Thursday, May 19, 2016

NTSH: PolitiFact twice misrepresented

This "Nothing To See Here" post looks at two media sources who publicly misrepresented PolitiFact.

We think PolitiFact may be expected protect its reputation from misrepresentations coming from mainstream sources.

We have two recent examples of such misrepresentation.

Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal bills himself as a new media analyst. Apparently some people take him seriously. But Baekdal tried to support his views public misinformation using data from PolitiFact, data that Baekdal massaged with his own formula, as he explains:
I came up with another system. It's based on a logarithmic scale which works like this:
  • We give 'half-true' a value of 1 and center it on the graph.
  • We give 'Mostly True' a value of 2, and 'True' a value of 5. The idea here is that we reward not just that something is true, but also that it provides us with the complete picture (or close to it).
  • Similarly, we punish falsehoods. So, 'Mostly False' is given a value of -2, and 'False' a value of -5.
  • Finally, we have intentional falsehoods, the 'Pants on Fire', which we punish by giving it a value of -10.
Sound reasonable?
No, it doesn't sound reasonable.

It's not reasonable because, regarding the final point, PolitiFact does not define the "Pants on Fire" rating as Baekdal does, and in fact does not take deceitful intent into account in doling out its ratings.

So Baekdal is misinforming people by misrepresenting PolitiFact's rating scale and purpose. Nothing to see here? Should PolitiFact just look the other way? There's an incentive to do that: Baekdal claims the data show PolitiFact's impartiality. PolitiFact might like to preserve that fiction.

Doyle McManus

Doyle McManus works in Washington D.C. as an L.A. Times political columnist. McManus wrote a thinly-veiled "Hillary for President" column published on May 18, 2016. The column, "How brazenly can a candidate lie and get away with it? We're going to find out with Donald Trump," like Baekdal's article, misrepresented PolitiFact:
Trump fibs so often that the fact-checking website Politifact awarded him its 2015 “Lie of the Year” award for his entire body of work, a lifetime achievement award for prevarication.
It's very easy to check PolitiFact's reason for awarding its 2015 "Lie of the Year" to "the campaign misstatements of Donald Trump."
In considering our annual Lie of the Year, we found our only real contenders were Trump’s -- his various statements also led our Readers’ Poll. But it was hard to single one out from the others. So we have rolled them into one big trophy.

To the candidate who says he’s all about winning, PolitiFact designates the many campaign misstatements of Donald Trump as our 2015 Lie of the Year.
The question is, how did McManus and the Times manage to get the facts wrong?

Should PolitiFact let this misinformation stand, or call on its PunditFact unit to fact check McManus?

Is there nothing to see here?


It's worth noting that we have taken action to try to correct both errors, contacting Baekdal via Twitter and email and McManus with a comment on his article as well as Twitter. Neither man seems so far inclined to fix his errors. We will update on this point if we discover either has corrected the record.

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