Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Handicapping the PolitiFact "Lie of the Year" for 2017 (Updated)

PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" is a farce, of course, as it places the objective and non-partisan editors of PolitiFact in the position of making an obviously subjective decision about which false (or false-ish) statement was the "most significant."

In other words, they put on their pundit hats.

But we love the exercise because it gives us the opportunity to predict which claim PolitiFact will choose, basing our predictions on PolitiFact's liberalism and its self-interest.

We've got a pretty decent record of predicting the outcome.

This year, all of the nominees were rated "Pants on Fire" during the year. We note that because exceptions often occur. For example, President Obama's declaration that people could keep their insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act if they liked those plans wasn't rated at all during the year it received the award. Moreover, it was never rated lower than "Half True" by the nonpartisan liberal bloggers at PolitiFact. That (complicated and deceptive) pick was a case of PolitiFact covering its arse in response to a news cycle that demanded the pick.

This year's ballot resembles last year's. Voters just get to see the claim and the rating, though voters may click hotlinks to view the fact checks if desired.

PolitiFact puts on its neutral face by listing the claims in chronological order.

"That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period."
— Sean Spicer on Jan. 21, 2017, in a press conference

The size of the inauguration crowd should never count as an important political story representing the entire year. This nominee was picked to lose.

Says Barack Obama "didn’t do executive orders in the beginning."

— Whoopi Goldberg on Jan. 25, 2017, in a segment on ABC's “The View”

No claim coming from a host of "The View" should ever count as an important political story representing the entire year. This nominee was picked to lose.

Says Rex "Tillerson won't divest from Exxon."

— Charles Schumer on Jan. 27, 2017, in a tweet

Who's Rex Tillerson? Just kidding. This pick shows how PolitiFact had to scrape the bottom of the barrel for anything significant coming from a Democrat. This nominee is another placeholder made necessary by the hard time PolitiFact has giving Democrats a "Pants on Fire" rating. By our count, PolitiFact has only issued three "Pants on Fire" ratings to Democrats this year. This claim has no shot, as it was politically unimportant.

"I have not called for impeachment" of President Donald Trump.

— Maxine Waters on April 18, 2017, in an interview on MSNBC

This one's another place-holding, politically unimportant claim that has no shot of winning. Do we detect a pattern?

"Nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care."

— Raul Labrador on May 5, 2017, in a town hall event

This one I'll make my dark horse pick. Labrador is not particularly well-known, and the quotation is taken out of context. But if PolitiFact ignores those factors and the claim gets an unexpected boost from the reader's poll as representative of the health care debate, this one has a greater than zero shot of winning.

"This Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won."  

— Donald Trump on May 11, 2017, in an interview with NBC News

That's the overwhelming favorite. It fits the narrative PolitiFact loves (Trump the Liar). It fits the narrative PolitiFact's predominantly liberal audience loves (Russia, Russia, Russia!). Is there any solid evidence that Russia swayed the election results? No. But that shouldn't matter. We're talking narratives and clicks, things to which PolitiFact is addicted. PolitiFact will hope the Mueller investigation will eventually provide enough backing to keep it from getting egg on its face.

"Every single year that there's an increase (in temperature) it's within the margin of error -- meaning it isn't increasing."

— Greg Gutfeld on June 2, 2017, in Fox News’ “The Five” show

Global warming Climate change remains near and dear to liberal bloggers and liberals but ... Greg Gutfeld? This one could have had a chance coming from a major figure in the Trump administration. Coming from moderately popular television personality like Gutfeld it has no chance.

White nationalist protesters in Charlottesville "had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit."

— Donald Trump on Aug. 15, 2017, in a question-and-answer session with reporters

That's my second pick. Again we've got the pull of the Trump/Liar narrative. And we've got the Trump's a Nazi tie-in. Was the statement politically significant? Only in terms of stimulating negative narratives about Trump. And that could help this one pull out the win.

"The United States ended slavery around the world, and maybe we should get some credit for that, too."

— Tucker Carlson on Aug. 15, 2017 in comments on “Tucker Carlson Tonight”

This one counts as another politically unimportant statement. This pick has no chance unless driven by the name "Tucker Carlson" and network that airs his show.

"We’ve got dozens of counties around America that have zero insurers left."

— Paul Ryan on Aug. 21, 2017 in a CNN town hall broadcast

The claim by Ryan comes in as my third pick.

It fits a popular liberal narrative--protecting the Affordable Care Act. Ryan has good name recognition and little popularity among liberals. PolitiFact's valiant exposure of Ryan's falsehood may have saved Obamacare from repeal! Or so I imagine PolitiFact may reason it.

So there it is. The 2017 award almost certainly goes to Trump and almost certainly for his claim about his ties to Russia affecting the election counting as fake news. It's worth noting that fact checkers like those at PolitiFact resent Trump's co-opting of the term. That should give this claim another advantage in claiming the award.

It does look like PolitiFact stacked the deck of nominees, most notably by only nominating claims that received "Pants on Fire" ratings. That's a first. Claims receiving that rating tend to be more trivial and thus politically unimportant. That decision helped clear the field for Trump.

If PolitiFact changes nothing about its biased approach to fact-checking and continues to draw its "Lie of the Year" finalists only from that year's list of claim it rated "Pants on Fire," statements from the Republican Party will surely dominate the awards in the years ahead. "Fake news" stories may start appearing on the list of nominations, however. "Fake news" stories pick up most of PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" ratings these days.

Update Nov. 29, 2017:

Jeff Adds

The Trump/Russia claim seems like the safe bet here, and it's hard to argue against Bryan's case. If we believed PolitiFact actually adhered to its Lie of the Year criteria, I think it's the only one that meets those standards (namely, a claim that is politically significant.) It's also got the click-grabbing factor that drives people to PolitiFact's recently malware infested website, and clicks are what actually motivates PolitiFact more than any noble search for truth.

But PolitiFact is mildly self-aware, and sometimes they'll tweak things up as a matter of image control. This tic of theirs led me to correctly predict that 2011's Lie of the Year pick would go against the Left (though wrong about which specific claim would win.) I think PolitiFact wants to avoid giving Trump the award because it already catches flack for obsessively targeting him.

I'm going to #Resist the urge to go with the obvious pick and I predict that Sean Spicer wins for his crowd size claim.

This allows PolitiFact to avoid being mocked for picking on Trump himself while allowing it to pick on Trump's administration. The pick will be loved by PF's liberal fan base and the media (I repeat myself.) The headlines crowing "Trump admin earns Lie of the Year!" will serve as sufficient click-bait. I expect PolitiFact can spin the pick into the first lie of the Trump administration that set the tone for all the easily debunked and ridiculous falsehoods that followed.

For my Dark Horse I'm going to contradict myself: If PolitiFact repeats their recent tradition of making up a winner that wasn't actually in their list of finalists, I say they go rogue and give it to Trump for all of his falsehoods, and claim they couldn't pick just one. This has all the benefits of clickbait and will upset no one that matters to PolitiFact.

Whoever the winner is it's clear, as has been the case every year they've done this, the field of picks is an intentionally lopsided mixed bag of bland throw-aways and a couple of obvious picks.

Just like PolitiFact's ratings, the winner is already determined before the contest has begun.

Edit: Added "recenty" to first graph of Jeff Adds -Jeff 1948PST 11/29/17

Clarification Nov. 29, 2017: Changed "sometimes exceptions often occur" to "exceptions often occur"

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