Wednesday, March 2, 2016

PolitiFingers on the scale

Did you know that PolitiFact is objective and nonpartisan?

Yes, well, it was a trick question.

Yesterday PolitiFact gave us a fantastic example of placing fingers on the scale to change the outcome of a fact check

The example comes from PolitiFact's March 1 fact check of President Barack Obama. Here's the visual:

The problem?

We just don't find it anywhere close to obvious that this:

"None of the GOP candidates have a climate change plan"

is a plausible paraphrase of this:

"There is not a single candidate in the Republican primary that thinks we should do anything about climate change."

Does PolitiFact writer Lauren Carroll make an effort to justify her paraphrase of Obama? Not from what we can tell.

Carroll's conclusion features a representative gloss:
Bush, who was in the race when Obama made his comment, and Kasich both have said they believe human-caused climate change is real and have said pursuing these alternative energy sources could mitigate the problem. But neither has outlined a specific plan.

For some Republican voters, this stance might be a plus. But it doesn’t change the veracity of Obama’s statement.
So advocating increased private-sector reliance on renewable energy sources to mitigate climate change means that Bush and Kasich think we should do nothing about climate change?


One can make Obama's statement somewhat true by (charitably) assuming that by "we" he means the federal government. If we make enough unfounded assumptions, we can find some truth in Obama's statement. But by the time we've made those assumptions we're not really engaged in fact-checking.

Yet that's what PolitiFact did, effectively putting its PolitiFingers on the scale. It's not logical to conclude that lacking a plan for the federal government to act means that there is no desire to address a problem.

This was yet another sham fact check from the fraudsters at PolitiFact.


Here's Ben Carson explaining that it's important to sustain the environment. After that, he condemns Obama's climate change plan for putting a high price tag on accomplishing almost nothing:

Jeff Adds: This editorial from Carroll seems like a rating searching for a quote. PolitiFact openly admits they select claims to rate partly based on what they find interesting.

In this case, it's easy to imagine Carroll wanting to highlight (in her view) the GOP's lax attitude toward the climate change issue and went fishing for a quote to use as a vehicle for her to express that view. That scenario would plausibly explain how she made the leap from Obama's explicit claim to the different (and invented) claim she rated.

This example highlights the selective nature of PolitiFact's body of work. Contrary to the myth that they're dispassionate researchers uncovering the truth of all claims, they're partisan actors promoting or ignoring narratives as they see fit.

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