Sunday, June 11, 2017

PolitiFact New York: Facts be damned, what we think the Democrat was trying to say was true

Liberals like to consider the tendency of fact checkers to rate conservatives more harshly than liberals a fairly solid evidence that Republicans lie more. After all, as we are often reminded, "truth has a liberal bias." But the way fact checkers pick which stories to tell and what facts to check has a fundamental impact on how fact checkers rate claims by political party.

Take a June 9, 2017 fact check from PolitiFact New York, for example.

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Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) of New York proclaimed that the state of New York has achieved pay equity.

Hochul also proclaimed women are paid 90 cents on the dollar compared to men.

Hochul's first claim seems flatly false, if we count women getting paid $1 for every $1 earned by a man as "pay equity."

Her second claim, putting an accurate number on the raw gender wage gap, typically rates either "Half True" or "Mostly True" according to PolitiFact. PolitiFact tends to overlook the fact that the statistic is almost invariably used in the context of gender discrimination (see "Afters" section below).

In fact, the PolitiFact New York fact check focuses exclusively on the second claim of fact and takes a pass on evaluating the first claim of fact. PolitiFact New York justified its rating by saying Hochul's point was on target (bold emphasis added):
Hochul's numbers are slightly off. The data reveals a gender pay gap, but her point that New York state has a significantly smaller gap compared with the national average is correct. We rate her claim Mostly True.
At PolitiFact Bias, we class these cases under the tag "tweezers or tongs." PolitiFact might focus on one part of a claim, or focus on what it has interpreted as the point the politician was trying to make. Or, PolitiFact might look at multiple parts of a claim and produce a rating of the claim's truthiness "on balance."

PolitiFact in this case appears to use tweezers to remove "We have pay equity" from consideration. That saves the Democrat, Hochul, from an ugly blemish on her PolitiFact report card.

The fact checkers have at least one widely recognized bias: They tend to look for problematic statements. When a fact checker ignores a likely problem statement like "We have pay equity" in favor of something more mundane in the same immediate context, it suggests a different bias affected the decision.

The beneficiary of PolitiFact's adjusted focus once again: a Democrat.

When this happens over and over again, as it does, this by itself calls into question whether PolitiFact's candidate "report cards" or comparisons of "Truth-O-Meter" ratings by party carry any scientific validity at all.


Did Hochul make her gender wage gap claim in the context of gender pay discrimination?

Our best clue on that issue comes from Hochul's statement, just outside the context quoted by PolitiFact New York, that "Now, it's got to get to 100 [cents on the dollar]."
We draw from that part of her statement that Hochul was very probably pushing the typical Democratic talking point that the raw wage gap results from gender discrimination, which is false. Interpreting her otherwise makes it hard to see the importance of pay equity regardless of the jobs men and women do. We doubt the popularity of having gender pay equity regardless of the job performed, even in the state of New York.

The acid test:
Will women's groups react with horror if women achieve an advantage in terms of the raw wage gap? When men make only 83 cents on the dollar compared to women? Or will they assure us that the differences in pay are okay as it is the result of the job choices people make? We'll find out in time.

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