It's not uncommon to see people lament PolitiFact's left-leaning bias along with the claim that once upon a time PolitiFact did an even-handed job on its fact-checking.
But we've never believed the fairy tale that PolitiFact started out well. It's always been notably biased to the left. And we just stumbled across a PolitiFact fact check from 2008 that does a marvelous job illustrating the point.
It's a well-known fact that nearly half of U.S. citizens pay no net income tax, right?
Yet note how the fact checker, in this case PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair, frames President Obama's claim:
In a speech on March 20, 2008, Obama took a different approach and emphasized the personal cost of the war.Hold on there, PolitiFact.
"When Iraq is costing each household about $100 a month, you're paying a price for this war," he said in the speech in Charleston, W.Va.
How can the cost of the war, divided up per family, rightly get categorized as a "personal cost" when about half of the families aren't paying any net federal income tax?
If the fact check was serious about the personal cost, then it would look at the differences in tax burdens. Families paying a high amount of federal income tax would pay far more than the the price of their cable bill. And families paying either a small amount of income tax or no net income tax would pay much less then the cost of their cable service for the Iraq War (usually $0).
PolitiFact stuffs the information it should have used to pan Obama's claim into paragraph No. 8, where it is effectively quarantined with parentheses (parentheses in the original):
(Of course, Obama's simplified analysis does not reflect the variations in income tax levels. And you don't have to write a check for the war each month. The war costs are included in government spending that is paid for by taxes.)President Obama's statement was literally false and highly misleading as a means of expressing the personal cost of the war.
But PolitiFact couldn't or wouldn't see it and rated Mr. Obama's claim "True."
Not that much has changed, really.
Afters (for fun)
The author of that laughable fact check is the same Bill Adair later elevated to the Knight Chair for Duke University's journalism program.
We imagine Adair earned his academic throne in recognition of his years of neutral and unbiased fact-checking even knowing President Obama was watching him from behind his desk.