Sunday, July 2, 2017

How to fact check like a partisan, featuring PolitiFact

First, find a politician who has made a conditional statement, like this one from Marco Rubio (R-Fla.):
"As long as Florida keeps the same amount of funding or gets an increase, which is what we are working on, per patient being rewarded for having done the right thing -- there is no reason for anybody to be losing any of their current benefits under Medicaid. None," he said in a Facebook Live on June 28."
Rubio starts his statement with the conditional: "As long as Florida keeps the same amount of funding or gets an increase ..." Logic demands that the latter part of Rubio's statement receive its interpretation under the assumption the condition is true.

A partisan fact checker can make a politician look bad by ignoring the condition and taking the remainder of the statement out of context. Like this:

As the partisan fact checker will want its work to pass as a fact check, at least to like-minded partisans and unsuspecting moderates, it should then proceed to check the out-of-context portion of the subject's statement.

For example, if the condition of the statement is the same or increased funding, look for ways the funding might decrease and use those findings as evidence the politician spoke falsely. For a statement like Rubio's one might cite a left-leaning think tank like the Urban Institute, with a finding that predicts lower funding for Medicaid:
The Urban Institute estimated the decline in federal dollars and enrollment for the states.

It found for Florida, that federal funding for Medicaid under ACA would be $16.8 billion in 2022. Under the Senate legislation, it would fall to about $14.6 billion, or a cut of about 13 percent (see table 6). The Urban Institute projects 353,000 fewer people on Medicaid or CHIP in Florida.
Easy-peasy, right?

Then use the rest of the fact check to show that Florida will not be likely to make up the gap predicted by the Urban Institute. That will prove, in a certain misleading and dishonest way, that Rubio's conditional statement was wrong.

The summary of such a partisan fact check might look like this:
Rubio said, "There is no reason for anybody to be losing any of their current benefits under Medicaid."

Rubio is wrong to state that benefit cuts are off the table.

There are reasons that Medicaid recipients could lose benefits if the Senate bill becomes law. The bill curbs the rate of spending by the federal government over the next decade and caps dollar amounts and ultimately reduces the inflation factor. Those changes will put pressure on states to make difficult choices including the possibility of cutting services.

We rate this claim Mostly False.
Ignoring the conditional part of the claim results in the fallacy of denying the antecedent. The partisan fact checker can usually rely on its highly partisan audience not noticing such fallacies.

Any questions?

Correction: July 2, 2017: In the next-to-last paragraph changed "to notice" to "noticing" for the sake of clarity.

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