Sunday, December 14, 2014

PolitiFact poised to pick 2014 "Lie of the Year"

It's time for PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" nonsense again, where the supposedly nonpartisan fact checkers set aside objectivity even more blatantly than usual to offer their opinion on the year's most significant political falsehood.

We'll first note a change from years past, as PolitiFact abandons its traditional presentation of the candidates accompanied by their corresponding "Truth-O-Meter" graphic. Does that have something to do with criticisms over last year's deceitful presentation? One can only hope, but we're inclined to call it coincidence.

And now a bit of handicapping, using a 0-10 scale to rate the strength of the candidate:


President Obama and immigration policy

The president's "my position hasn't changed" remark is somewhat ho-hum in terms of political impact. Obama changing his position had huge political impact. By the time he said his position hadn't changed, Obama had already issued his executive order. Jeff calls this one a lock, but to me the only thing recommending this one was the way Obama ticked off liberals by putting off an action he could have just as well done years ago.  


Debate over Keystone XL pipeline

I'd love to see PolitiFact pick this one, with the chosen example of a plausible long-term jobs gain rated "False" by perfidious PolitiFact. This one may get some traction since the jobs estimates may contribute to the public's support of the Keystone pipeline project.


The Ebola virus

This one has the same things going for it as the Keystone one. George Will said the Ebola virus could be spread with a sneeze or a cough. The CDC agreed with Will, but PolitiFact disagreed and gave Will a "False" rating. There's ample precedent for PolitiFact choosing a true statement as its Lie of the Year, of course. And the Ebola scare was one of the major news stories of 2014, giving this one a slight edge over Keystone.


ISIS and the U.S.-Mexico border

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) said at least 10 ISIS fighters had been apprehended at the border. Hunter claims sources in the border patrol, and PolitiFact dismissed the veracity of Hunter's sources by citing the claims of the administration. It's easy to imagine the liberal bloggers who run PolitiFact may favor this one by viewing it as scaremongering. But Ebola's probably scarier than the terrorism JV team.


Mitch McConnell and campaign finance

We imagine PolitiFact had a pretty easy time tossing Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democrats' weak candidate for the senate seat won by Mitch McConnell, under the bus. Politically, this was a nothingburger. It was just a whopper of a campaign ad by a candidate running a poor campaign. This is one tossed in to help make it look like PolitiFact is nonpartisan.


President Obama's ISIS comment

Hey, remember back when Obama called ISIS the JV team of terrorism compared to big, bad al-Qaeda? Oh, that's right. We foreshadowed this one earlier. This claim has some of the 2013 dynamic to it. The statement itself means fairly little, but world events have magnified the degree of the falsehood. The administration hasn't so far come up with a set of actions to stop ISIS. So this one's newsy almost to the degree of the Ebola virus claim, though perhaps only PolitiFact's assurance that no ISIS fighters were apprehended at the southern border keeps it from earning a tie.


Global warming and the environment

This one's my dark horse pick. Politically, the person making the statement wasn't even much on the map. But this claim fits right in with liberal orthodoxy. It's a great way for PolitiFact to stick its finger in the eye of the strengthened Republican majority in the House as well as the new majority in the Senate. Liberals would love the pick. Plus it's science and therefore scientifical. So, even though the political impact of this claim was minimal, PolitiFact may credit it with political importance simply owing to the global and enduring importance of the looming climate change disaster.


Ebola virus and the U.S.-Mexico border

The U.S.-Mexico border again? This time is Dr. Phil Gingrey, a congressman from Georgia, saying in a letter to the CDC that he's heard reports of Ebola-carrying persons crossing the border. PolitiFact does not rate whether Gingrey heard such reports. PolitiFact grades Gingrey as though he said Ebola-carrying persons are crossing the southern border. Gingrey said nothing unreasonable unless he actually had not heard the reports he said he'd encountered. Still, for PolitiFact there's the appeal of fearmongering and a tie-in to one of the biggest news stories of the year.


Debate over Affordable Care Act

Early in 2014, when the big story was still the poor performance of the ACA's federal insurance exchange, House Speaker John Boehner said more people had lost insurance under the ACA than had gained it. Boehner was considering the number of insurance cancellations in comparison with exchange signups, and I think he was mostly likely talking about private insurance only, not Medicaid (PolitiFact gave no sign of considering that angle). This was another claim of dubious political importance. But it would have to warm the hearts of dedicated liberals to see the ACA vindicated by an organization dedicated to helping all of us find the truth in politics. PolitiFact's other "Lie of the Year" selections relating to the ACA may weaken the strength of this option.


President Obama and executive orders

PolitiFact nominated a claim from Facebook posts? The social media equivalent of chain email? Though Obama's expansions of executive power represent another major political news story for this year, the political impact of overestimating the number of executive orders barely registers.

With such a weak field this year, PolitiFact will probably have to try to find a way to take credit for pressuring politicians into cutting down their lying ways.


One of our biggest amusements of this year's "Lie of the Year" fanfare came from "5 questions about PolitiFact and PunditFact's Lie of the Year," an article by PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan purporting to state the principles PolitiFact uses in its selection process.

Our regular readers know PolitiFact's principles are more like ... guidelines. Question 3 had to do with how PolitiFact selects its finalists. And here's how PolitiFact begins its answer:
The editors and reporters of PolitiFact look through all the statements which we’ve rated False or Pants on Fire.
Despite PolitiFact's deceptive presentation, last year's process counts as a clear exception to Holan's description. The eventual "Lie of the Year" winner in 2013 wasn't rated in 2013 and never received a rating below "Half True" on PolitiFact's trademarked "Truth-O-Meter." PolitiFact grafted Obama's promise that people could keep the insurance plans they liked on to his 2013 claim that PolitiFact (wrongly, I think) interpreted as a denial that he had made that promise.

After Afters

Another nugget from Holan's "5 questions" article

The Lie of the Year is awarded to the statement itself, not to an individual.

Editor Holan, please contact PolitiFact Virginia

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