Tuesday, January 16, 2018

PolitiFact goes partisan on the "deciding vote"

When does a politician cast the "deciding vote"?

PolitiFact apparently delivered the definitive statement on the issue on Oct. 6, 2010 with an article specifically titled "What makes a vote 'the deciding vote'?"

Every example of a "deciding vote" in that article received a rating of "Barely True" or worse (PolitiFact now calls "Barely True" by the name "Mostly False"). And each of the claims came from Republicans.

What happens when a similar claim comes from a Democrat? Now we know:

Okay, okay, okay. We have to consider the traditional defense: This case was different!

But before we start, we remind our readers that cases may prove trivially different from one another. It's not okay, for example, if the difference is that this time the claim from from a woman, or this time the case is from Florida not Georgia. Using trivial differences to justify the ruling represent the fallacy of special pleading.

No. We need a principled difference to justify the ruling. Not a trivial difference.

We'll need to look at the way PolitiFact justified its rulings.

First, the "Half True" for Democrat Gwen Graham:
Graham said DeSantis casted the "deciding vote against" the state's right to protect Florida waters from drilling.

There’s no question that DeSantis’ vote on an amendment to the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act was crucial, but saying DeSantis was the deciding vote goes too far. Technically, any of the 209 other people who voted against the bill could be considered the "deciding vote."

Furthermore, the significance of Grayson’s amendment is a subject of debate. Democrats saw it as securing Florida’s right to protect Florida waters, whereas Republicans say the amendment wouldn’t have changed the powers of the state.

With everything considered, we rate this claim Half True.
Second, the "Mostly False" for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (bold emphasis added):
The NRSC ad would have been quite justified in describing Bennet's vote for either bill as "crucial" or "necessary" to passage of either bill, or even as "a deciding vote." But we can't find any rationale for singling Bennet out as "the deciding vote" in either case. He made his support for the stimulus bill known early on and was not a holdout on either bill. To ignore that and the fact that other senators played a key role in completing the needed vote total for the health care bill, leaves out critical facts that would give a different impression from message conveyed by the ad. As a result, we rate the statement Barely True.
Third, the "False" for Republican Scott Bruun:
(W)e’ll be ridiculously lenient here and say that because the difference between the two sides was just one vote, any of the members voting to adjourn could be said to have cast the deciding vote.
The Bruun case doesn't help us much. PolitiFact said Bruun's charge about the "deciding" vote was true but only because its judgment was "ridiculously lenient." And the ridiculous lenience failed to get Bruun's rating higher than "False."  So much for PolitiFact's principle of rating two parts of a claim separately and averaging the results.

Fourth, we look at the "Mostly False" rating for Republican Ron Johnson:
In a campaign mailer and other venues, Ron Johnson says Feingold supported a measure that cut more than $500 billion from Medicare. That makes it sound like money out of the Medicare budget today, when Medicare spending will actually increase over the next 10 years. What Johnson labels a cut is an attempt to slow the projected increase in spending by $500 billion. Under the plan, guaranteed benefits are not cut. In fact, some benefits are increased. Johnson can say Feingold was the deciding vote -- but so could 59 other people running against incumbents now or in the future.

We rate Johnson’s claim Barely True.
We know from earlier research that PolitiFact usually rated claims about the ACA cutting Medicare as "Mostly False." So this case doesn't tell us much, either. The final rating for the combined claims could end up "Mostly False" if PolitiFact considered the "deciding vote" portion "False" or "Half True." It would all depend on subjective rounding, we suppose.

Note that PolitiFact Florida cited "What makes a vote 'the deciding vote'?" for its rating of Gwen Graham. How does a non-partisan fact checker square Graham's "Half True" rating with the ratings given to Republicans? Why does the fact check not clearly describe the principle that made the difference for Graham's more favorable rating?

As far as well can tell, the key difference comes from party affiliation, once again suggesting that PolitiFact leans left.

After the page break we looked for other cases of the "deciding vote."

The 60 Plus Association received a "Mostly False" for charging Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) with casting the deciding vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act:
The 60 Plus Association says that Florida Sen. Bill Nelson cast the "deciding vote" for health care. The health care law required 60 votes, so Nelson's vote was crucial -- as were the other 59 votes. But describing Nelson as the "deciding vote" suggests he had some extraordinarily powerful role, and that’s not the case. Nelson had cautiously been a supporter for months as he tried to amend the law. We rate this claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact gave Republican Cory Gardner a "Mostly False" for saying his Democratic opponent was the deciding vote for the ACA:
Gardner said Udall "passed Obamacare with his vote." This statement has an element of truth to it, since without Udall’s vote in favor, the bill would not have been able to come up for a vote on Dec. 24, 2009. However, this ignores the other 59 senators who also voted to end debate -- and the exact same thing could be said about them. Because Udall had consistently sided with the Democratic leadership in votes related to the act, he was not among the handful of undecided senators who Reid had to wrangle as the vote was approaching. We rate this claim Mostly False.

American Commitment charges Sen. Nelson (D-Fla.) with casting the deciding vote on health care, receives a "Mostly False" rating:
American Commitment says that Florida Sen. Bill Nelson cast the "deciding vote" for health care. The health care law required 60 votes, so Nelson's vote was crucial -- as were the other 59 votes. But describing Nelson as the "deciding vote" suggests he had some extraordinarily powerful role, and that’s not the case. Nelson had cautiously been a supporter for months as he tried to amend the law. We rate this claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact gave Republican Ken Cuccinelli a "Mostly False" rating for charging his opponent with casting the "tiebreaking vote" on health care:
Cuccinelli said Warner provided "the tiebreaking vote" that allowed Obamacare to become reality. There’s a sliver of truth here in that Warner did indeed provide a crucial vote that helped Democrats get to the 60 votes needed to advance the Affordable Care Act.

But it’s misleading to say he cast "the vote" when Warner was joined by 59 other senators who, by Cuccinelli’s rationale, also would have cast the tie-breaking vote. Warner was not among the last holdouts that boosted the Senate to a super majority; he made his intentions known three months before the vote.

We rate the claim Mostly False.

PolitiFact gave Democrat Tim Kaine a "False" rating for claiming his opponent cast the deciding vote for the Bush tax cuts:
Let’s compare the scenario to a basketball game that’s tied, 50-50, after four quarters of play and won, by one point, on a dramatic shot at the end of overtime by a player named Jones. (...)

>It would be misleading to spread word that Smith hit the the game winner. It is similarly misleading for Kaine to claim Allen cast the "deciding vote" on the 2003 tax cuts when Cheney broke the tie at the end. We rate Kaine’s statement False.

The rating for the Democrat Kaine equals the rating for Graham in unfairness and inconsistency. Both ratings fall out of step with PolitiFact's ratings for this type of claim.

Republican Tom Cotton received a "False" rating for a claim involving a charge about the "deciding vote" but the fact check focused more on other parts of Cotton's claim.

PolitiFact gave Republican Josh Mandel a "False" rating for a compound claim half of which was his opponent casting the deciding vote on the ACA:
Brown’s vote for the health care reform legislation was crucial, but was it the deciding vote? A listener hearing the Mandel ad could be lead to believe Brown’s vote had more weight than other votes. Yet, he certainly did not cast the 60th vote, and he did not have to be wooed for support.

And it is not accurate to state that he voted for a "government takeover of health care."

On the Truth-O-Meter, this claim from Mandel’s ad rates False.

PolitiFact gave Republican Dan Sullivan a "False" rating for claiming a Democrat cast the "deciding vote" supporting one of President Obama's immigration policies. In this case the "false" ruling most clearly applies to aspects of the vote not directly related to whether it was a deciding vote.

Democrat Colin Van Ostern received a "Mostly False" rating for claiming he cast the deciding vote on a bill expanding Medicaid coverage in New Hampshire.
Executive Councilor and candidate for governor Colin Van Ostern said he "cast the deciding vote to extend Medicaid coverage to 50,000 people."

The Executive Council voted in favor of the contract that allowed expanded Medicaid to go forward, but the vote to approve the program already passed the legislature with bipartisan support. Van Ostern was one of three Democrats who voted for the contract and stated his support ahead of time.

Since he did not have a direct vote on the law, and didn’t change his position, we rate his claim Mostly False.

Republican Mark Zaccaria received a "Mostly False" rating for claiming a Democrat case the "deciding vote" for the ACA:
Mark Zaccaria said that Sen. Jack Reed "cast the deciding vote in the Senate for the Affordable Care Act."

Zaccaria's position is that because every "yea" vote in the motion to end debate on the act was crucial to passage, each of those votes -- 60 in all -- was the deciding vote.

Reed's vote was crucial. Zaccaria could have called it "a" deciding vote (of which there can be many) but there is no evidence that his was "the" deciding vote (of which there is one).

Because his statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts -- in this case, the 59 other yes votes, including the 15 "ayes" that came after his -- that would give a different impression, we rate it Mostly False.

Republican Monica Wehby received a "False" rating for saying Democrat Jeff Merkley cast the deciding vote to pass the ACA:
Wehby’s campaign, fresh off her win in the GOP Senate primary, sent out a news release pinning responsibility for passage of the Affordable Care Act on her Democratic opponent. "Jeff Merkley was the deciding vote on Obamacare," it said, "which in Oregon has been an unmitigated disaster."

The assertion is just the latest to identify a particular Democratic senator as having cast the "deciding" vote for Obamacare. Similar checks have all found the claim to be either Mostly False or False.

Wehby’s campaign, asked to defend the claim, sent an email that omitted any mention of Merkley’s "deciding" vote. Her assertion that Merkley’s vote resulted in 150,000 Oregonians having their health care plans canceled is a check we’ll leave for another day.

Merkley did join his Democratic colleagues in voting for the bill, but it was a senator from Nebraska who provided the needed 60th vote. We rate this claim False.

Republican Jim Reubens received a "Mostly False" rating for saying Democrat Jeanne Shaheen cast the deciding vote to pass the ACA:
Rubens said Shaheen was "the deciding vote to pass Obamacare." It’s true that all 60 Democratic votes -- including Shaheen’s -- were needed to pass the measure through the Senate. However, Shaheen, unlike Ben Nelson, was hardly a holdout until the last minute; she gave indications early on that she supported the president’s reform plan. We rate Rubens’ claim Mostly False.


We don't see anything in PolitiFact Florida's "Half True" for Gwen Graham that would justify her receiving a better rating than the Republicans listed above. If anything, PolitiFact's mention of her dubious description of the significance of the bill resembles the reasoning that resulted in some of the "False" ratings we see on the list.

This case doesn't look significantly different at all. It looks like blatant inconsistency.

PolitiFact casts the deciding vote?

PolitiFact provided a double cherry on top of our research. We found two cases where PolitiFact itself declared that a senator might cast the deciding vote.

PolitiFact paraphrased, if we can call it that, President Trump as saying an ill senator might have cast the deciding vote to pass the Senate GOP health care bill. Trump did not use the term "deciding vote."
President Donald Trump claimed that Senate Republicans could pass a health care reform bill by the end of September if a senator’s hospitalization weren’t preventing him from casting the deciding vote.
What gave PolitiFact the right to put that mostly falsehood in Trump's mouth?

PolitiFact also declared that Sen. John McCain cast the deciding vote defeating the Senate's "skinny repeal" bill that would have rolled back key parts of the ACA:
Eleven days earlier, McCain had cast the deciding vote killing one of the Republican measures, known as the "skinny repeal."
At least in the case of McCain one might mount an argument that his vote played a particularly key role. Maybe PolitiFact's use of the term was as good as "Mostly True."

Apparently fact checkers are free to use the same types of half-truths and falsehoods that they criticize others for using.

In practice, PolitiFact casts its deciding vote in favor of using "the deciding vote" in cases where it rated others "Mostly False" or worse.


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