Wednesday, August 3, 2016

PolitiFacting PolitiFact's Bill Adair

Note (Aug. 12, 2016): We appreciate right-leaning Newsbusters, a media watchdog, for making this post one of its "Editors' Picks."


 The image below is not an authentic image from, but a parody.

Bill Adair politifacted pants on fire

Bill Adair, Knight Profession of Journalism at Duke University and the creator of PolitiFact, is well known for fact checking. So we were surprised when we saw him tweet that the Capitol building was built in 2009 by slaves.

Adair's claim isn't off by a little, it's off by well over a century. And while evidence shows slaves had a role in constructing the building, it is false that slaves did all the work as Adair's tweet implies. 

On balance, we rate the claim "Pants on Fire."

Our Fun at Bill Adair's Expense

Of course we're having fun at Bill Adair's expense. We're quoting something he did tweet, however.

Doubtless Adair meant "We checked in 2009 whether the Capitol was built by slaves. True." The way Adair worded it made it sound like the Capitol building was constructed in 2009. That is false.

We also question the "True" rating PolitiFact gave for the claim the Capitol was built by slaves.

Slaves apparently had a significant role in building the Capitol, so we would agree there is some truth to the claim. But it is not completely clear that quarrying stone used in the construction should count. PolitiFact's story emphasized the role slaves played in obtaining the stone and timber used to build the Capitol.

PolitiFact's key source document makes clear that free men and slaves, not just slaves, built the Capitol:
While records offer few specific details, it can be assumed that slaves helped in every facet of construction activities.They worked along side of free blacks and whites in the areas of carpentry, masonry, carting, rafting, roofing, plastering, glazing, and painting.
But we have a point beyond simply nitpicking Adair's tweet. We wanted Adair to have the experience of getting "PolitiFacted."


The verb "politifacted" serves some of us as a way to describe flawed fact-checking. That's because PolitiFact has forged such a wretched record of fact-checking over the years. The fact-checking entity Adair founded has made mistakes left and right, doing unfair harm to many but mostly to the right.

Here's a partial list from the PolitiFact Bias archives showing Adair politifacting others as we politifacted him.

Laura Ingraham said RomneyCare was unpopular; Adair helped change that to unpopular in Massachusetts and graded accordingly. As though the national perception of RomneyCare is unimportant in a national election involving Mitt Romney.

Mitt Romney got a "Pants on Fire" rating from PolitiFact while receiving much fairer treatment from and the Washington Post Fact Checker.

Paul Ryan got a "False" rating from Adair and PolitiFact for his claim Barack Obama promised to reopen a Janesville, Wisc. auto plant. PolitiFact ruled Obama had not made a hard promise. So it was apparently just a tease when Obama said if the government properly supports it, the Janesville plant would still be there in 100 years. The plant closed, and PolitiFact said there was no truth at all to Ryan's claim.

Mitt Romney received a "Pants on Fire" rating during the 2012 campaign for an ad that said Chrysler was sold to the Italians, who will build Jeeps in China. After the planned opening of a Chinese Jeep plant was confirmed, Adair reaffirmed the "Pants on Fire" ruling.

Here's another notable case from my first blog, Sublime Bloviations:

Mitt Romney received a "False" rating from PolitiFact for saying repealing the Affordable Care Act would cut spending by $95 million in 2016. Why the "False"? Because Bill Adair was on the leading edge as PolitiFact determined that the ACA's tax increases cancel out spending, somehow keeping spending from being spending.

The examples above, along with our parody example involving Adair, show what conservatives really mean when they talk about "politifacting." It's fact-checking done badly, the PolitiFact way.

Edit 0713PST 08/03/2016: Fixed link to Mitt Romney Jeep article-Jeff
Edit 8/03/2016: Added the intended link to the same paragraph containing the link Jeff added-BWW

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