Thursday, February 1, 2018

The bird's-eye lowdown on PolitiFact's partisan reader advocates (Updated)

Today PolitiFact announced it will publish content from two reader advocates at its website.

The announcement didn't go so well. Shortly after making the announcement PolitiFact nixed Democrat Alan Grayson's planned involvement.

The Hill reports:
Fact-checking website PolitiFact on Thursday announced that it had hired former Florida Reps. David Jolly (R) and Alan Grayson (D) as “reader advocates” before hours later nixing Grayson's hire after fierce backlash.
The dumping of Grayson aside, does this represent a sincere effort from PolitiFact to help improve its product?

Probably not, despite the we're-so-humble sales job from PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman.

Huh. Well, we intended to link directly to PolitiFact's announcement about its new reader representatives, but it looks like PolitiFact unpublished it. We'll go with the reporting from the Hill instead, which has coincidentally also been altered since its publication: (an earlier version carried a hyperlink to PolitiFact's announcement)
The two former lawmakers had been set to critique the website’s fact-checks and provide additional insight on political issues as part of a pilot program that will run through the end of April, according to a Thursday PolitiFact post announcing the hires. The post has since been deleted.

“David and Alan are both particularly qualified, we think, to critique the work of PolitiFact, because they’ve been subject to our fact-checks as members of Congress,” PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman wrote an his initial statement.

Well-qualified to critique the work of PolitiFact! That implies that the critiques may prove valid, right?

PolitiFact said it would learn from Jolly and Grayson, though it's hard for us to prove that now that PolitiFact is disposing of the evidence. Like a good fact-checker should, I guess.

We think PolitiFact's flirtation with reader advocates fits well with its old narrative about how it receives criticism from both sides. Getting criticized from both sides, using mumbo-jumbo logic, shows the reliability of the entity getting criticized. That's a superb narrative for PolitiFact to promote. It's certainly far better than the alternative narrative, that getting criticized by both sides means you're probably doing something wrong.

PolitiFact's founding editor, Bill Adair, did research suggesting that PolitiFact receives most of its substantive criticism from the right. Will PolitiFact allow such research to impact its choice of which narrative to promote? We doubt it.

We captured images from Sharockman's Twitter feed--ones he had so far elected not to delete. The one at the top pretty much shows PolitiFact's thinking behind this experiment. It's not about improving the product. It's about encouraging the public to trust in the existing product.

Note that PolitiFact's experiment was only slated to run through April 2018. Three months. If PolitiFact detects signs that people are trusting it less during the experiment, it will terminate the experiment.

Does that sound like a sincere effort to improve the product? Or more like a cynical ploy intended to trick people into trusting PolitiFact?

How many times do we have to say it? One gains trust by proving trustworthy. One proves one's trustworthiness through accuracy and transparency.

Making published works entirely disappear is not transparency.

Jeff adds:

We wonder what it says about PolitiFact that they considered Grayson representative of a conventional Democrat voice.

We'd also like to congratulate the fact checkers on selecting conservative powerhouse David ... uh ... *checks notes* ... Jolly.

We're not surprised that PolitiFact's ill-advised attempt to gain credibility resulted in more of the same deception we've come to expect. For example, un-publishing articles is somehow a sign of trustworthiness?

For years we've said PolitiFact would benefit from an inside critic of their work and suggested most of their obvious blunders would have been prevented with a heterodox voice on staff. On its face the notion of "reader advocates" seems like a step in that direction, until you realize it's just another click-seeking gimmick (Is Grayson really the top pick for any serious endeavor?).

If PolitiFact were actually sincere about gaining reader trust there's more effective ways than adding sideshow acts performed by clowns and cranks. For instance, they could unequivocally disavow their longtime use of stealth edits. That might help bring them into compliance with the International Fact Checking Network code of principles that they currently violate.

But the most obvious thing they could do to improve their image is to credibly rebut the volumes of legitimate, earnest criticism of their work. So far, PolitiFact's response to charges of bias has been to call critics "mental" or to ignore them altogether. For some reason PolitiFact does not view an honest defense of their work as a viable remedy for reader distrust.

PolitiFact's incompetent and biased editorializing has never earned credibility. Adding more clowns to the car won't change that. This "readers advocate" stunt only shows how unserious PolitiFact is about providing readers the truth.

Edit 0835PST 2/2/2018: Added word "PolitiFact" in penultimate graph -Jeff

1 comment:

  1. David Jolly has become a reliable "MSNBC Republican" in recent months. That is NOT who you pick if your goal is to build conservative confidence in your "fact checking."


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