We thought PolitiFact went a bit easy on President Obama in a State of the Union speech some time ago. Obama said businesses had created so many jobs. PolitiFact said Obama's claim was "Half True" but then later elevated the rating to "Mostly True" because the president did not take as much credit as PolitiFact had first believed.
No, of course there was no concrete explanation for why PolitiFact changed its opinion.
PolitiFact played the blame game again on March 16, 2016, this time with Ted Cruz.
Here's how it looked:
PolitiFact said Cruz said President Obama has been presiding over U.S. jobs going overseas. PolitiFact reasons that Cruz gives Obama too much blame and so rates Cruz's claim "Mostly False."
Whatever plausibility PolitiFact's rating carries from its headline and deck material ought to fade pretty quickly once readers stumble over what Cruz actually said (bold emphasis added):
[Meet the Press host] Chuck Todd played a clip of Obama saying the Republicans are significantly to blame for the angry tone of politics today.To factually conclude that too much blame was placed, the fact checker needs a blame baseline. Knowing whether Cruz blamed the president too much requires the fact checker to reasonably gauge how much blame Cruz placed on the president.
Cruz responded, "You know, Chuck, Barack Obama's a world-class demagogue. That language there is designed to divide us. No, Mr. President, we're not angry at that. We're angry at politicians in Washington, including you, who ignore the men and women who elected you, who have been presiding over our jobs going overseas for seven years."
The part of Cruz’s comment that caught our eye was that Obama has "been presiding over our jobs going overseas for seven years." We decided to take a look. (Cruz’s staff did not respond to inquiries.)
We think Cruz made that very difficult for PolitiFact with the wording he used, for Cruz did not single out the president. Cruz first mentions anger at "politicians in Washington" and after that makes clear Obama is included in the group ("including you").
So how much blame is Cruz placing on Obama, based on what Cruz said? How is the blame divided up between "politicians in Washington" and President Obama?
We don't see any way for PolitiFact to make that determination without simply making an assumption. Cruz offered no guidance. There's nothing in the context that helps. At least in the earlier case featuring President Obama we have the context of the State of the Union address. Presidents use that address to implicitly play up the benefits of their policies.
PolitiFact apparently assumes Cruz is blaming the president particularly for some unspecified role in allowing jobs to go overseas. Cruz doesn't even specify how much blame falls on Washington politicians, let alone the president. It isn't even necessary to assume that the anger at Obama and other Washington politicians is justified anger.
Is this fact-checking? It's hard to see how it qualifies.
PolitiFact has no trouble at all, despite the ambiguous nature of Cruz's claim, finding that Cruz placed too much blame on Obama. And PolitiFact likewise has an easy time assigning blame to Cruz for wrongly assigning blame, ergo the "Mostly False" rating.
PolitiFact considered no Cruz blame on "Washington politicians" other than President Obama.
In a way, it's easy to understand why PolitiFact left the other Washington politicians out of its consideration. Keeping them in consideration makes the fact check even more difficult than doing one that places an unspecified degree of blame on Obama. Pretending Cruz did not spread the blame around makes it easier for PolitiFact to maintain the fiction that Cruz placed too much blame on Obama.
We hasten to point out that such an approach hardly qualifies as unbiased.