PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan told some whoppers on May 13, 2016.
We take a dim view here of fact checkers making stuff up. Here's what Holan had to say in her opinion piece about the 2016 election:
Our reporting is not "opinion journalism," because our sole focus is on facts and evidence. We lay out the documents and sources we find; we name the people we interviewed. The weight of evidence allows us to draw conclusions on our Truth-O-Meter that give people a sense of relative accuracy. The ratings are True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and Pants on Fire. Readers may not agree with every rating, but there should be no confusion as to why we rated the statement the way we did.Holan's spouting hogwash.
"Our reporting is not 'opinion journalism,' because our sole focus is on facts and evidence." Rubbish. PolitiFact establishes the direction of its fact checks based on its interpretation of a subject's claim. PolitiFact tends to have a tin ear for hyperbole and jest, and that's just the tip of PolitiFact's iceberg of subjectivity. The "Truth-O-Meter" rating system is unavoidably subjective. Perhaps Holan's qualifier "Our reporting" is intended as weasel-words avoiding that fact. Is the "Truth-O-Meter" rating PolitiFact's "reporting"? If not, Holan weasels her way to some wiggle room.
"We lay out the documents and sources we find; we name the people we interviewed." Okay, fine, but what if PolitiFact's uncovering of documents and sources was biased? What if PolitiFact conveniently finds a professional "consensus" on a key issue based on a handful of experts who lean left? Is that an objective process? Isn't that process easily led by subjective opinions? What if PolitiFact unexpectedly overlooks/ignores a report from the Congressional Budget Office when it typically counts CBO reports as the gold standard?
"The weight of evidence allows us to draw conclusions on our Truth-O-Meter that give people a sense of relative accuracy." As we pointed out above, the "Truth-O-Meter" ratings are impossible to apply objectively. For example, PolitiFact judges between "needs clarification," "leaves out important details" and "ignores critical facts." Those criteria do not at all lend themselves to objective demarcation. Where does one of them end and the next one begin? Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 2012 Jeep ad certainly had more than "an element of truth" to it, yet PolitiFact gave the ad its harshest rating, "Pants on Fire," supposedly reserved, if the definitions mean anything, for statements that do not possess an element of truth. The "weight of evidence" is decided by the subjective impressions of PolitiFact editors, not by meeting objective criteria.
"The ratings are True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and Pants on Fire." Yes, those are the ratings. If we focus just on this statement we could give Holan a "True" rating. That reminds us of another subjective aspect of PolitiFact's process. PolitiFact decides whether to consider a whole statement or just part of a statement when it applies its ratings. Is that decision based solely on facts and evidence? Of course not. It's just another part of PolitiFact's subjective judgment.
"Readers may not agree with every rating, but there should be no confusion as to why we rated the statement the way we did." From a paragraph full of howlers, this may be the biggest howler. PolitiFact editors say they're often divided on what rating to give. They say it's one of the hardest parts of the job. John Kroll, who worked at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, PolitiFact's original partner for PolitiFact Ohio, said the decision between one rating and another often amounted to a coin flip. It's outrageous for Holan to sell the narrative that the ratings are driven only by the facts.
Holan smells of beef and cheese.