Wednesday, March 28, 2018

How PolitiFact Fights Its Reputation for Anti-conservative Bias

This week we ran across a new paper with an intriguing title: Everyone Hates the Referee:How Fact-Checkers Mitigate a Public Perception of Bias.

The paper, by Allison Colburn, pretty much concludes that fact checkers do not know how to fight their reputation for bias. Aside from that, it lets the fact checkers describe what they do to try to seem fair and impartial.

The paper mentions PolitiFact Bias, and we'll post more about that later. We place our focus for this post on Colburn's October 2017 interview of PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan. Colburn asks Holan directly about PolitiFact Bias (Colburn's words in bold, following the format from her paper):
I'm just kind of curious, there's the site, What are what are your thoughts on that site?

That seems to be one guy who's been around for a long time, and his complaints just  seem to be that we don't have good, that we don't give enough good ratings, positive ratings to conservatives. And then he just kind of looks for whatever evidence he can find to support that point.

Do you guys ever read his stuff? Does it ever worry you?

He's been making the same complaint for so long that it has tended to become background noise, to be honest. I find him just very singularly focused in his complaints, and he very seldom brings up anything that I learn from.

But he's very, you know, I give him credit for sticking in there. I mean he used to give us, like when he first started he would give us grades for our reporting and our editing. So it would be like grades for this report: Reporter Angie Holan, editor Bill Adair. And like we could never do better than like a D-minus. So it's just like whatever. What I find is it's hard for me to take critics seriously when they never say we do anything right. Sometimes we can do things right, and you'll never see it on that site.
We could probably mine material from these answers for weeks. One visit to our About/FAQ page would prove enough to treat the bulk of Holan's misstatements. Aside from the FAQ, Jeff's tweet of Rodney Dangerfield's mug is the perfect response to Holan's suggestion that PolitiFact Bias is "one guy."

The Holan interview does deliver some on the promise of Colburn's paper. It shows how Holan tries to marginalize PolitiFact's critics.

I summed up one prong of PolitiFact's strategy in a post from Jan 30, 2018:
Ever notice how PolitiFact likes to paint its critics as folks who carp about whether the (subjective) Truth-O-Meter rating was correct?
In that post, I reported on how Holan bemoaned the fact that PolitiFact critics do not offer factual criticisms of its fact checks, preferring instead to quibble over its subjective ratings.
If they're not dealing with the evidence, my response is like, ‘Well you can say that we're biased all you want, but tell me where the fact-check is wrong. Tell me what evidence we got wrong. Tell me where our logic went wrong. Because I think that's a useful conversation to have about the actual report itself.
Holan says my (our) criticism amounts to a call for more positive ratings for conservatives. So we're just carping about the ratings, right? Holan's summation does a tremendous disservice to our painstaking and abundant research pointing out PolitiFact's errors (for example).

In the Colburn interview Holan also says she has trouble taking criticism seriously when the critic doesn't write articles complimenting what PolitiFact does correctly.

We suppose it must suck to find one's self the victim of selection bias. We suppose Holan must have a tough time taking seriously, given its policy against publishing fact checks showing a politician spoke the truth without misleading.

The hypocrisy from these people is just too much.

Exit question: Did Holan just not know what she was talking about, or was she simply lying?


For what it's worth, we sometimes praise PolitiFact for doing something right.

Correction March 31, 2018: We erred by neglecting to include the URL linking to Colburn's paper. We apologize to Allison Colburn and our readers for the oversight.

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