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.

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