Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Joshua Gillin's bad fact check: 'Rubio's bad analogy'

PolitiFact Florida and writer/researcher Joshua Gillin yesterday offered another example of PolitiFact's unworthiness.

PolitiFact Florida published Gillin's story about a portion of Marco Rubio's speech announcing the latter's run for president. In the story, Gillin judges Rubio used a bad analogy in his speech:
Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed his 2016 presidential campaign Monday, but an apparent musical analogy in his announcement speech was a bit off key. During a speech in which he implied his opponents were too old, Rubio accused the competition of wanting to recycle ideas "stuck in the 20th century."

"They’re busy looking backwards, so they do not see how jobs and prosperity today depend on our ability to compete in a global economy," Rubio said. "And so our leaders put us at a disadvantage by taxing and borrowing and regulating like it’s 1999."
Gillin surmises Rubio was referencing Prince's "1999," a top-40 hit back in 1983. Gillin likewise surmises Rubio was making a joke and so does not rate his claim on the "Truth-O-Meter." We think Gillin judged correctly on both points. Unfortunately for Gillin, that largely exhausts the good news.

Having determined Rubio was joking, Gillin proceeds to fact check Rubio's joke as though Rubio was trying to use 1999 as a serious example of liberal tax-and-spend policy.

How can we sufficiently emphasize the wrongheadedness of that approach? Why isn't it obvious that a joke is not intended as a literal comparison? If it's obvious that the joke isn't intended as a literal comparison then why proceed with a literal comparison at all?

It doesn't make a lick of sense.

Gillin even claims it's "ironic" that Rubio references a 1983 tune while touting his youth as a campaign positive. We can only count this as an evidence Gillin doesn't understand irony. Seriously, using a reference to an enduringly popular song is supposed to undercut Rubio's youthful appeal? Seriously? Did the relatively youthful Gillin have to Google "1999" to understand Rubio's reference?

As soon as PolitiFact understood it was a joke, the justifiable rationale for fact-checking Rubio disappeared. What PolitiFact Florida published was not a fact-check but an op-ed extolling the fiscal responsibility of President Bill Clinton. Gillin deftly avoids sharing credit for Clinton's accomplishments with the Republican-controlled Congress.

Near the end of his story Gillin confirms what we're saying:
So while Rubio likely isn’t making a literal comparison to 1999, his talking points would be off if he did: Taxes were higher back then, but the budget was balanced, while the opposite is true today.
So Rubio receives more-or-less the full effect of an unfavorable article premised on an admittedly unlikely view of his words.

It makes for a pretty good example of PolitiFact's supposed nonpartisanship.

Update 4/16/2015:

Added a link to the PolitiFact article. And, as the article was hosted at PolitiFact national and not PolitiFact Florida, struck the word "Florida" where it followed "PolitiFact" in our post.

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