twist.

Whereas Williams said “all” support for impeachment came from old, white, conservative Republicans, PolitiFact decided Williams was making a point more along the lines that many old, white, conservative Republicans support impeachment.
PolitiFact includes the context showing Williams was responding to the question of whether he thought opposition to Obama was based on race or policy.  But PolitiFact drops the context for purposes of its fact check, failing to even consider grading the implied racism charge as part of the “Truth-O-Meter” rating.
PolitiFact found so much support in the poll data that it rated Williams “Mostly True” despite his unfortunate use of the word “all.”
What did the main poll actually show?
1. Republicans oppose the actions of a Democratic president more than Democrats do.
2. Forty-one percent of whites wanted Obama impeached compared to just 17 percent of non-whites.
3. Forty-nine percent of whites supported suing the president compared to just 23 percent of non-whites.
The considerable support for impeaching and suing Obama among non-whites severely undercuts Williams’ playing of the race card.  Fortunately for Williams, PunditFact’s fact check makes it easy to ignore where he went wrong.  Likewise, PolitiFact's factual massage makes it easy for misled readers to stick with the bogus reasoning Williams used to imply conservatives are racist in their opposition to Obama.

Liberal bias, anyone?


Bryan adds:

For much more on the way the mass media and academia try to pin the racist tail on the tea party (and the elephant), see my article "Fact checking Bill Maher and tea party racism" over at Zebra Fact Check.

It's perhaps the most in-depth journalistic treatment of the subject to date.

Update: Added Link to original PunditFact article at "Mostly True" at 2133PST 8-5-14 - Jeff

Sunday, August 3, 2014

PolitiMath at PolitiFact Virginia

Guided selection?
Earlier today, we reviewed the percentage error involved in pair of PolitiFact ratings.

On July 16, PolitiFact's PunditFact rated Cokie Roberts "Half True" for a numerical claim that was exaggerated by about 9,000 percent.  PunditFact justified the rating based on Roberts' underlying argument, that the risk of being murdered in Honduras is greater than the risk in New York City.

On July 31, PolitiFact Oregon rated George Will "False for a numerical claim that was off by as much as 225 percent.  Will claimed healthcare companies.make up 13 of the top 25 employers in Oregon, and occupy the top three positions on top of that.  The former claim was off by as much as 225 percent and the latter claim was off by 300 percent or so.  PolitiFact found Oregon's largest employer was a healthcare firm.

Today we take fresh note of a July 14 fact check from PolitiFact Virginia.

PolitiFact Virginia tested the claim of Democrat Mark Sickles that 70 percent of Virginia's Medicaid budget pays for care for seniors in nursing homes.

PolitiFact Virginia said the true number was 9.7 percent.

From that number, we calculate a percentage error of 622 percent (PolitiFact can't be trusted with that calculation).

PolitiFact Virginia gives Sickles no credit for his underlying argument and rates his claim "False."

What determines whether PolitiFact rates the underlying point along with the literal claim?

How big does an error need to get before a claim warrants a "Pants on Fire" rating?

Clarification 8-14-2014:
Changed "Will claimed healthcare companies.make up 13 of the top 25, and occupy the top three positions on top of that" to Will claimed healthcare companies.make up 13 of the top 25 employers in Oregon, and occupy the top three positions on top of that."

PolitiMath at PolitiFact Oregon

PolitiFact Oregon provides us with a great item to compare to our July 30 examination of mathematics at PolitiFact's PunditFact project.

In the PunditFact item, we noted that Cokie Roberts used a probability comparison that was off by almost 9000 percent and received a "Half True" rating from PolitiFact, thanks to her underlying point that getting murdered in Honduras was more likely than in New York City.

On July 31, PolitiFact Oregon published a fact check of George Will.  Will wrote a few things about how prominently health care providers figure in Oregon's list of top job providers.  Will was making the case for a medical doctor in the senate, Republican candidate Monica Wehby.

PolitiFact Oregon rated Will's claim "False":
Will, in a column supporting the candidacy of Republican Senate candidate Monica Wehby, included a link purporting to show Oregon’s 25 largest employers. The chart, he wrote, indicated that the dominance of large health care providers in Oregon -- the three largest employers and 13 of the top 25 in the state fit that niche, according to the chart -- make Dr. Wehby the best choice for the job.

Calls and emails to many of the companies listed, however, indicate that the chart’s numbers are way off, often wildly so. The top three employers on the list Will used are, in fact, a single entity. And by our count, the highest number of health care providers that can rank among Oregon’s top 25 employers is nine, not the 13 Will cited.

We rate the claim False.
Will was off by as much as 225 percent (using four as the number of health care providers in the top 25), apparently totally overwhelming any underlying point he had about about health care providers employing quite a few Oregonians.

After all, it's way too much to ask for consistency from mainstream media fact checkers.

Incidentally, we found healthcare/social assistance combined make up about 12.6 percent of all jobs in Oregon (as of June 2014, seasonally adjusted).  That's about 15.1 percent of the private workforce.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Guest post: Another wrongheaded heading

We present another guest post by JLG:

Attack ad by Democrat on McConnell "False", but...
PolitiFact caught once again using deceptive subheadings favoring Democrats

Last Thursday, Politifact reviewed the latest ad by Mitch McConnell's Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in the Kentucky Senate race. Lundergan Grimes claimed in the ad that "Mitch McConnell voted to raise Medicare costs for a current Kentucky senior by $6,000." Politifact ruled the claim "False":
Image from, red oval added for emphasis
The line circled in red will appear false to many readers, positioned as it is under a "Truth-O-Meter" graphic blaring the message "False." But it's only false, PolitiFact's presentation implies, because the bill wouldn't have taken effect now but in the future. That reading impugns McConnell along with his Democrat attacker.  Worse, it isn't even accurate.
The PolitiFact article makes each of the following points:
Her figure was based on the Paul Ryan budget plan.
There have been several incarnations of the Ryan budget over the years and Lundergan  Grimes chose to go all the way back to the 2011 version.
Every version of the Ryan budget since then was re-tooled to eliminate that $6,000 cost.
Now here are the three points that really tell the tale:
Don Disney, the man in the ad who claimed McConnell "voted to raise my Medicare costs by $6,000" is 75 years old, so no version of the Ryan plan would saddle him with $6,000-plus in additional out-of-pocket costs.
That bill wouldn't have gone into effect until 2022 and would not have affected people like Disney who were seniors when the bill was passed.
McConnell voted for a motion to proceed on the Ryan budget.  That allowed it to proceed to the Senate floor for debate and amendments.  But McConnell never voted on the final passage of the bill.

There was no bill passed to raise Disney's Medicare costs by $6,000, McConnell never voted for the passage of any bill that would have raised Disney's costs by $6,000, and McConnell didn't vote for the passage of any bill that would have cost any senior on Medicare $6,000 in extra expenses. 

The content of the article confirms this summary, yet PolitiFact mentions nothing about the fact McConnell didn't actually vote for the passage of the bill. On top of that, the graphic on the main page gives people the impression that McConnell voted to raise costs to seniors by $6,000, with those costs inflicted on seniors at a later date.  That's false.

Liberal bias leads to another "Politifact fail"


Friday, August 1, 2014

Something to see in Texas after all?

We just finished updating one of our "Nothing To See Here" posts after PolitiFact Texas revisited a speech by Senator John Cornyn's Democratic challenger, David Alameel.

PolitiFact Texas picked on a fairly innocuous statement from Alameel's speech in late June.  We found other statements in the speech we thought were more politically significant.  In our update we review the timeline of the reporting.  We think it's reasonable to suspect that our post helped prompt this new fact check of Alameel by PolitiFact Texas.

This example featuring Alameel shows again how story selection may easily skew the "report cards" PolitiFact publishes to help serve as voter guides.