Friday, February 5, 2016

Two Clinton fibs, two "Half True" ratings from PolitiFact

PolitiFact is too good to us.

Seriously. We don't have any formal agreement with PolitiFact binding them to produce horrible fact-checking in order to make sure we have stuff to write. They just do it anyway.

Case in point, co-editor Jeff D sent me an email about this item earlier today.

During the Democratic presidential debate on Feb. 4, 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said she waited until President Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement was finalized before passing judgment on it.

Try to wrap your head around PolitiFact's reasoning:
Did Clinton really withhold her support until the terms of the proposal had been finalized?


Speaking in Australia in 2012, Clinton hailed the deal as "setting the gold standard."

"This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field," Clinton said. "And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment."
First, Clinton condemned the deal after it was finalized. It doesn't even make sense to ask whether Clinton withheld her support for the deal until after it was finalized. She never supported it after it was finalized. PolitiFact's headline makes the same error:

The statement supposedly from Clinton in PolitiFact's headline is flatly false. Clinton endorsed the deal before negotiations were finalized. The "Half True" doesn't belong within 10 miles of PolitiFact's headline.

If Clinton said she did not pass judgment on the deal before it was finalized that is likewise false.

The only way Clinton can escape with a shred of truth on this one is if she was saying she did not condemn the deal until after it was finalized. The problem? That statement does nothing to address the concern in the question posed by debate moderator Chuck Todd (transcript via The New York Times, bold emphasis added):
TODD: Secretary Clinton, let me turn to the issue of trade. In the ’90s you supported NAFTA. But you opposed it when you ran for the president in 2008. As secretary of state, you supported TPP, and then — which, of course, is that trade agreement with a lot of Asian countries, but you now oppose it as you make your second bid for president.

If elected, should Democrats expect that once you’re in office you will then become supportive of these trade agreements again?

CLINTON: You know, Chuck, I’ve only had responsibility for voting for trade agreements as a senator. And I voted a multinational trade agreement when I was senator, the CAFTA agreement, because I did not believe it was in the best interests of the workers of America, of our incomes, and I opposed it.

I did hope that the TPP, negotiated by this administration, would put to rest a lot of the concerns that many people have expressed about trade agreements. And I said that I was holding out that hope that it would be the kind of trade agreement that I was looking for.

I waited until it had actually been negotiated because I did want to give the benefit of the doubt to the administration. Once I saw what the outcome was, I opposed it.
It looks to us (see particularly the second paragraph of Clinton's response) like Clinton tried to downplay the support she offered the deal when she was Secretary of State. She seems to say that she didn't really support the deal back then. Apparently she was just being being a good soldier for President Obama, leaving her free to oppose the deal after she left the administration.

So ... no flip-flop because she was just doing Obama's bidding? And endorsing the deal before it was finalized is simply giving the administration--of which she was a part!--the benefit of the doubt?

Clinton's answer doesn't make much sense to us. She offers a thin excuse for her flip-flop.

PolitiFact's fact check doesn't make sense, either. The claim from PolitiFact's headline is false but receives a "Half True" rating. And it doesn't correctly capture what Clinton was saying in the first place.

What Clinton actually said might have been half true. She did not condemn the deal until after it was finalized. Though that claim carries a healthy dollop of misdirection downplaying her apparently insincere early endorsement of the TPP.

And did Clinton condemn the deal privately within the administration? Did President Obama hear from Clinton what it would take for her to support the deal? Ask the question, debate moderators.

The Second Fib

 Wait, didn't we say something about a second fib rated "Half True"?

Yes. Yes, we did.

The fact check we discuss above--containing the first fib--was from C. Eugene Emery, Jr., recently added to the staff at PolitiFact National after leading fact-check efforts for PolitiFact's Rhode Island franchise.

It looks like Emery relied on an earlier PolitiFact fact check for his analysis. That article contains the second fib, and probably helped nudge Emery toward his interpretation of Clinton's 2016 debate comments.

In that Oct. 13, 2015 fact check, it looks like Clinton did say she had reserved judgment on the TPP while Secretary of State. But with the contradictory evidence available and included in its story, PolitiFact gifted Clinton with a "Half True" rating on her claim that while serving as Secretary of State she merely "hoped" the TPP was the type of deal she could support.

 Try to figure out which half was true from PolitiFact's conclusion:
Clinton said when she was secretary of state, she was reserving judgment but "hoped (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) would be the gold standard."

She’s twisting her 2012 remarks a bit. Clinton said, "This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements," which is a more confident claim than if she had said she "hoped" it would meet that standard. This is in contrast to more recent comments where Clinton said she had concerns about the deal and that she ultimately opposes it.

The statement is distorting her previous comments. We rate it Half True.
Hooray for objective standards in fact-checking?

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