Thursday, January 14, 2016

PolitiFact's Policy Plinko: What Rules Get Applied Today?

Yesterday Bryan wrote a piece noting PolitiFact ignores their own policies in favor of subjective whim and it's easy to find evidence supporting him. PolitiFact's application of standards resembles the game of Plinko, wherein they start off at one point, but can bounce around before they reach a final ruling. The notable difference between the two is that Plinko is much less predictable.

In 2012 former editor Bill Adair announced a new policy at PolitiFact that they would begin taking into account a person's underlying argument when determining a rating for a numbers claim. That new policy turned out to be bad news for Mitt Romney:

In Romney's case, PolitiFact says we need to look beyond the numbers and observe the historical context to find the truth:
The numbers are accurate but quite misleading....It's a historical pattern...not an effect of Obama's policies.

There is a small amount of truth to the claim, but it ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.
Romney's numbers are accurate, but, gee golly, PolitiFact needs to investigate in order to find out the meaning behind them so no one gets the wrong impression.

Thankfully for Democrats, just a few months later PolitiFact was back to dismissing the underlying argument and was simply performing a check of the numbers:

Some underlying arguments are more equal than others. Contrary to the Romney rating, PolitiFact chose to ignore the implication of the claim:
Our ruling

Clinton’s figures check out, and they also mirror the broader results we came up with two years ago. Partisans are free to interpret these findings as they wish, but on the numbers, Clinton’s right. We rate his claim True.
PolitiFact suddenly has no interest in whether or not the statistics are misleading. They're just here to make sure the numbers check out and all you partisans can decide what they mean.


Look, kids! Wheel-O-Standards has come all the way back around! And just in time to hit the conservative group the Alliance Defending Freedom:
The organization does not provide mammograms at any of its health centers...

So Mattox is correct, by Planned Parenthood’s own acknowledgement, that the organization does not provide mammograms...

Federal data and Planned Parenthood’s own documents back up the claim from the Alliance Defending Freedom.

That puts the claim in the realm that won’t make either side happy: partially accurate but misleading without additional details. We rate the claim Half True.
We're back to numbers being accurate but misleading! In this rating PolitiFact finds the number of Planned Parenthood facilities licensed to perform mammograms (zero) is accurate, but after editorially judging the statistic gives the wrong impression, PolitiFact issues a rating based on the underlying argument. Because "fact checker" or something.

Why muck up such a great narrative just for the sake of applying consistent standards?

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