Monday, October 14, 2019

Remember back when it was False to say Nixon was impeached?

I remember reading a story years back about a tire company that enterprisingly tried to drum up business by sending out a team to spread roofing nails on the local roads.

Turns out there's a version of that technique in PolitiFact's fact-checking tool box.

Nixon was Never Impeached

Back on June 13th, 2019 PolitiFact's PunditFact declared it "False" that Nixon was impeached. PunditFact said "Nixon was never officially impeached." We're not sure what would count as "unofficially impeached." We're pretty sure it's the same as saying Nixon was not impeached.



But that was way back in June. Over three months have passed. And it's now sufficiently true that Nixon was impeached so that PolitiFact can spread the idea on Twitter and write an impeachment PolitiSplainer that refers multiple times to the Nixon impeachment.

Nixon was Impeached

Twitter
Edit: (if embed isn't working use hotlink above)

Is Nixon a good example to include with Johnson and Clinton (let alone Trump) if Nixon wasn't impeached?
More than anything, the procedural details are derived from historical precedent, from the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in the 1860s to that of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s and President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Got it? The impeachment of President Nixon. Because Nixon was impeached, right?
Experts pointed to a variety of differences between the Trump impeachment process and those that went before.

The differences begin with the substance of the charges. All prior presidential impeachments have concerned domestic issues — the aftermath of the Civil War in Johnson’s case, the Watergate burglary and coverup under Nixon, and the Monica Lewinsky affair for Clinton.
Got it? Nixon was impeached over the Watergate burglary. Because Nixon was impeached, right?
The impeachments of both Nixon and Clinton did tend to curb legislative action by soaking up all the attention in Washington, historians say.
Obviously a fact-checker will not refer to "the impeachments of both Nixon and Clinton" if Nixon was not impeached. Therefore, Nixon was impeached. Right?
Some congressional Republicans have openly supported Trump’s assertion that the allegations against Trump are dubious. This contrasts with the Nixon impeachment, when "on both sides there was a pretty universal acknowledgement that the charges being investigated were very important and that it was necessary to get to the bottom of what happened," said Frank O. Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor and author of the book, "High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump."
Obviously a fact-checker will only draw a parallel to the Nixon impeachment if Nixon was impeached. Therefore Nixon was impeached. Right?
Trump is facing possible impeachment about a year before running for reelection. By contrast, both Nixon and Clinton had already won second terms when they were impeached. (Johnson was such an outcast within his own party that he would have been an extreme longshot to win renomination, historians say.)
Got it? Nixon and Clinton had already won second terms when they were impeached. Because Nixon was impeached, right?
On the eve of impeachment for both Nixon and Clinton, popular support for impeachment was weak — 38% for Nixon and 29% for Clinton, according to a recent Axios analysis. (There was no public opinion polling when Johnson was president.)
Got it? "On the eve of impeachment for both Nixon and Clinton," because a fact checker doesn't refer to the eve of the Nixon impeachment if there was no Nixon impeachment.

Is there a Christmas Eve if there's no Christmas?

That's six times PolitiFact referred to the Nixon impeachment in just one PolitiSplainer article. And about three months after PolitiFact's PunditFact said Nixon was not impeached.

Want a seventh? We've got a seventh:
During Nixon’s impeachment, "people counted on the media to serve as arbiters of truth," he said. "Obviously, we don’t have that now."
 "During Nixon's impeachment" directly implies Nixon was impeached. Seven.

We've been going in order, too.


(Nixon Wasn't Impeached)


But behold! Context at last!
The uncertainty about Senate process stems from the rarity of the process. Nixon resigned before the House could vote to send articles to the Senate, leaving just one precedent -- Clinton’s trial — in the past century and a half.
Admittedly, that's not PolitiFact saying "Nixon was not impeached." On the other hand, it's PolitiFact directly implying Nixon was not impeached. Blink and you might miss it amidst all the talk about the Nixon impeachment.

Can we get to eight after that bothersome bit of context?

Nixon was Impeached, Continued 

We can:
The impeachments of both Nixon and Clinton did tend to curb legislative action by soaking up all the attention in Washington, historians say.
We're curious which historians PolitiFact talked to who explicitly referred to the impeachment of Nixon. There are no quotations in the text of the PolitiSplainer that would support this claim about what historians say.

PolitiFact flirted with nine in the next paragraph. We're capping the count at eight.

In summary, we'll just say this: If there's a sense of "impeachment" that doesn't mean literally getting impeached by Congress and standing trial in the Senate, then Jimmy Kimmel is entitled to that understanding when he says Nixon was the last president to be impeached.

Contrary to PolitiFact's framing, Kimmel was wrong not because Nixon was not impeached. Kimmel was wrong because President William J. Clinton was the last president to be impeached. There was never any need for PunditFact to focus on the fact Nixon wasn't impeached, unless it was to avoid emphasis on Clinton.

This all works out very well for PolitiFact. PolitiFact does what it can to spread the misperception Nixon was impeached. And then it can draw clicks to its PunditFact fact check showing that claim false.

Just like dropping roofing nails on the road.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Fact Check not at PolitiFact Illinois

One of the characteristics of PolitiFact that drags it below its competitors is its penchant for not bothering to fact check what it claims to fact check.

Our example this time comes from PolitiFact Illinois:

From the above, we judge that "Most climate scientists agree" that we have less than a decade to avert a worst case climate change scenario counts as the central claim in need of fact-checking. PolitiFact hints at the confusion it sows in its article by paraphrasing the issue as "Does science say time is running out to stop climate disaster?"

The fact is that time could be running out to stop climate disaster while at the same time (Democrat) Sean Casten's claim could count as entirely false. Casten made a claim about what a majority of scientist believe about a short window of opportunity to avoid a worst-case scenario. And speaking of avoidance, PolitiFact Illinois avoided the meat of Casten's claim in favor of fact-checking its watered-down summary of Casten's claim.

The Proof that Proves Nothing

The key evidence offered in support of Casten was a 2018 report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The problem? The report offers no clear evidence showing a majority of climate scientists agree on anything at all, up to and including what Casten claims they believe. In fact, the report only mentions "scientist" or "scientists" once (in the Acknowledgments section):
A special thanks goes to the Chapter Scientists of this Report ...
A fact checker cannot accept that report as evidence of what a majority of scientists believe without strong justification. That justification does not occur in the so-called fact check. PolitiFact Illinois apparently checks the facts using the assumption that the IPCC report would not claim something if a majority of climate scientists did not believe it.

That's not fact-checking.

And More Proof of Nothing

Making this fact-checking farce even more sublime, PolitiFact Illinois correctly found the report does not establish any kind of hard deadline for bending the curve on carbon emissions (bold emphasis added):
Th(e) report said nations must take "unprecedented" actions to reduce emissions, which will need to be on a significantly different trajectory by 2030 in order to avoid more severe impacts from increased warming. However, it did not identify the hard deadline Casten and others have suggested. In part, that’s because serious effects from climate change have already begun.
So PolitiFact did not bother to find out whether a majority of scientists affirm the claim about "less than a decade" (burden of proof, anyone?) and moreover found the "less than a decade" claim was essentially false. We can toss PolitiFact's line about serious effects from climate change already occurring because Casten was talking about a "worst-case scenario."

PolitiFact Illinois rated Casten's claim "Mostly True."

Does that make sense?

Is it any wonder that Independents (nearly half) and Republicans (more than half) think fact checkers favor one side?


Afters

Also worth noting: Where does that "'worst-case scenario'" phrase come from? Does Casten put it inside quotation marks because he is quoting a source? Or is it a scare quote?

We confirmed, at least, that the phrase does not occur in the IPCC report that supposed served as Casten's source.

We will not try to explain PolitiFact Illinois' lack of curiosity on this point.

Let PolitiFact Illinois do that.


Update Sept. 4, 2019: We originally neglected to link to the flawed PolitiFact Illinois "fact check." This update remedies that problem.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

PolitiFact founder: "Bias is good"

It was wasn't even a year ago that PolitiFact pompously announced it isn't biased, but now PolitiFact founder Bill Adair has muddied the waters by announcing from his lofty perch at Duke University that bias is good.

Doubtless it is important to make take Adair's words in context.

We'll certainly try.

Here's the Columbia Journalism Review headline:

Op-ed: Bias is good. It just needs a label.


In context so far: Adair appears to say bias is good if the reader understands it (hence the need for a label).

Adair repeated the same point in the article and then used a graphic to spell out what he's saying:


It's hard not to notice that Adair's graphic appears to concede what we have argued for years here at PolitiFact Bias. Fact-checking is not some kind of objective and scientific pursuit even if we set aside the subjective linear-scale truth ratings. Adair understands fact-checking contains more opinion than does "news analysis," with no other form of journalism closer to "opinion."

Unfortunately Adair does little to distinguish the desirable types of bias he's probably talking about--bias toward truth and democracy, for example--from unhealthy cognitive biases. But at least he gives clear guidance that journalists should appropriately label their work.

Now we just need to find the appropriate label at PolitiFact, right?

PolitiFact is not biased -- here’s why

Okay, great. No problem, right?

Seriously, we're not aware of any prominent acknowledgement of bias labeling at PolitiFact.com.

If such a thing existed, perhaps we should expect to find it on PolitiFact's statement of principles. But we get this instead:
Our ethics policy for PolitiFact journalists

PolitiFact seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases. Our journalists set their own opinions aside as they work to uphold principles of independence and fairness.
Anybody see an expression of the idea "bias is good" in there? We don't.

PolitiFact over its history has encouraged readers to take its biased reporting as objective reporting.

It deceived and continues to deceive its readers by the standard Adair advocates.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

A PolitiFact gloss on the Michael Brown "murder"

We've been tracking evidence of PolitiFact's look-the-other-way stance on Dem0crats' campaign rhetoric on race. PolitiFact sees no need to issue a "Truth-O-Meter" rating when Democrats call President Trump a racist, for example.

Now, with Democratic presidential candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren asserting that Michael Brown was murdered, again we see PolitiFact reluctant to apply fact-checking to Democratic Party falsehoods.

Instead of issuing a "Truth-O-Meter" rating for either Democratic Party candidate over their Michael Brown statements, PolitiFact published an absurd PolitiSplainer article.

A Fox News article hits most of the points that we would have emphasized:
The fact-checking website PolitiFact again came under fire for alleged political bias Wednesday after it posted a bizarre article that refused to rule on whether Michael Brown was in fact "murdered" by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014, as Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren falsely claimed last week.
Indeed, Fox News emphasizes the key expert opinion from the PolitiFact PolitiSplainer:
Jacobson quoted Jean Brown, a communications professor who focuses on "media representations of African Americans," as saying that the entire question of whether Warren and Harris spread a falsehood was nothing more than an "attempt to shift the debate from a discussion about the killing of black and brown people by police."
The Fox article quotes the Washington Examiner's Alex Griswold asking why the expert opinion from Brown was included in the fact check.

We suggest that the quotation represents the reasoning PolitiFact used in deciding not to issue "Truth-O-Meter" ratings for Harris or Warren.

PolitiFact, per the Joe Biden gaffe, seems interested in truth, not facts.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Highlights of PolitiFact's Reddit AMA from August 2, 2019

PolitiFact newbie Daniel Funke, former fact check reporter for the International Fact-Checking Network, represented PolitiFact for a Reddit AMA on Aug. 2, 2019.

We always look forward to public Q&A sessions with PolitiFact staff, for it nearly always provides us with material.

Funke stuck with PolitiFact boilerplate material for the most part, even channeling Bill Adair with his answer about PolitiFact's response to critics who suggest PolitiFact is biased.

Funke's chief error, in our view, was his repetition of a false PolitiFact public talking point:
As far as corrections: We're human beings, so we do make mistakes from time to time. That's why we have a corrections process. You can read our full corrections policy, but the bottom line is that we fix the wrong information and note it. If we give a new rating to a fact-check, we archive the old version so people can see exactly what we changed. Everything that gets a correction or an update gets tagged - see all tagged items.
We've pointed out dozens and dozens of mistakes at PolitiFact, and though we've prompted PolitiFact to fix quite a few mistakes the majority of the time PolitiFact ignores the critique and doesn't bother to fix anything. We tried to get PolitiFact Georgia not to interpret "pistol" as a synonym for "handgun" because revolvers count as handguns but do not count as pistols. No go. The mistake remains enshrined in PolitiFact's "database" of facts. And Funke's recent mistake in using a number PolitiFact found wanting as the deficit figure handed off from Bush to Obama still hasn't been fixed. Nor do we expect PolitiFact to break tradition by fixing it.

PolitiFact fixes mistakes if and only if PolitiFact feels like fixing the mistakes.

So Funke is wrong about the bottom line at PolitiFact. The PolitiFact "database" has more than its share of bad information.

As for archiving the old version of a fact check when the rating changes, contrary to what Funke says readers can't necessarily find the archived version. Here's an example from 2017. The new version contains no link to the old version. A reader would have to figure out how PolitiFact structures its URLs to track down the archived version (assuming there is one).

Finally, Funke repeats the falsehood that "Everything that gets a correction or an update gets tagged," complete with a link to the very incomplete list of corrected items. PolitiFact does not use tags on many of its articles, particularly those that do not feature a rating. Corrections on those articles do not get tagged and do not appear on the list of corrections. Moreover, PolitiFact simply neglects to tag corrected fact checks on occasion.

Apparently it's too much to ask that PolitiFact staffers know what they're talking about when they describe PolitiFact's corrections process.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

PolitiFact: The true half of Cokie Roberts' half truth is President Trump's half truth

Pity PolitiFact.

The liberal bloggers at PolitiFact may well see themselves as neutral and objective. If they see themselves that way, they are deluded.

Latest example:


PolitiFact's Aug. 3, 2019 fact check of President Trump finds he correctly said the homicide rate in Baltimore is higher than in some countries with a significant recent history of violence. But it wasn't fair of Trump to compare a city to a country for a variety of reasons, experts said.

So "Half True," PolitiFact said.

The problem?

Here at PolitiFact Bias we apparently remember what PolitiFact has done in the past better than PolitiFact remembers it. We remembered PolitiFact giving (liberal) pundit Cokie Roberts a "Half True" for butchering a comparison of the chance of being murdered in New York City compared to Honduras.




Roberts was way off on her numbers (to the point of being flatly false about them, we would say), but because she was right that the chance of getting murdered is greater in Honduras than in New York City, PolitiFact gave Roberts a "Half True" rating.

We think if Roberts' numbers are wrong (false) and her comparison is "Half True" because it isn't fair to compare a city to a country then Roberts seems to deserve a "Mostly False" rating.

That follows if PolitiFact judges Roberts by the same standard it applies to Mr. Trump.

But who are we kidding?

PolitiFact often fails to apply its standards consistently. Republicans and conservatives tend to receive the unfair harm from that inconsistency. Mr. Trump, thanks in part to his earned reputation for hyperbole and inaccuracy, tends to receive perhaps more unfair harm than anybody else.

It is understandable that fact checkers allow confirmation bias to influence their ratings of Mr. Trump.

It's also fundamentally unfair.

We think fact checkers should do better.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

That Time PolitiFact Used Facebook to Amplify a Misleading Message on Fiscal Responsibility


We wrote about PolitiFact's awful fact check of a tweet that used deficit numbers at the start and end of presidential terms in office to show it's wrong to think that Democrats cause deficits.

PolitiFact's FaceBook page took the misleading nature of that fact check and amplified it to the max with a false headline:


Contrary to the headline, the fact check does not tell how the past five presidents affected the deficit. Instead, the fact check pretends to address the accuracy of a tweet that suggests deficit numbers at the start and end of presidential administrations tell us which party causes deficits. That use of deficit numbers serves as an exceptionally poor metric, a fact PolitiFact barely hints at in giving the tweet a "Mostly True" rating.

The tweet falsely suggests those deficit numbers give us a reliable picture of party fiscal responsibility (and the way presidents affect the deficit), and PolitiFact amplifies those misleading messages.

It's almost like they think that's their job.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

PolitiFact's Inconsistency on True-But-Misleading Factoids

People commonly mislead other people using the truth. Fact checkers have recognized this with various kinds of "True but False" designations. But the fact checkers tend to stink at applying consistent rules to the "True but False" game by creating examples in the "True but False but True" genre.

PolitiFact created a classic in the "True but False" genre for Sarah Palin (John McCain's pick for vice presidential nominee) years ago. Palin made a true statement about how U.S. military spending ranks worldwide as a measure of GDP. PolitiFact researched the ways in which that truth misled people and gave Palin a "Mostly False" rating.

On July 29, 2019, PolitiFact gave a great example of the "True but False but True" genre with a fact check of a tweet by Alex Cole (side note: This one goes on the report card for "Tweets" instead of a report card for "Alex Cole"):


PolitiFact rated Cole's tweet "Mostly True." But the tweet has the same kind of misleading features that led PolitiFact to give Palin a "Mostly False" rating in the example above. PolitiFact docked Palin for daring to compare U.S. defense spending as a percentage of GDP to very small countries as well as those experiencing strife.

But who thinks the deficit at the start and end of an administration serves as a good measure of party fiscal discipline?

Yet that's the argument in Cole's tweet, and it gets a near-total pass from PolitiFact.


And this isn't even one of those situations where PolitiFact focused on the numbers to the exclusion of the underlying argument. PolitiFact amplified Cole's argument by repeating it.

Note PolitiFact's lead:
A viral post portrays Democrats, not Republicans, as the party of fiscal responsibility, with numbers about the deficit under recent presidents to make the case.
PolitiFact sends out the false message that the above argument is "Mostly True."

That's ridiculous. For starters, the deficit is best measured as a percentage of GDP. Also, presidents do not have great control over the rise and fall of deficits. PolitiFact pointed out that second factor but without giving it the weight it should have had in undercutting Cole's argument. After all, the tweet suggests the presidents drove deficit changes without any hint of any other explanation.

Yes, this is the same fact-checking operation that laughably assured us back in November 2018 that "PolitiFact is not biased."

PolitiFact could easily have justified giving Cole the same treatment it gave Palin. But it did not. And this type of scenario plays out repeatedly at PolitiFact, with conservatives getting the cold shoulder from PolitiFact's star chamber.

Whether or not the liberal bloggers at PolitiFact are self-aware to the point of seeing their own bias, it comes out in their work.


Afters

Hilariously, in this article PolitiFact dinged the deficit tweet for using a figure of $1.2 trillion for the end of the George W. Bush presidency:
"(George W.) Bush 43 took it from 0 to 1.2 trillion." This is in the ballpark. Ignoring the fact that he actually started his presidency with a surplus, Bush left office in 2009 with a federal deficit of roughly $1.41 trillion.
Why is it funny?

It's funny because one of the PolitiFact articles cited in this one prefers the $1.2 trillion figure over the $1.4 trillion figure:

The Great Recession hit hard in 2008 and grew worse in 2009. In that period, the unemployment rate doubled from about 5 percent to 10 percent. With Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House, Washington passed a stimulus package that cost nearly $190 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That included over $100 billion in new spending and a somewhat smaller amount in tax cuts, about $79 billion in fiscal year 2009.

George W. Bush was not in office when those measures passed. So a more accurate number for the deficit he passed on might be closer to $1.2 trillion.
But it's just fact-checking, so inaccuracy is okay so long as it's in the service of a desirable narrative.

?

Monday, July 29, 2019

Reporting on the Mueller Report from the Liberal Bubble

PolitiFact's treatment of things Mueller has fit well with its left-leaning reputation.

A PolitiFact fact check from July 24, 2019 serves as our example.


We would first draw the reader's attention to the way PolitiFact altered Rep. Ratcliffe's claim. Ratcliffe  said Mueller did not follow the special counsel rules. Not following rules may take place though omission or by elaborating on what the rules stipulate. But PolitiFact says Ratcliffe claimed Mueller broke the rules.

We think it's fairly clear that elaborating on the rules counts as failing to follow the rules. It's less clear that elaborating on the rules counts as breaking the rules.

So right off the bat, PolitiFact is spinning Ratcliffe's claim into a straw man that is more easily attacked.

Missing the Point?

Rep. Ratcliffe was repeating a point pretty familiar to conservatives, that the Mueller report failed to follow the special prosecutor statute because Mueller punted on deciding whether to recommend prosecution for obstruction of justice. Conservative pundit and legal expert Andrew McCarthy, for example, has written on the topic.

It's hard to see how PolitiFact's fact check addresses a position like McCarthy's.

PolitiFact contacted three legal experts for comment. But only Mark Osler (University of St. Thomas) was quoted on Ratcliffe's key issue:
Federal regulations say, "At the conclusion of the Special Counsel's work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel."

"It clearly includes declinations, which is taking no action," Osler said.
We humbly submit to the expert Osler that a declination is not merely a lack of action. Declination, in context, is a decision not to prosecute. An explanation of Special Counsel's decision not to prosecute meets the requirements of the statue. But an unexplained decision not to decide whether to prosecute should not meet the requirements even though it is lack of action.

And, hypothetically, taking no action at all as by not filing the report is taking no action but does not satisfy the statute.

A July 24, 2019 article in Washington Post helps make clear that Mueller pretty much declined to spell out why he declined to recommend prosecution for obstruction of justice:
John Yoo, a former top official in the George W. Bush Justice Department, said he found Mueller’s explanation “rather vague and somewhat mysterious,” and that he may have felt he should defer to the attorney general.

“Like everyone else, I have been trying to infer why he did what he did,” Yoo said.

But Mueller offered little elaboration on his reasoning as he was pressed Wednesday by lawmakers in both parties.
Again, the declination description required in the statute concerns the decision not to prosecute, not the decision not to explain the decision not to prosecute. Lack of action is not an explanation.

PolitiFact's Big Whiff

PolitiFact showed the true quality of its fact-checking by apparently knowing nothing about widely-published reasoning like McCarthy's. It's the Bubble!

Check out this faux pas in PolitiFact's summary:
We found no legal scholar who agreed with Ratcliffe.
PolitiFact could not find articles by Andrew McCarthy?

Couldn't find the comments by David Dorsen in this Newsweek article?

Couldn't find this piece by Alan Dershowitz for The Hill?

Trust fact checkers? Why?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Ocasio-Cortez, PolitiFact and the parking lot

My, how PolitiFact beclowns itself.

A number of media outlets have noted PolitiFact's fact check of the claim Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez cried about an empty parking lot. We like the account from Amanda Prestigiacomo at the Daily Wire:
Politifact is at it again! The left-wing fact-checker purporting to be unbiased made a mockery of themselves (again) with their latest rating concerning socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Politifact, creating their best damage control for the freshman congresswoman, rated the claim that Ocasio-Cortez cried in front of an empty parking lot for a photo-op as "false" because it was, in fact, a "road" with some parked cars, not a parking lot, that the elected Democrat cried in front of.
The hilarity of the story took an exponential leap when PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan took to Twitter in defense of PolitiFact:
Holan's defense falls flat because the original story with the "parking lot" language was using humor to make a point. Ocasio-Cortez had nothing to look at that should reasonably produce the emotional response she wore for the camera.There were no children or refugees in view. At most, she would have been able to see signs of the tents set up to house illegal immigrants.

Crying at the sight of distant tents is a little like breaking down upon seeing a hospital. Because of all the suffering that happens in hospitals. But that type of response is uncommon, right?

PolitiFact's reporting leaves doubt as to whether a person at the fence could see tents:
Daniel Borunda, a reporter for the El Paso Times who was at the rally on the same day, told PolitiFact that the tent complex was "visible in the distance several hundred yards away" from the fence.
Certainly PolitiFact's reporting seems intended to produce the impression one could see tents from the entryway fence. But Borunda's quotation is cut off and instead of relying on Borunda we end up relying on PolitiFact for the information. We think it likely PolitiFact fudged the facts.

There's good reason to suspect Borunda did not claim tents were visible from the fence. The Google Maps image, for example, shows great distance and a number of buildings between the entry area and the section of the complex where the tents were set up. Click through to the map and explore for yourself.

There are two buildings that appear round from above to the east of the main ICE building. The tents for the tent city (along with a sloped-roof structure that does not appear in the Google image) occur just south of those buildings in aerial photographs of the time.

It's worth pointing out that photo we just linked shows a line of buildings and a parking lot between the tent city and Ocasio-Cortez's reported location.

This image from later the same year (September 2018) shows the growth of the tent city stretching South and East from its original location--further from Ocasio-Cortez's vantage point and likewise with a view punctuated by intervening buildings and trees. And that was after Ocasio-Cortez made her visit (June 21, 2018).

Did any photographers take pictures of the tent city from outside the fence at Ocasio-Cortez's location? We'd love to see them, if they exist.


Afters

We took our analysis one step further. The images of Ocasio-Cortez, along with PolitiFact's reporting, appear to place her between two sections of wall outside the border compound. A road and a sidewalk run between the sections of wall, and it appears the north wall features a sliding fence/gate that officials may use to block the roadway.

If we're correct about the location, that puts the south part of the wall between Ocasio-Cortez and any view of the tent city.

We put a cluster of red dots where we believe Ocasio-Cortez stood.

The fall of the shadows in the photographs of Ocasio-Cortez suggest the pictures were taken in the morning, if we're correct. An image posted at the end of Time Magazine story supports our analysis (showing evidence of the line of trees to the left of the roadway, along with the utility poles). Facing the road leaves the tent city directly to the left of the protesters pictured, behind a wall and out of sight.


Update July 27, 2019: A kind reader pointed out an excess of "not" in the paragraph beginning with "Holan's defense." We took it out. Our thanks to the kind reader.

Friday, July 19, 2019

PolitiFact Wisconsin: "Veteran" and "service member" mean the same thing

A funny thing happened when PolitiFact examined Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard's claim the Trump administration deports service members.

Instead of ruling on whether the Trump administration was deporting service members, PolitiFact Wisconsin decided to look at whether the Trump administration was deporting non-naturalized service veterans.

Therefore "service members" are the same thing as non-naturalized service veterans?

We wish we were kidding. But read PolitiFact's summary conclusion. PolitiFact equates "service members" with "veterans" as though it's the most natural thing in the world, and doesn't even mention citizenship status:
Our ruling

Gabbard said at the same time Trump talks about supporting veterans, "he is deporting service members who have volunteered to serve this country."

The Trump administration expanded the grounds under which people, including veterans, can be deported, which some blame for more veterans being forced to leave the country. That said, GAO documents make clear the issue existed before Trump took office -- something that wasn’t acknowledged in Gabbard’s claim.

Our definition for Mostly True is "the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information." That fits here.
PolitiFact does mention citizenship issues in the body of the story. It opens, for example, with a frame emphasizing military service and illegal immigration:
Military matters and illegal immigration.

Both are hot-button issues for voters in the 2020 presidential election, though for different reasons.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democratic presidential hopeful and major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, linked them when she spoke July 11, 2019 at the League of United Latin American Citizens convention in Milwaukee.
In the quotation PolitiFact Wisconsin provided, Gabbard did nothing to explicitly link military service with illegal immigration. The journalist (or reader) would have to infer the connection. And PolitiFact Wisconsin failed to link to a transcript of Gabbard's speech, linking us instead to the Journal Sentinel's news report that fails to supply any additional context to Gabbard's remarks.

Intentional Spin?

We see evidence suggesting PolitiFact Wisconsin applied intentional spin in its story to minimize the misleading nature of Gabbard's statement.

In context, Gabbard referred to "lip service" Trump offers to "our veterans, to our troops," but PolitiFact lops off "to our troops" in its headline and deck material. That truncated version of Gabbard's statement makes it appear reasonable to assume Gabbard was talking about veterans and not active service members.

Put simply, PolitiFact manipulated Gabbard's statement to help make it match the interpretation PolitiFact's liberal bloggers gave it in the story. PolitiFact not only chose not to deal with the obvious way Gabbard's statement might mislead people, but also chose not to transparently disclose that decision to its readers.

Principles Forsaken

PolitiFact's statement of principles is a sham. Why? Because PolitiFact applies the principles so haphazardly that we might as well call the result situational ethics. The ideology of the claimant appears to serve as one of the situational conditions driving the decision as to which principle to apply in any given case.

In Gabbard's case, she made a statement that could easily be interpreted in a way that makes it false. And PolitiFact often uses that as the justification for a harsh rating. In its statement of principles PolitiFact says it takes into account whether a statement is literally true (or false). It also says PolitiFact takes into account whether the statement is open to interpretation (bold emphasis added).:
The three editors and reporter then review the fact-check by discussing the following questions.
• Is the statement literally true?
• Is there another way to read the statement? Is the statement open to interpretation?
• Did the speaker provide evidence? Did the speaker prove the statement to be true?
• How have we handled similar statements in the past? What is PolitiFact’s jurisprudence?
PolitiFact effectively discarded two of its principles for the Gabbard fact check.

We say that a fact-checking organization that does not apply its principles consistently cannot receive credit for consistent non-partisanship or fairness.

With PolitiFact, "words matter" sometimes.



Afters

We've always been open to legitimate examples showing PolitiFact's inconsistency causing unfair harm to liberals or Democrats.

The examples remain few, in our experience.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

PolitiFact Texas punches "spin cycle" for Julián Castro

Is it possible left-leaning fact checkers still do not realize how their ideologies affect their work?

Consider PolitiFact Texas.


See what PolitiFact Texas did, there?

It presents an accurate hybrid paraphrase quotation of Castro asserting that Section 1325 of U.S. immigration law was put into place in 1929 by a segregationist. And promptly spins the Castro claim into the innocuous-but-loaded "When did it become a crime to cross the U.S.-Mexico border?"

Hilariously, the fact check spends most of its time examining facts other than when it became a crime to cross the border. Instead, it focuses on whether Section 1325 was enacted in 1929 (finding it was not) and whether the legislator who wrote the legislation was a segregationist.

PolitiFact Texas used nine paragraphs to address the segregationist past of Sen. Coleman Livingston Blease, the man who composed the language of an immigration bill in 1929.

Castro was evidently trying to make the point that he was trying to repeal a racist piece of legislation, racist because it was written by a segregationist. Castro was using the genetic fallacy on his audience. PolitiFact took no note of it, instead playing along by fact-checking whether Blease was a segregationist and finding a politically active expert to opine that the Blease-authored legislation was aimed at immigration from Mexico.

Such background does not help establish when it became a crime (at least under certain conditions) to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. It's background information that just happens (?) to support the subtext of Castro's claim.

As for Castro's implication that it was Blease who implemented the policy--as though a U.S. senator has that kind of power--well, that's just not the sort of thing that interests PolitiFact Texas.

In the end, PolitiFact Texas found it false that Blease authored the section of the immigration law Castro mentioned.

But why should that stand in the way of a favorable "Mostly True" rating?

PolitiFact's summary conclusion (bold emphasis added):
Castro said Section 1325 immigration policy, which makes it a crime to enter the country illegally, was "put into place in 1929, by a segregationist."

Technically Blease — a white supremicist [sic] who advocated for segregationist policies and lynching —  was not the author of the statute on illegal entry into the United States as it exists in today’s immigration code. 

But it was the first policy criminalizing all unlawful entry at the nation's southern border, and is considered the foundation of the 1952 policy that  evolved into today's Section 1325.

We rate this claim Mostly True.
Technically false, therefore "Mostly True."

That's how PolitiFact rolls. That's how PolitiFact Texas rolls.

It's spin, not fact-checking. Castro did not assert that the criminalization policy started in 1929. Castro asserted that Section 1325 was put into place in 1929.

Fact checkers should prove capable of noticing the difference. And keeping the spin out of their fact checks.

Friday, July 12, 2019

PolitiFact Unplugs 'Truth-O-Meter' for Elizabeth Warren

We seem to be seeing an increase of fact check stories from PolitiFact that do not feature any "Truth-O-Meter" rating. One of the latest pleads that it simply did not have enough information to offer a rating of Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren's claim that the U.S. Women's National Team (soccer) pulls in more revenue while receiving less pay than the men.

But look at the low-hanging fruit!


The women on the USWNT are not doing equal or better work than the men if the women cannot beat the men on the pitch. The level of competition is lower for women's soccer. And Warren's introduction to her argument is not an equal pay for equal work argument. It is an argument based on market valuation aside from the quality of the work.

It's reasonable to argue that if the women's game consistently creates more revenue than the men's game then the women deserve more money than the men.

That's not an equal pay for equal work argument. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

It was ridiculous for Warren to make that stretch in her tweet and typical of left-leaning PolitiFact to ignore it in favor of something it would prefer to report.

Did that principle of burden of proof disappear again?

PolitiFact's statement of principles includes a "burden of proof" principle that PolitiFact uses to hypocritically ding politicians who make claims they don't back up while allowing PolitiFact to give those politicians ratings such as "False" even if PolitiFact has not shown the claim false.

The principle pops out of existence at times. Note what PolitiFact says about its evidence touching Warren's claim:
Ultimately, the compensation formulas are too variable — and too little is known about the governing documents — for us to put Warren’s claim on the Truth-O-Meter.
 So instead of the lack of evidence leading to a harsh rating for Warren, in this case it leads to no "Truth-O-Meter" rating at all.

Color us skeptical that PolitiFact could clear up the discrepancy if it bothered to try.


Afters

Given Warren's clear reference to "equal pay for equal work," we should expect a fact checker to note that women who compete professionally in soccer cannot currently field a team that would beat a professional men's team.

Not a peep from PolitiFact.

Women's national teams do compete against men on occasion. That is, they do practice scrimmages against young men on under-17 and under-15 teams. And the boys tend to win.

But PolitiFact is content if you don't know that. Nor does its audience need to know that the U.S. Women's National Team's success makes no kind of coherent argument for equal pay for equal work.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Selection Bias, Magnified

How PolitiFact uses inconsistent application of principles to help Democrats, starring Beto O'Rourke


PolitiFact Bias has repeatedly pointed out how PolitiFact's selection bias problem serves as a trap for its left-leaning journalists (that likely means somewhere between most and all of them). Left-leaning journalists are likely to fact check suspicious claims that look suspicious to left-leaning journalists.

But beyond that left-leaning journalists may suffer the temptation of looking at statements through a left-leaning lens. Fact-checking a Democrat may lead to confirmation bias favoring the Democrat's statement. The journalist may, perhaps unconsciously, emphasize evidence confirming claims coming from liberal sources. Or cutting the fact-finding process short after finding enough to supposedly confirm what the Democrat said.

When Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O'Rourke claimed to have received more votes than any Democrat in the history of Texas, PolitiFact Texas fact-checked the claim and found it "True."

Note that the fact check was written by long-time PolitiFact staffer Louis Jacobson. PolitiFact National employs Jacobson.

It is literally true that O'Rourke received the most votes for a Democrat ever received in the state of Texas. But literal truth is rarely the benchmark for fact checkers. In this case, we immediately noticed a problem with O'Rourke's claim that typically causes fact-checkers to find fault: As the number of voters in Texas grows, the number of raw votes received shrinks in significance. Measuring the percentage of the total vote (48.3 percent for O'Rourke) or the percentage of registered voters (about 25.6 percent) offers a more complete picture of a candidate's electoral strength in a given state.

For comparison, President Jimmy Carter won Texas in 1976 with 2,082,319 votes. Carter's percentage of the vote was 51.1 percent. His percentage of registered voters was 31.2 percent. It follows that Carter's performance in Texas was stronger than O'Rourke's even though Carter received about half as many votes as O'Rourke received.

We pointed out the problem to a PolitiFact Texas employee on Twitter. PolitiFact elected not to update the story to address O'Rourke's potentially misleading point about his electoral strength.

But it's justified resisting the efforts of conservatives to "work the refs," right? Who would think of trying to put the number of votes in context like we did other than right wing zealots?

Try the BBC, for starters. BBC noted that Hillary Clinton received the most presidential votes in history, then promptly tempered that statement of fact with a caveat:
So the proportion of Clinton votes might be more illuminating than simply how many votes she earned.
Indeed. And even PolitiFact Texas devoted more than one paragraph to the context O'Rourke had left out. Yet PolitiFact had the left-leaning sense not to let that missing information interfere with the "True" rating it bestowed on O'Rourke.
Our ruling

O’Rourke said that in 2018 when he ran for senator, "young voter turnout in early voting was up 500%. We won more votes than any Democrat has in the history of the state of Texas."

His assertion about young voter turnout is backed up by an analysis of state election data by the firm TargetSmart. And he’s correct that no Democrat has ever won more raw votes in a Texas statewide election than he has, an accomplishment achieved through a combination of his own electoral success, a pro-Democratic environment in 2018, and Texas’ rapid population growth in recent years.

We rate his statement True.
PolitiFact does not count the missing information significant, even though it was apparently significant enough to mention in the story.

Partial review of PolitiFact's rating system:
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
If O'Rourke's statement did not need clarification or additional information, such as the growing number of voters in Texas, then why did PolitiFact provide that clarifying information?

These gray area "coin flips" between ratings offer yet another avenue for left-leaning fact-checkers to express their bias.

PolitiFact has never revealed any mechanism in its methodology that would address this weakness.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Transparency: How to access PolitiFact's page of corrected or updated fact checks (updated)

It has long amused us here at PolitiFact Bias how difficult PolitiFact makes it for readers to navigate to its page of corrections and updates. There are pretty much three ways to navigate to the page.


Someone could link to it by hotlinking using the page URL.

This is the method PolitiFact uses to make finding the page seem easy-peasy in tweets or other messages. Works great!



The reader could use a search engine to find it

No, not the search function at the PolitiFact website. That will not get you there.

We're talking about a search engine like Google or DuckDuckGo. Search politifact + corrections + and + updates and reaching the page is a snap.


The reader could navigate to the page from PolitiFact's homepage. Maybe. 

This is the amusing part. We've already noted that using the "search" function at the PolitiFact website won't reach its dedicated page of corrected and updated fact checks (other corrections and updates do not yet end up there, unfortunately).

And without a guide such as the one that follows, most people browsing PolitiFact's website would probably never stumble over the page.

How To Do It

Step 1: On the homepage, move the cursor to the top menu bar and hover over "Truth-O-Meter" to trigger the drop-down menu
Step 2: Move the cursor down that menu to "By Subject," click on "By Subject"
Step 3: On the "Subjects" page, move the cursor to the alphabet menu below the main menu, hover over "c," click "c"
Step 4: Move the cursor to the subjects listed under "c," move cursor to hover over "Corrections and Updates," click "Corrections and Updates"

Done! What could be easier?

The key? Knowing that PolitiFact counts "Corrections and Updates" as a category of "statements" defined by PolitiFact as Truth-O-Meter stories. The list of corrections and updates consists only of fact checks. Corrections or updates of explainer articles, promise ratings and flip-flop ratings (etc.) do not end up on PolitiFact's page of corrections and updates.

What you'll find under "c" at PolitiFact.com



Afters


When I (Bryan) designed the Zebra Fact Check website, I put the "Corrections" link on the main menu.



It's not all about criticizing PolitiFact. It's also about showing better and more transparent ways to do fact-checking.

This isn't exactly rocket science. Anybody can figure out that putting an item on the main menu makes it easy to find.

There is reason to suspect that PolitiFact is less than gung-ho about publicizing its corrections and updates.


Update Aug. 5, 2019
: We do have evidence of promise ratings appearing on the list of corrected stories."Flip-O-Meter" stories have subject tags, so we assume those may appear on the list as well.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

More Deceptive "Principles" from PolitiFact

PolitiFact supposedly has a "burden of proof" that it uses to help judge Political claims. If a politician makes a claim and supporting evidence doesn't turn up, PolitiFact considers the claim false.

PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman expounded on the "burden of proof" principle on May 15, 2019 while addressing a gathering at the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia:
If you say something, if you make a factual claim, online, on television, in the newspaper, you should be able to support it with evidence. And if you cannot or will not support that claim with evidence we say you're guilty.

We'll, we'll rate that claim negatively. Right? Especially if you're a person in power. You make a claim about the economy, or health, or development, you should make the claim with the information in your back pocket and say "Here. Here's why it's true." And if you can't, well, you probably shouldn't be making the claim.
As with its other supposed principles, PolitiFact applies "burden of proof" inconsistently. PolitiFact often telegraphs its inconsistency by publishing a 'Splainer or "In Context" article like this May 24, 2019 item:


PolitiFact refrains from putting Milano's statement on its cheesy "Truth-O-Meter" because PolitiFact could not figure out if her statement was true.

Now doesn't that sound exactly like a potential application of the "burden of proof" criterion Sharockman discussed?

Why isn't Milano "guilty"?

In this case PolitiFact found evidence Milano was wrong about what the bill said. But the objective and neutral fact-checkers still could not bring themselves to rate Milano's claim negatively.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
Our conclusion

Milano and others are claiming that a new abortion law in Georgia states that women will be subject to prosecution. It actually doesn’t say that, but that doesn’t mean the opposite — that women can’t be prosecuted for an abortion — is true, either. We’ll have to wait and see how prosecutors and courts interpret the laws before we know which claim is accurate. 
What's so hard about applying principles consistently? If somebody says the bill states something and "It actually doesn't say that" then the claim is false. Right? It's not even a burden of proof issue.

And if somebody says the bill will not allow women to be prosecuted, and PolitiFact wants to use its "burden of proof" criterion to fallaciously reach the conclusion that the statement was false, then go right ahead.

Spare us the lilly-livered inconsistency.

Friday, May 17, 2019

PolitiFact gives "policy trajectory" a "False" rating

Earlier this week PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman said PolitiFact does not rate opinions or predictions.

Also this week, PolitiFact Health Check, the PolitiFact partnership with Kaiser Health News, apparently contradicted Sharockman's claim.

Behold:


If it looks like PolitiFact is fact-checking a prediction, that's because PolitiFact is fact-checking a prediction.

More than one of PolitiFact's pool of four experts apparently saw it exactly that way (bold emphasis added):
But, Adler said, the structure of Trump’s claim — promising what his administration "will" do, rather than commenting on what it has done — leaves open the possibility of taking other steps to keep preexisting condition protections in place.

That’s true, other experts acknowledged. So far, the White House has postponed a legislative push until after the 2020 election — leaving a vacuum if the courts do wipe out the health law.
History shows that PolitiFact will not allow mere expert opinion to stand in the way of the hoped-for narrative. When experts offer opinions that do not fit comfortably with PolitiFact's conclusion, PolitiFact ignores them.

Hilariously, PolitiFact's conclusion uses language strongly suggesting an awareness that it is rating a prediction:
Our ruling

Trump said his administration will "always protect patients with preexisting conditions."

The White House’s policy trajectory does exactly the opposite.
What is "policy trajectory" if it is not a projection of what will happen tomorrow based on Trump administration policy today?

PolitiFact Health Check is not fact-checking Trump. It is rating a pledged policy position. PolitiFact could potentially address such cases with an expansion of its ratings of executive promises ("Trump-O-Meter" etc.).

But this so-called "fact check" makes Sharockman a liar if it isn't corrected somehow.

Monday, May 6, 2019

PolitiFact unfairly harms Joe Biden

On May 6, 2019, PolitiFact fact-checked a claim from Democratic Party presidential hopeful (and frontrunner) Joe Biden.

Biden said he was "always" labeled as one of the most liberal Democrats in Congress.

PolitiFact rated Biden's claim "False." Perhaps the rating is fair. But PolitiFact's would-be paraphrase of Biden's claim, below, treats Biden unfairly.


We think there's room for one to count as a "staunch liberal" without always counting as a one of the most liberal.

PolitiFact, for purposes of its headline, changed Biden's claim from one to the other. In terms of its messaging, PolitiFact offers the opinion that Biden does not count as a staunch liberal.

We think fact checks should stick to the facts and not make headlines out of their opinions. PolitiFact's opinion, trumpeted above its fact check, unfairly harmed Biden.


Note: We have always said that PolitiFact's problems go beyond left-leaning bias. PolitiFact represents fact-checking done poorly. The bad fact-checking unfairly harms right and left, with the right getting the worst of it.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Prescient Sen. Warren, or Gullible PolitiFact?

PolitiFact claims it is "True" Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren saw the financial crisis of 2008 coming.


After announcing in the deck that it was true Warren saw the financial crisis coming, PolitiFact did what it does on occasion: It gave us a fact check that offered hardly any evidence in support of its conclusion.

Having written about this some on Twitter and Facebook already, I can tell our readers that some liberals aren't going to want to admit that Warren claimed she saw a particular crisis coming. But the crisis she supposedly foresaw wasn't merely a crisis for some number of subprime borrowers facing foreclosure. It wasn't just a crisis of predatory lenders preying on people.

It was the crisis that saw many banks failing, lenders not lending and millions losing their jobs.


PolitiFact left no doubt it understood Warren was saying she foresaw that particular crisis, leading with the following:
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren warned about the financial crisis of the 2000s before it happened, she claimed during a CNN town hall where she pitched herself as the best option for president in the 2020 election.
PolitiFact provided no reasonable evidence to show Warren saw that crisis coming. But it still somehow reached the conclusion it was true Warren saw the 2008 financial crisis coming.

We'll review the evidence PolitiFact quoted, the evidence PolitiFact linked and finally look at evidence PolitiFact did not bother to mention.

Sifting the Would-be Evidence 

We start with PolitiFact's presentation of Warren's claim (bold emphasis added):
Warren, a former Harvard Law School professor, told an audience of college students that her whole life’s work has been "about what's happening to working families.

"And starting in the early 2000s, the crisis was coming. I was waving my arms, ringing the bell, doing everything I could. I said families are getting cheated all over this country," Warren said April 22 in Manchester, N.H. "It started when the mortgage companies targeted communities of color. They targeted seniors. They targeted Latinos. They came in and sold the worst possible mortgages and stripped wealth out of those communities, and then took those products across the nation. I went everywhere I could. I talked about it to anyone who would listen, a crisis is coming."

But nobody wanted to listen, Warren said, "so the crisis hit in 2007, 2008, and just took us down."
Warren said she saw a crisis coming. It was the one that hit in 2007, 2008 and "just took us down." She supposedly saw that coming.

The next paragraph from PolitiFact constitutes a non-sequitur (logical fallacy) that characterizes the whole of the fact check:
We confirmed that Warren did raise the alarm about the looming housing and financial crisis. She spoke about debt, financial lending practices and other factors affecting families and the economy years before the financial crisis peaked in 2008.
Does talking about debt, lending practices and other factors affecting the economy and families mean that one has raised the alarm about a looming financial crisis? We say it doesn't unless one says something specific about a looming financial crisis that suitably matches the one we had in 2008.


This cupboard is bare.

We'll hunt through every quotation PolitiFact used and survey every article PolitiFact linked in support of Warren. We cannot quote these sources exhaustively because of copyright issues. But we'll give our readers far more than PolitiFact gave its readers.

PolitiFact:
Warren’s presidential campaign cited several blog posts and comments to media outlets in 2005 and 2006, and Warren’s 2003 book, "The Two-Income Trap," co-authored with her daughter, Amelia Warren Tyagi, as examples of Warren warning about subprime lending and an imminent housing crisis.
PolitiFact does not quote from the listed blog posts (we'll get to those later). Instead PolitiFact leads its presentation of evidence with a quotation from the book it mentions in the same paragraph:
"In the overwhelming majority of cases, subprime lenders prey on families that already own their own homes, rather than expanding access to new homeowners. Fully 80 percent of subprime mortgages involve refinancing loans for families that already own their homes," Warren said in the book. "For these families, subprime lending does nothing more than increase the family's housing costs, taking resources away from other investments and increasing the chances that the family will lose its home if anything goes wrong."
There is no warning of any crisis in that paragraph. There's a warning about borrowing money from the more expensive subprime market. But that warning makes sense regardless of the possibility of an impending financial crisis.

At the risk of understatement, we find PolitiFact's Exhibit A in support of Warren's claim underwhelming.

For Exhibit B, PolitiFact trotted forth part of a 2004 PBS interview:
"I think what the landscape shows is the middle class is under assault in a way that has not happened before in our history," Warren said. "Stagnant wages, rising costs, wildly rising debt. It's in everyone's interest to turn that back around."
Again, there is no warning of any crisis resembling the 2008 financial crisis. Instead, Warren bemoans the fact that the middle class is supposedly under assault. She mentions wages, costs and debt but doesn't tie them together into any type of specific threat.

 PolitiFact cited The New York Times as its Exhibit C:
Professor Warren of Harvard believes that disaster lurks as homeowners borrow against their homes to forestall bankruptcy. When the stock market tumbled five years ago, people in trouble could sell stocks to stay afloat, she said. But home equity doesn't work the same way. As she put it, "You can't sell a part of your home like you could a stock in the stock market bubble."
Like the two preceding exhibits, Exhibit C does not offer any warning of a crisis, unless we count the personal crisis faced by homeowners facing foreclosure. That is the subject of the article and the group facing lurking disaster. The article's kicker quote--from Warren--helps cinch the case.

PolitiFact's Exhibit D consists of comments from a representative of the conservative Housing Center at the American Enterprise Institute.

How did co-director Ed Pinto support Warren's claim that she saw the financial crisis coming?

PolitiFact:
Warren was "substantially correct" in her assessment that home prices were going up rapidly relative to incomes (particularly for households with a one wage earner), said Ed Pinto, co-director of the Housing Center at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
If Warren was right that home prices were going up rapidly compared to incomes then that means there was an impending crisis? One that matches the financial crisis of 2008?

Please, where is the logic (and wouldn't we love to see the interview questions PolitiFact posed to the experts it cited!)?

With its Exhibit E, PolitiFact teases us with a subheader designed to foster (false) hope: "Consumer advocate groups credit Warren for alerting about the crisis"

Now we're getting somewhere?

PolitiFact:
"I remember (Warren) talking about credit card abuses and how they were harming families," [Deborah] Goldstein said. "People were using credit to manage basic daily expenses."

Goldstein said that her group, also concerned about the imminent financial crisis, in the early 2000s communicated with Warren on what could be done about it.
Summing up, we have a secondary source--an interest group that agrees with Warren--saying it was concerned about an imminent financial crisis and "communicated with Warren on what could be done about it."

PolitiFact offers nothing from the Center for Responsible Lending that supports its subheader.

Exhibit F gives us yet another empty endorsement of Warren:
"I'd give then-professor Warren the credit for banging the drum and ringing the bell early on unfair financial practices," said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the Federal Consumer Program at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Warren was the "No. 1 go-to academic expert" in the mid-to-late '90s and 2000s in the debate over changes to the bankruptcy code, he said.
Credit where it's due: If "banging the drum and ringing the bell early on unfair financial practices" was the same as "banging the drum and ringing the bell early on the 2008 financial crisis" then we'd have something. Hearsay, perhaps, lacking documented evidence in support, but at least hearsay would be something.

Exhibits A-F add up to nothing.

PolitiFact goes on to list some of Warren's accomplishments, as though its list somehow contributes to the case that Warren warned about the 2008 financial crisis (we don't see it).


Quoting the unquoted Warren

PolitiFact used a number of hotlinks, presenting them as though they support Warren's claim but without quoting from them (and most often not even paraphrasing or summarizing them).

We'll go through them in the order PolitiFact used them.

Talking Points Memo: "Is Housing More Affordable?"

Sen. Warren wrote a short blog post on Dec. 12, 2005 criticizing an article on home mortgages by David Leonhardt. Warren appeared to dispute Leonhardt's too-rosy picture of housing affordability.

We don't see anything reasonably taken as a warning about a future national financial crisis. It's hard to even pick out a quotation carrying a hint of that suggestion (please read it for yourself, link above).
(B)y picking the reference point as the early 1980s rather than the 1970s or the late 1980s, the NYT is benchmarking off the worst housing market in the second half of the 20th Century. Because inflation was out of control and mortgage rates were stratospheric, home buying was curtailed and housing markets suffered. Is that what we want to hold up as the model for comparison?
We find Warren's presentation well short of apocalyptic.

Talking Points Memo: "Middle Matters"

The next link, from May 26, 2005, leads to an even shorter four paragraph blog entry. Warren warns about pressure on the middle class:
The middle class is being carved up as the main dish in a corporate feast.  Strugging with flat incomes and rising costs for housing, health care, transportation, child care and taxes (yes, taxes), these folks are under a lot of financial strain.  And big corporate interests, led by the consumer finance industry, are devouring families and spitting out the bones.
Warning that the middle class may not always be with us thanks to a smorgasbord of costs serves as a weak foreshadowing of an impending financial crisis. Indeed, that crisis threatened some of the entities Warren blamed for pressuring the middle class.

Talking Points Memo: "Is Housing More Affordable?"

The third blog post PolitiFact linked was the same as the first.

PolitiFact's sidebar source list links three blog posts from Talking Points Memo but the text of the fact check contains three hotlinks referring to "several blog posts."

We'll take this space to note that the titles Warren chose for her blog posts seem pretty tame if she's going all out to warn people about an impending financial crisis ("I went everywhere I could. I talked about it to anyone who would listen, a crisis is coming.")

Talking Points Memo: "Foreclosures Up, Mortgage Brokers Keep on Selling"

The fourth link (third blog post), from April 21, 2006, did contain a warning. It noted that home foreclosures were up and suggested the housing bubble nationally was perhaps close to popping:
So why aren’t the mortgage lenders cutting back now? The problem, says my friend, is that no single bank or investment house owns those mortgages any more. They have passed them along to huge securitized pools, held in diverse ownership. That means a lot less oversight to be sure the big picture on lending makes any sense. And besides, the Army keeps on offering high returns, at least in the short run.

Nationally foreclosures are up 7% this quarter. That’s well behind Boston’s big numbers, but Boston was a leader during the boom. Will it now lead in the bust?
Note: Warren used "Army" in her post to describe the abundance of mortgage sellers.

Housing bubbles that burst do not routinely lead to the financial crisis of 2008 (or similar ones). As for the lending market making sense, it likely would have made more sense in the early 2000s if Republicans and Democrats alike had resisted the temptation to interfere in those markets by pushing and incentivizing lax lending standards. Government regulation was one of the problems leading to the crisis.

Note to Sen. Warren: If you're trying your best to warn people about an impending crisis, try emphasizing that idea in the titles you choose for your articles warning about the impending crisis, like "Impending Crisis Looms" or something like that. The technique makes it look like it's an idea you're trying to emphasize.


Judgment on PolitiFact

PolitiFact used quotations from Warren that did not support her claim to justify calling her claim "True." We think that speaks to PolitiFact's incompetence and secondarily to PolitiFact's leftward tilt.


Judgment on Sen. Warren

Thanks to a commenter at PolitiFact's Facebook page, we found stronger evidence supporting Warren's claim than PolitiFact was able to find. The commenter recalled seeing Warren on PBS sounding some kind of warning. When we found a search result from before 2008 we reviewed the text of an interview with Warren. The last line from Warren was exactly the type of evidence needed to find some truth in her claim:
But they don't see an economic threat to the banks from these massive bankruptcies?

Right now, they think that everyone can keep feeding and that there are still plenty of families to gobble up before they all head over the cliff, financially. But I have to tell you, the numbers are worrisome.
Based on this answer alone, we think Warren could reasonably receive a "Half True" rating. She described a risk of mass foreclosures that would threaten banks. That's short of describing the extent of the 2008 financial crisis, but at least she described one of the basic elements that helped lead to that crisis.

On the other hand, we saw little in the historical record to justify Warren's claim that she vigorously tried to broadcast a warning about an impending national financial crisis.

Perhaps Warren made other statements that would reasonably support her claim. But PolitiFact's fact check was our focus.  It was mostly an accident that we did a better job than PolitiFact at finding evidence supporting Warren.