Monday, July 17, 2017

PolitiFact Georgia's kid gloves for Democratic candidate

Did Democratic Party candidate for Georgia governor Stacey Evans help win a Medicare fraud lawsuit, as she claimed? PolitiFact Georgia says there's no question about it:

PolitiFact defines its "True" rating as "The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing."

Evans' statement misses quite a bit, so we will use this as an example of PolitiFact going easy on a Democrat. It's very likely that PolitiFact would have thought of the things we'll point out if it had been rating a Republican candidate. Republicans rarely get the kid gloves treatment from PolitiFact. But it's pretty common for Democrats.

The central problem in the fact check stems from a fallacy of equivocation. In PolitiFact's view, a win is a win, even if Evans implied a win in court covering the issue of fraud when in fact the win was an out-of-court settlement that stopped short of proving the existence of Medicare fraud.

Overlooking that considerable difference in the two kinds of wins counts as the type of error we should expect a partisan fact checker to make. A truly neutral fact-checker would not likely make the mistake.

Evans' claim vs. the facts


Evans: "I helped win one of the biggest private lawsuits against Medicare fraud in history."

Fact: Evans helped with a private lawsuit alleging Medicare fraud

Fact: The case was not decided in court, so none of the plaintiff's attorneys can rightly claim to have won the lawsuit. The lawsuit was made moot by an out-of-court settlement. As part of the settlement, the defendant admitted no wrongdoing (that is, no fraud).

Evans' statement leads her audience toward two false conclusions. First, that her side of the lawsuit won in court. It did not. Second, that the case proved the (DaVica) company was guilty of Medicare fraud. It did not.

How does a fact checker miss something this obvious?

It was plain in the facts as PolitiFact reported them that the court did not decide the case. It was therefore likewise obvious that no lawyer could claim an unambiguous lawsuit victory.

Yet PolitiFact found absolutely no problem with Evans' claim on its "Truth-O-Meter":
Evans said that she "helped win one of the biggest private lawsuits against Medicare fraud in history." The lead counsel on the case corroborated her role in it, and the Justice Department confirmed its historic importance.

Her claim that they recovered $324 million for taxpayers also checks out.

We rate this statement True.
Indeed, PolitiFact's summary reads like a textbook example of confirmation bias, emphasizing what confirms the claim and ignoring whatever does not.
There is an obvious difference between impartially evaluating evidence in order to come to an unbiased conclusion and building a case to justify a conclusion already drawn. In the first instance one seeks evidence on all sides of a question, evaluates it as objectively as one can, and draws the conclusion that the evidence, in the aggregate, seems to dictate. In the second, one selectively gathers, or gives undue weight to, evidence that supports one's position while neglecting to gather, or discounting, evidence that would tell against it.
Evans can only qualify for the "True" rating if PolitiFact's definition of "True" means nothing and the rating is entirely subjective.

Correction July 17, 2017: Changed "out-court settlement" to "out-of-court settlement." Also made some minor changes to the formatting.
Correction Oct. 8, 2017: Changed "Shelley Evans" to "Stacey Evans" in the opening paragraph. Our apologies to Stacey Evans for that mistake.

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