Saturday, February 10, 2018

How we made our meme mocking PolitiFact

Earlier this week we noticed PolitiFact making yet another hypocritical declaration. PolitiFact has ruled it misleading to use "cuts" to refer to reductions to a future projected spending baseline. In many cases a budget might increase year by year but the legislature "cuts" spending by slowing its increase.

In the past, we've pointed out how PolitiFact tended to rate Republicans "Mostly False" for claiming the Affordable Care Act cut Medicare by hundreds of millions of dollars. When President Donald R. Trump and the Republican Congress tried the same thing with Medicaid in 2017, PolitiFact discovered that the claim was "Half True" on the few occasion(s?) it noticed the Democrats' ubiquitous claim and then quickly lost interest.

Fast forward to 2018, and PolitiFact published a fact check of a Trump statement about protests over the United Kingdom's National Health Service, its universal care program. PolitiFact treated Trump unfairly by rating him on something he did not say, but what really knocked our socks off was a sentence PolitiFact reeled off in its summary:
While the NHS has lost funding over the years, the march that took place was not in opposition to the service, but a call to increase funding and stop austerity cuts towards health and social care.
The problem? You guessed it! Spending has gone up for the NHS pretty consistently. The fact checkers at Britain's Full Fact even did a fact check in January 2018 relating to NHS funding. It only reported spending going up.
Spending on the NHS in England has increased in real terms by an average of around 1% a year since 2010. Since the NHS was established spending increases have averaged 4% per year.
So the NHS hasn't "lost funding" except against baseline future spending. The austerity "cuts" PolitiFact reports are a decrease of the rate of future spending.

PolitiFact is making a claim it has rated "Half True" and worse in the past.

We don't appreciate that type of hypocrisy from a supposedly non-partisan and objective fact checker. So we went to work on meme.

First, we looked at PolitiFact's list of stories with the "Medicare" tag. We knew we'd find stories reporting on budget cuts to a baseline. And from those stories we looked for one with a summary that would fit the present case. It didn't take long. We found a "Half True" rating from PolitiFact Ohio that fit the bill:

"So-called cut reflects savings from slowing growth in spending." Doesn't that sound much better than "cutting Medicare"? Hurrah! It's savings!

Our next step was to replace the text and image to the left of the "Truth-O-Meter" graphic. We decided to pin the blame on PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan instead of on the intern who wrote and researched the fact check. Holan had good reason to know PolitiFact's history on rating cuts to a future baseline.

We took Holan's image from her Twitter account.

We replaced the text with Holan's name and the outrageous quotation from the Trump fact check.

We credited our faux fact check to "PolitiFact National" on the day the Trump fact check came out. We skipped the em-dash this time since it takes a few extra steps.

And we put a big "PARODY" watermark on the whole thing to make clear we're not trying to trick anybody. The point is to mock PolitiFact for its inconsistency.

Our finished product:

Seriously: It's ridiculous for a national fact-checking service to do such a poor job of reporting consistently. Holan is the chief editor, and she doesn't notice this clear problem? She let the intern down by not catching it. And how long will it take to correct the problem? Eternity?

PolitiFact's past work on budget cuts is already so chaotic that one more miss hardly matters. We don't expect anything to change. PolitiFact will go right on giving readers a slanted view of budget cuts.

For that matter, we expect the other two of America's "elite three" fact checkers to independently follow the same misleading pattern PolitiFact uses. That's what happens when all three lean left.

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