Tuesday, July 11, 2017

PolitiFact helps Bernie Sanders with tweezers and imbalance

Our posts carrying the "tweezers or tongs" tag look at how PolitiFact skews its ratings by shifting its story focus.

Today we'll look at PolitiFact's June 27, 2017 fact check of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.):

Where Sen. Sanders mentions 23 million thrown off of health insurance, PolitiFact treats his statement like a random hypothetical. But the context shows Sanders was not speaking hypothetically (bold emphasis added):
"What the Republican proposal (in the House) does is throw 23 million Americans off of health insurance," Sanders told host Chuck Todd. "What a part of Harvard University -- the scientists there -- determine is when you throw 23 million people off of health insurance, people with cancer, people with heart disease, people with diabetes, thousands of people will die."
The House health care bill does not throw 23 million Americans off of health insurance. The CBO did predict that at the end of 10 years 23 million fewer Americans would have health insurance compared to the current law (Obamacare) projection. There's a huge difference between those two ideas, and PolitiFact may never get around to explaining it.

PolitiFact, despite fact-checkers admitted preference for checking false statements, overlooks the low-hanging fruit in favor of Sanders' claim that thousands will die.

Is Sanders engaging in fearmongering? Sure. But PolitiFact doesn't care.

Instead, PolitiFact focused on Sanders' claim that study after study supports his point that thousands will die if 23 million people get thrown off of insurance.

PolitiFact verified his claim in hilariously one-sided fashion. One would never know from PolitiFact's fact check that the research findings are disputed, as here.

This is the type of research PolitiFact omitted (bold emphasis added) from its fact check:
After determining the characteristics of the uninsured and discovering that being  uninsured does not necessarily mean an individual has no access to health services, the authors turn to the question of mortality. A lack of care is particularly troubling if it leads to differences in mortality based on insurance status. Using data from the Health and Retirement Survey, the authors estimate differences in mortality rates for individuals based on whether they are privately insured, voluntarily uninsured, or involuntarily uninsured. Overall, they find that a lack of health insurance is not likely to be the major factor causing higher mortality rates among the uninsured. The uninsured—particularly the involuntarily uninsured—have multiple disadvantages that are associated with poor health.
So PolitiFact cherry-picked Sanders' claim with tweezers, then did a one-sided fact-check of that cherry-picked part of the claim. Sanders ended up with a "Mostly True" rating next to his false claims.

Does anybody do more to erode trust in fact-checking than PolitiFact?

It's worth noting this stinker was crafted by the veteran fact-checking team of Louis Jacobson and Angie Drobnic Holan.

Correction July 11, 2017: In the fourth paragraph after our quotation of PolitiFact, we had "23,000" instead of the correct figure of "23 million." Thanks to YuriG in the comments section for catching our mistake.


  1. "Instead, PolitiFact focused on Sanders' claim that study after study supports his point that thousands will die if 23,000 people get thrown off of insurance."

    Missed it by that much!


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