Tuesday, December 20, 2016

PolitiFact Wisconsin don't need no stinkin' evidence

Is a fact check a fact check if it doesn't bother checking facts?

PolitiFact Wisconsin brings this question to the fore with its Dec. 16, 2016 fact check of former Democratic senator Russ Feingold. Feingold said Social Security was pretty much invented at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and that's where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt got the idea.

PolitiFact agreed, giving Feingold's claim a "True" rating:

But a funny thing happened when we looked for PolitiFact Wisconsin's evidence in support of Feingold's claims. The fact check omits those facts, if they exist.

Let's review what PolitiFact offered as evidence:
When we asked Feingold spokesman Josh Orton for backup, he pointed to several Wisconsinites and people tied to the University of Wisconsin-Madison — where Feingold graduated in 1975 — who were influential in developing Social Security.
PolitiFact went on to list four persons with UW-Madison connections (among many) who were influential in bringing Social Security to pass in the United States.

Then PolitiFact Wisconsin summarized its evidence, with help from an unbiased expert from UW-Madison:
Current UW-Madison professor Pamela Herd agreed that Wisconsinites tied to the university were key figures in the development of Social Security.

"There were a lot of people involved in the creation of this program, but some of the most important players were from Wisconsin," said Herd, an expert on Social Security.
Okay, got it? Now on to the conclusion:
Feingold said that the idea for Social Security "was basically invented up on Bascom Hill, my alma mater here; that's where Franklin Roosevelt got the idea."

Historical accounts show, and an expert agrees, that officials who helped propose and initially operate Social Security had deep ties to UW-Madison.

We rate Feingold’s statement True.
And there you have it. Fact-checking.

If officials who helped propose and initially operate Social Security had deep ties to UW-Madison, then Social Security was basically invented at UW-Madison. And that's where President Roosevelt got the idea. "True."

Where was PolitiFact when Al Gore claimed to have taken the initiative in creating the Internet?

Seriously: PolitiFact Wisconsin's fact check produces no solid or unequivocal evidence supporting one of Feingold's claims and completely ignores fact-checking the other (why?). Yet Feingold's claims receive a "True" rating?

What happened to comparing the content of the federal Social Security Act to its precursor from UW-Madison? What happened to looking at where Roosevelt got his ideas about providing social insurance?

That's not fact-checking. That's rubber-stamping.


The silver lining from PolitiFact Wisconsin's fact check comes from its links to the Social Security Administration website, which offer facts instead of supposition about the history of Social Security.

PolitiFact Wisconsin did a stellar job of keeping inconvenient facts from the Social Security website out of its fact check.

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