Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Making stuff up the PolitiFact way (Updated)

Why is it so easy to find PolitiFact publishing falsehoods?

Early on Aug. 24, 2016 I was reviewing a "False" rating given to Donald Trump for claiming FBI Director James Comey said Hillary Clinton's email actions amounted to misconduct that was a disgrace and embarrassment to our country.

PolitiFact doled out the "False" rating based on its finding that Trump's paraphrase of Comey was far too creative.

But was Trump paraphrasing Comey? PolitiFact's reasoning on that key point raised a question or two:
The speech transcript specifically indicates, via the dash, that Trump was explaining the remarks of the FBI director, not just giving his own opinion. Trump's delivery on video makes it sound that way, too, and that's what caught our attention.
I found the audiovisual evidence from Trump's speech ambiguous. But what was this about a dash indicating that Trump was explaining Comey's remarks?

I dashed off a message to the writer and editor:
A little while ago I was reading your July 15, 2016 fact check of Donald Trump regarding his supposed paraphrase of FBI Director James Comey.

I found this piece of evidence striking:
The speech transcript specifically indicates, via the dash, that Trump was explaining the remarks of the FBI director, not just giving his own opinion.
I confess I had never before heard that the use of a dash serves to reliably indicate that what follows the dash shows an attempt to explain the remarks of another. But I was slightly more comfortable with my ignorance after failing to find evidence supporting the idea via Internet research and by consulting an English major.

Can you offer any support for the idea that a dash serves the purpose identified for it in your fact check? Thanks very much in advance.
(If we receive any reply from the PolitiFact team, we will certainly update this item.)

Compounding the problem for PolitiFact, Trump's speechwriters used dashes liberally in the speech. The speech includes 16 dashes of the same type, and so far as we can tell no pattern exists of the dash serving the purpose given it by PolitiFact.

Further, Jeff pointed out this article he ran across about Trump's speaking style. It has an entire section dedicated to how transcriptionists rely heavily on the em dash for transcriptions of Trump's speeches:
Trump's crimes against clarity are multifarious: He often speaks in long, run-on sentences, with frequent asides. He pauses after subordinate clauses. He frequently quotes people saying things that aren't actual quotes. And he repeats words and phrases, sometimes with slight variations, in the same sentence.

To untangle the jumble, his stenographers are increasingly reliant on a punctuation known as the "em dash" (—), which are used to separate parentheticals within the same sentence. Philip Rucker, The Washington Post's national political correspondent, said that among reporters covering Trump, he has become known as the "em-dash candidate."
Do we expect a response from PolitiFact? No. We think PolitiFact invented its key justification for claiming Trump was paraphrasing what Comey said. We expect PolitiFact to defend its crime against fact-checking with silence and inaction.

PolitiFact offered no solid justification for interpreting Trump's words as a paraphrase of Comey, but performed the fact check as though its interpretation was solidly justified.

That is deception.

Update 8/24/2016: Thanks to CSPAN, we have a short and sweet version of the video/audio of the key part of Trump's speech.

We are not impressed by those who would claim Trump's meaning is clear where the claim is unaccompanied by a convincing explanation of why it is supposedly clear.

Correction/Update Aug. 26, 2016: Belatedly included the embedded URL of the PolitiFact fact check.

Update 8/24/2016: For the sake of thoroughness, I suppose I should note the reply I received from editor Angie Drobnic Holan's email bot:
I am out of the office until Aug. 29. I won't be checking email until I return. If you have a question about PolitiFact, please contact Aaron Sharockman or Katie Sanders.
Sharockman occasionally responds to email messages, so I forwarded my message to him. No reply so far aside from Holan's 'bot.

Update Aug. 25, 2016:

I tried needling Aaron Sharockman on Twitter to draw attention to this issue (including the email messages sent to PolitiFact). It kinda-sorta worked.

Via Twitter, I reminded Sharockman of the importance PolitiFact's parent organization, Poynter Institute, places on journalistic transparency. Specifically, “show how the reporting was done and why people should believe it.”

Odds are we'll be back to the silent treatment from the exemplars of transparency at PolitiFact.

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