Saturday, November 5, 2016

PolitiFact founder Bill Adair: "Lord knows the decision about a Truth-O-Meter rating is entirely subjective"

 What have we said for years? PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" rating system is hopelessly subjective.

And now, thanks to an interview by freelance journalist Michael Schulson, PolitiFact's founding editor has made perhaps his clearest statement yet confirming that key charge against PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
[Michael Schulson]
But there is some subjectivity baked into the process, in terms of which claims you check, and where you draw the line between statements of opinion and statements of fact. Objective journalists are still making subjective choices.

[Bill Adair]
Oh, absolutely. But they always have!

I think that transparency is key. You need to have your own guidelines on how you select what you fact-check.

But yeah, we’re human. We’re making subjective decisions. Lord knows the decision about a Truth-O-Meter rating is entirely subjective. As Angie Holan, the editor of PolitiFact, often says, the Truth-O-Meter is not a scientific instrument.
How often does PolitiFact's Angie Drobnic Holan say the "Truth-O-Meter" is not a scientific instrument? Not nearly enough for our tastes. PolitiFact announces new candidate report card updates and comparisons by the week. But a Google search on Nov. 5, 2016 for "Truth-O-Meter" and "scientific instrument" drew only seven pages of hits. And a good number of those were not directly related to PolitiFact. Many of the rest were duplicates of this page (38 hits).

Would it alter PolitiFact's impact if every "report card" or report card story it published wore the disclaimer that the "Truth-O-Meter" ratings are subjective?

We think it would. Plus, doing so would represent an important step toward full transparency for PolitiFact.

So why don't they do it?

Note: Those who read Schulson's interview of Adair may wish to also read my response.

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