Wednesday, May 30, 2018

PolitiFact: Senior White House Officials Exist (Contrary to What Trump Said)

Apparently PolitiFact is beyond understanding why people regard news and fact-checking skeptically.

PolitiFact and The New York Times provided a handy 'Splainer of the problem, if they would only pay attention to themselves.

The New York Times reported that "senior White House official" said Trump's summit with North Korea, which Trump had called off, would be "impossible" to keep on its original date.

The Times used that reporting as part of a story supporting a narrative of administrative infighting within the Trump White House.

Trump went to Twitter in response:
The Failing @nytimes quotes “a senior White House official,” who doesn’t exist, as saying “even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.
PolitiFact fact checked Trump's claim, noting that even if the Times went too far with its paraphrase that Trump did not complain about that. PolitiFact ruled Trump's claim "Pants on Fire" because the Times' source exists even if the source did not say what the Times claimed.

That's a Crazy Way to Check Facts, PolitiFact

PolitiFact reasoned (!) that if the Times had a source for its article even if the source did not say what the article claimed, then it was ridiculously false to say that the source did not exist.
Trump is wrong that the senior White House official cited by the New York Times "doesn’t exist" and is "phony." In fact, the official in question, Pottinger, gave an authorized background briefing to dozens of reporters in person and via phone.

The New York Times article that Trump criticized may have gone too far by paraphrasing Pottinger as saying that a June 12 summit would be impossible, since Pottinger didn’t use that specific word. However, Pottinger did express a significant degree of skepticism about the prospect of a June 12 summit.

If that was Trump's gripe, it isn't what he said. The White House source did exist. We rate Trump’s statement Pants on Fire.
PolitiFact admitted the Times might have "gone too far" with its paraphrase of the source and despite that rated Trump's claim "Pants on Fire."

But in the real world of political communication, Trump's point was clear: No representative of the White House said the meeting was impossible.

A real fact check of Trump could have noted that Trump said the Times "quoted" its source. The Times paraphrased its source instead of using a quotation, so Trump was wrong about that.

But Trump was right that having the summit on its original date was not deemed impossible. And, taken literally, Trump accurately claimed that the White House source of the "impossible" claim does not exist.

PolitiFact does The New York Times a solid

PolitiFact told its readers it was giving them a "transcript" of the audio journalists produced to support the Times' reporting. But PolitiFact's supposed transcript was missing a key line that helps make the story easier to understand.

We're using the transcript posted by Mollie Z. Hemingway at the Federalist, using bold emphasis for the parts PolitiFact left out. We emphasize that the audio posted at PolitiFact matches the Federalist's version:
REPORTER: Can you clarify that…the President obviously announced in the letter and at the top of the bill signing that the summit is called off. But then, later, he said it’s possible the existing summit could take place, or a summit at a later date. Is he saying that it’s possible that June 12th could still happen?

WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: That’s…

REPORTER: Or has that ship sailed, right?

WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I think that the main point, I suppose, is that the ball is in North Korea’s court right now. And there’s really not a lot of time. We’ve lost quite a bit of time that we would need in order to, I mean, there’s been an enormous amount of preparation that’s gone on over the past few months at the White House, at State, and with other agencies and so forth. But there’s a certain amount of actual dialogue that needs to take place at the working level with your counterparts to ensure that the agenda is clear in the minds of those two leaders when they sit down to actually meet and talk and negotiate, and hopefully make a deal. And June 12 is in 10 minutes, and it’s going to be, you know. But the President has said that he has — someday, that he looks forward to meeting with Kim.
With the missing part of the transcript, one can see that the unidentified reporter was asking a leading question ("that ship sailed, right?"). The "White House Official" did not affirm the leading question in so many words, but the foregone conclusion appeared in the so-called paraphrase of that official.

That's how the journalistic sausage is made.

And PolitiFact hid that from its readers for some mysterious reason.

That's what we call fact-checking, right?

That, PolitiFact, is why people distrust you and The New York Times. You don't tell the whole story and you don't tell it straight.

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