And here's the Worst Of.
What is the ideological makeup of the Politifact team? How do you ensure there is balance in this respect?
Great question, right? Recently promoted PolitiFact director Aaron Sharockman double-fumbled this one. Part one:
Honestly, I have no idea people's party affiliations. I'm a registered NPA, though I've been registered as a Democrat and a Republican in the past.It's plausible that Sharockman doesn't know the party affiliations on the PolitiFact team (we happen to know for a few of them but we don't tell because it can potentially affect their job prospects). What's less plausible is the idea he has no insight into the ideologies of the team. The question was about ideologies, not political affiliations. Sharockman dodged the first part of the question.
It gets worse:
The meat of your question is how to do we ensure balance. On that, I can offer a better answer. The writer who writes a fact-check proposes a rating (True, False, Pants on Fire, etc.), but it's actually a panel of three judges (editors) who decide the rating that gets published. So in reality, four people have a vote in every fact-check. I think that makes us sort of unique in the fact-checking game.If Sharockman doesn't know the ideologies of the staff, then what guarantee can he offer that having three editors consider the issue serves to make sure balance exists? Answer: He can't offer any such guarantee. It's just words.
The point of having three editors involved is so that different people can offer their viewpoints, analysis to best inform the fact-check. And to make sure balance does exist.
I reached the discussion in time to offer a follow up question:
Isn't a voting process like that primarily a guarantee that the majority ideology controls outcomes?Sharockman responded:
We're not the Supreme Court. We haven't been appointed R's or D's. And I'd say, we often strive for a unanimous decision. So in the event of a 2-1 vote, we'll often ask for more reporting, or clarification on a point to try and get to a unanimous verdict (so to speak).Indeed, aren't all PolitiFact staffers hired by the editorially liberal (consistently liberal) Tampa Bay Times? PolitiFact's "star chamber" would likely have more balance if if was constructed like the Supreme Court.
Asking for more reporting if there's a holdout does offer some promise for giving greater voice to dissent, but to what extent if all the judges trend left? The voice that's absent from the table will not receive a hearing.
PolitiFact's still flubbing this question just as it has for years.
There are reasonable answers to this question, we think. PolitiFact opted for something else.
Disagree. We've fact-checked President Barack Obama more than any other person. http://www.politifact.com/personalities/barack-obama/If PolitiFact has done more fact checks of conservatives than liberals then of what relevance is the number of times PolitiFact has fact checked Barack Obama? The only way the number of fact checks of Obama carries relevance is if that number is greater than the number of ratings of conservatives.
Of the 2016 candidates, who have we fact-checked the most? Hillary Clinton http://www.politifact.com/personalities/hillary-clinton/
As for the second part of Sharockman's answer, we found 68 ratings of Clinton since 2010, including at least one flip-flop rating. We don't think Clinton's statements about John McCain in 2008 count as statements by a 2016 presidential candidate. Not in any relevant sense, anyway.
Since 2011, PolitiFact has done 86 fact checks of Donald Trump. Eighty-six is greater than 68.
We don't keep track of how many more stories PolitiFact does about conservatives compared to liberals. But we know flim-flam when we see it, and that's what Sharockman offered in answer to this question.
Jeff said he was planning on asking this one. But somebody else beat us to it.
PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan provided the type of answer we're used to seeing from PolitiFact:
We actually have definitions for all of our ratings. False means the statement is not accurate. Pants on Fire means the statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. Three editors vote on every rating.Yes, that's the difference between the two according to PolitiFact's definitions. But what's the real difference between the two? My follow up question still hangs:
Is there any objective difference between the two ratings? An objective measure of "ridiculous"?Holan's answer from December 2014 still can't be beat:
So, we have a vote by the editors and the line between "False" and "Pants on Fire" is just, you know, sometimes we decide one way and sometimes decide the other.She'd go into the science involved, but y'all wouldn't understand.
What about that website "PolitiFact Bias"? Somebody brought up our website and Sharockman offered a comment. We think Sharockman's comment was deleted, but we found it on Sharockman's post history page.
A website devoted to saying another website is 100 percent biased seems seem objective to you?
I asked Sharockman where he got his "100 percent" figure. His description doesn't comport with the way we describe PolitiFact's bias. Sharockman made it up on the spot, like a politician.
Here's looking forward to the next PolitiFact AMA.