Thursday, December 31, 2020

PolitiFact North Carolina struggles with Twitter context

PolitiFact North Carolina's "Pants on Fire" rating awarded to the North Carolina Republican Party on Dec. 29, 2020 likely caps the data for our study of PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" bias. And it gives us the opportunity to show again how PolitiFact struggles to properly apply interpretive principles when looking at Republican claims.

"Democrat Governor @RoyCooperNC has not left the Governor's Mansion since the start of the #COVID19 crisis," the party tweeted on Dec. 27.

Compared to similar claims and barbs, this particular tweet stood out.

That's PolitiFact's presentation of the GOP tweet. The only elaboration occurs in the summary section ("If Your Time Is Short") and later in the story when addressing the explanation from North Carolina GOP spokesperson Tim Wigginton.

Here's that section of the story (bold emphasis added):

Party spokesman Tim Wigginton told PolitiFact NC that the tweet is not meant to be taken literally.

"The tweet is meant metaphorically," Wigginton said, adding that it’s meant to critique the frequency of Cooper’s visits with business owners. He accused Cooper of living "in a bubble … instead of meeting with people devastated by his orders." 

The NC GOP’s tweet gave no indication that the party was calling on Cooper to meet with business owners.

The part in bold is the type of line that attracts a fact checker of fact checkers. 

Was there no indication the tweet was not intended literally?

It turns out that finding something worth widening the investigation merely took clicking the link to the GOP tweet.

I don't see how to embed the tweet, but here's the image accompanying the tweet:

It should strike anyone, even a left-biased fact checker, that the "Where's Cooper" comical graphic is a bit of a strange marriage for the claim Cooper hasn't left the governor's mansion.

That enough isn't enough to take Wigginton at his word, perhaps, but as we noted it does point toward a need for more investigation.

It turns out that the NCRP has tweeted out the image repeatedly in late December, accompanied by a number of statements.

Twitter counts as a new literary animal. Individual tweets are necessarily short on context. Twitter users may provide context a number of ways, such a creating a thread of linked tweets. Or tweeting periodically on a theme. The NCRP "Where's Cooper?" series seems to qualify as the latter. The tweets are tied together contextually by the "Where's Cooper" image, which provides a comical and mocking approach to the series of tweets.

In short, it looks like Wigginton has support for his explanation, and the PolitiFact fact checker, Paul Specht, either didn't notice or did not think the context was important enough to share with his readers.

It's okay for PolitiFact to nitpick whether Cooper had truly refrained from leaving the governor's mansion. The GOP tweets may have left a false impression on that point. But PolitiFact just as surely left a false impression that Wigginton's explanation had no grounding in fact. Specht didn't even mention the Waldo parody image.

"Pants on Fire"?

Hyperbole. Does PolitiFact have a license for hyperbole?

Monday, December 21, 2020

PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" bias in 2020 [Updated Dec. 31, 2020]

Readers, please do not neglect the Dec. 31, 2020 update near the bottom of the post. Thanks!


As we noted in a post one week ago, we changed how we're conducting the "Pants on Fire" bias study to include all of PolitiFact and not just PolitiFact National.

In the past, that might have meant a softening of the liberal bias we find at PolitiFact. But the data appear to show that the state franchises have shifted left to more closely match the leftward lean at PolitiFact National.

The study looks at the percentage of false statements (that's "False" plus "Pants on Fire") that PolitiFact labels "Pants on Fire" for Republicans and Democrats. We count candidates, partisan elected officials or partisan political appointees. Attorney General William Barr, for example, would count as a Republican while holding the AG office under a Republican administration but not as a civilian outside the government.

In 2020, through today, PolitiFact was 4.61 times more likely to rate a claim it regarded as false as "Pants on Fire" if it came from a Republican instead of a Democrat. [Note: 12-31-2020: These numbers may reflect a minor transcription error for the number of "Pants on Fire" claims and probably slightly exaggerate PolitiFact's left-leaning bias. See update below]

Some may think to ask, "Why would that mean PolitiFact is biased? Maybe Republicans just lie more."

It counts as bias because all the evidence shows PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" rating is a subjective judgment. PolitiFact has never offered a justification for the distinction between the two ratings that runs any deeper than because we felt like it.

PolitiFact defines a "False" rating as "The statement is not accurate."

PolitiFact defines a "Pants on Fire" rating as "The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim."

We posit that "ridiculous" is not an objective measure unless somebody makes the effort to define it in objective terms. We find an absence of that effort over the whole of PolitiFact's history.

We also note that PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair and current Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan have made statements that appear to admit the "Pants on Fire" rating is subjective.

Unless an objective basis exists for the "Pants on Fire" rating, the "Republicans lie more" premise does not help explain it except in terms of confirmation bias.

Inside the Numbers

Republican claims PolitiFact regarded as false were rated "Pants on Fire" 28.8 percent of the time. That's only very slightly above the average PolitiFact National established between 2007 and 2019. So why was the bias measurement so much higher this year?

This: PolitiFact was extremely reluctant to give a "Pants on Fire" rating to a Democrat.

PolitiFact only issued three "Pants on Fire" ratings to Democrats in 2020. That's out of 48 claims it regarded as false, resulting in a figure of 6.25 percent. That's far below the PolitiFact National average for Democrats between 2007 and 2019 (about 17 percent).

This Was Predictable

When PolitiFact unveiled and subsequently developed its "Truth-O-Meter" rating system, we saw the day coming when the ratings would clearly reveal bias. We expected to see similar claims receiving different ratings. And once we identified the very likely subjective nature of the "Pants on Fire" rating, we anticipated we would be able to produce a solid evidence of bias using analysis of PolitiFact's ratings.

The problem for PolitiFact stems from the fact that it is impossible to assign ratings objectively and subjectively at the same time and in the same sense.

We have sent our 2020 findings to the International Fact-Checking Network, along with the suggestion that it examine the compatibility between subjective fact checker rating systems and its stipulation (2.1) requiring fact checkers to rate claims by the same standard no matter the source of the claim.

We think either the IFCN must erase that stipulation from its requirements or else fact checkers seeking IFCN verification need to abandon the use of subjective rating systems.

Update Dec. 22, 2020

A new "Pants on Fire" rating for Claudia Tenney (R-NY) brings the PoF percentage for Republicans up to 29.1 percent from the 28.8 percent reported above.

Here's a chart based on the updated data:

Update Dec. 31, 2020

PolitiFact North Carolina came through with a late "Pants on Fire" rating that changes our numbers yet again, and helped bring to our attention a transcription error that probably affected the percentages reported above. We added notes in the above text to highlight that imprecision.

Still, the late "Pants on Fire" rating to the North Carolina Republican Party, which will soon get its own write up here at PFB, boosts the GOP percentage above what we have on our graph to 29.2 percent. That means falsehoods PolitiFact regarded as "Pants on Fire" were 4.58 times more likely to receive a "Pants on Fire" rating coming from a Republican compared to a Democrat.

PolitiFact botches one in Marco Rubio's favor

Though PolitiFact Bias finds PolitiFact biased to the left, we also find that PolitiFact simply stinks at fact-checking. PolitiFact stinketh so much that its mistakes sometimes run against its biased tendencies to unfairly harm Democrats or unfairly help Republicans.

We ran across a clear case of the latter this week while putting together a spreadsheet collection of PolitiFact's "True" ratings. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) received a "True" for a significantly flawed claim about Social Security:

Image capture from

Rubio was right that Social Security had to draw down the Trust Fund balance to pay benefits. But PolitiFact simply didn't bother to look at whether it was happening "for the first time."

It wasn't happening for the first time. It happened often during the 1970s. And in the 1970s Social Security was on-budget. That means that when people claim that Social Security has never contributed to the federal deficit they are quite clearly wrong as a matter of fact.

PolitiFact only looked at one government source in fact-checking Rubio. That source had nothing about whether the Trust Fund drawdown was happening for the first time.

A chart from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget makes the shortfall from the 1970s clear:

It's unlikely PolitiFact was trying to do Rubio a favor. Rather, the staff at PolitiFact probably thought they knew Social Security's financial history was solid and simply did not question when Rubio affirmed that expectation.

We'll attach the "Left Jab" tag to this item even though it did not come from a left-leaning critic of PolitiFact.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Shark-jumping in 2020: YouTube age-restricts PolitiFact Bias' Hitler parody video

Years ago, we joined the trend of creating a parody video using a segment of the movie "Downfall." We dubbed our version "Hitler Finds Out No Pulitzer for PolitiFact in 2014."

Early this morning YouTube sent us an email informing us that it has slapped age restrictions on the video. Supposedly it fails some unnamed aspect of YouTube's community guidelines.

We wanted to let you know that our team has reviewed your content and we don't think it's in line with our Community Guidelines. As a result, we've age-restricted the following content: Video: Hitler Learns PolitiFact has Failed to Win a Pulitzer Prize for the Fifth Straight Year We haven't applied a strike to your channel, and your content is still live for some users on YouTube.

We're mystified as to what community guideline the video might transgress, unless there's something like "Thou Shalt Not Mock PolitiFact" in there somewhere.  Or maybe "shiznit" is on a list of forbidden words.

We still think it's funny.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Changes to the "Pants on Fire Bias" study

Back in 2011 PolitiFact Bias started a study of one measure of PolitiFact's bias. Our study took PolitiFact's "Truth--O-Meter" ratings and looked at the differential between its application of the "False" rating and the "Pants on Fire" rating.

We had noted that the only difference PolitiFact advertised between a "False" rating and a "Pants on Fire" rating is that PolitiFact considers the latter "ridiculous" but not the former. So a "False" statement is a false statement and a "Pants on Fire" statement is a statement that is both false and ridiculous.

Save us your comments like "Well, to me a "Pants on Fire" means PolitiFact believes it was an intentional lie." That's not how PolitiFact has ever defined it.

We kept the study updated for every year from 2007 through 2019. For PolitiFact National, claims viewed as false by PolitiFact (rated either "False" or "Pants on Fire") were over 50 percent more likely to receive a "Pants on Fire" rating than one from a Democrat.

Because "ridiculous" seems like a subjective measure and we could find no unspoken or hidden objective rationale justifying a "Pants on Fire" rating, we judged it was likely a subjective measure. So PolitiFact's preference for doling out the "Pants on Fire" rating to Repubicans instead of the "False" rating, compared to the same measure for Democrats, we argue counts as a legitimate measure of political bias.

PolitiFact's various state operations have varied considerably from PolitiFact National in terms of their "Pants on Fire" bias measure. We say the variations between them support the hypothesis that the ratings are subjective.

Change Time

In 2020, PolitiFact revamped its website. Instead of publishing material from the state franchises to a special domain for each state, PolitiFact changed to a tagging system.

That was not good for our study.

PolitiFact did not, for example, reserve the tag "Wisconsin" for fact checks stemming from the staff at PolitiFact Wisconsin. Any post or article with content dealing with Wisconsin might receive that tag. That means that categorizing the data to match what we did from 2007 through 2019 would mean a giant headache.

To keep things simple, from 2020 onward we'll be lumping all of PolitiFact into one hopper. We will no longer track the state operations separately. That makes things easy. We just have to review that the claimant counts as a Republican or Democrat and log appropriately.

We don't think the trends will change much for all of PolitiFact compared to what we measured for PolitiFact National over the years. The operations that were kinder to Republicans have either shifted left (bubble effect?) or dropped out. We expect Repubicans to be about 50 percent more likely than a Democrat to receive a "Pants on Fire" rating for a statement deemed false. But we'll see.

Future PoF bias charts will not appropriately compare directly to those from the past, like this one:


That will be the final series graph from the first run of the study.


It's worth noting again, we suppose, that "Republicans lie more!" does not help explain the disparity in the graph if our hypothesis about the subjectivity of the ratings is correct. We have no good reason for thinking it is incorrect.

The graph measures percentages, not raw numbers of ratings. Democrats making one "Pants on Fire" statement to go with nine "False" statements ends up as the same percentage as Republicans making 100 "Pants on Fire" statements to go with 900 "false" statements.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Does PolitiFact use consistent standards? No.

PolitiFact misleads when it tells its readers "we are applying the same standards to both sides." PolitiFact's methodology leaves open myriad ways to put fingers on the scale. The scale has fingerprints all over it.

In this article we'll focus on yet another example of uneven application of standards. We'll look at two PolitiFact fact checks in the category of health care, one from a Republican and one from a Democrat.

The Republican

On Nov. 30, 2020 PolitiFact published a fact check of Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) looking at her claim that her healthcare plan would protect Americans with preexisting conditions. PolitiFact issued a "False" judgment on Loeffler's claim.

Why the "False" rating?

PolitiFact's subheading suggested a lack of proof led to the rating: "No proof that Kelly Loeffler will ensure protections for preexisting conditions." 

Aside from the lack of proof, PolitiFact noted that Loeffler's plan proposed using something like high risk pools to help people get their preexisting conditions covered. PolitiFact's "If Your Time is Short" story summary gave Loeffler credit for protections that fall short of those offered by the Affordable Care Act (second bullet):

If Your Time is short

  • The GOP Georgia senator’s new plan offers no details on how protections for people with preexisting health conditions would be ensured.

  • Two provisions in the plan indicate protections will be less than those provided by the Affordable Care Act, experts say.


Why did the protections in Loeffler's plan count for nothing on PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter"? The special insurance groups designed for those with preexisting conditions couldn't even budget the rating up to "Mostly False"? Did PolitiFact assume that when Loeffler said "Americans" she meant "all Americans"? If so, that rationale failed to find its way into the fact check.

The Democrat

People these days tend to know (using that term advisedly) that President Obama's "You can keep your plan" pledge received PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" in 2013. They've tended to forget, with help from PolitiFact, that the claim never received a Truth-O-Meter rating below "Half True." PolitiFact rated Obama's claim twice, in 2009 and in 2012. Both times it received a "Half True" rating. 

We'll use the 2012 rating to see how PolitiFact's application of standards compared to the ones it used for Loeffler.

PolitiFact's summary paragraphs encapsulate its reasoning:

Obama has a reasonable point: His health care law does take pains to allow Americans to keep their health plan if they want to remain on it. But Obama suggests that keeping the insurance you like is guaranteed.

In reality, Americans are not simply able to keep their insurance through thick and thin. Even before the law has taken effect, the rate of forced plan-switching among policyholders every year is substantial, and the CBO figures suggest that the law could increase that rate, at least modestly, even if Americans on balance benefit from the law’s provisions. We rate Obama’s claim Half True.

PolitiFact says Obama has a reasonable point. PolitiFact made no mention in its fact check of Loeffler to detect whether she had a reasonable point that her health care plan offered protections for preexisting conditions. Is that the same standard?

PolitiFact says Obama "suggested" that keeping one's preferred insurance is guaranteed. That might parallel the assumption that Loeffler was saying her plan guarantees coverage for preexisting conditions. PolitiFact's ruling suggests it made that assumption, though the fact check does not say so specifically. But if Obama was similarly making a guarantee, how did he skate with a "Half True" instead of the "False" rating Loeffler's claim received? Is that the same standard?

And speaking of guarantees, remember that PolitiFact docked Loeffler for not having proof that her plain would cover (all?) those with preexisting conditions. What proof did Obama's plan offer? Apparently none, as PolitiFact noted a Congressional Budget Office assessment saying the ACA would accelerate force churn of insurance plans. Is that the same standard?

We say the same standard did not apply to both. If Loeffler's "False" stems from her leading people to falsely believe her plan guarantees coverage for preexisting conditions then Obama's similar misleading would seem to equally earn a "False" rating. Or, both Loeffler and Obama could receive a "Half True" rating.

That they received quite different ratings shows the application of differing standards.

PFB predicts PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" for 2020

Around this time of year PolitiFact typically publishes a story announcing candidates for its pick for the 2020 "Lie of the Year." That's always been an exercise in editorializing, and we've had fun trying to predict the winner.

Last year we didn't do so well!

This time we're not even going to let PolitiFact distract us with its list of candidates. Pretty often none of the candidates end up winning anyway.

I (Bryan) predict PolitiFact will choose "Falsehoods about voter fraud" or the like as its "Lie of the Year." Why? Because PolitiFact has bent over backward to try to whack every election fraud mole on the noggin. And while PolitiFact also focused on coronavirus whack-a-mole (I'd make that the second most likely outcome), the election fraud claims give it a chance to issue a clear parting shot at President Trump. They may even make the "Lie of the Year" specific to Trump or his campaign surrogates. But this year I suspect PolitiFact will want to go with the big tent and cover all sorts of voter fraud claims under its "Lie of the Year."


Jeff adds:

That's a solid pick.

Though I'd argue they hang that around Trump's neck (eg "Trump Campaign's false claims of election fraud")

Bonus points for mentioning how it was an attack on Democracy to question the integrity of our elections.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

TDS symptom: PolitiFact fact checks jokes

 Sure, President Trump says plenty of false things. He truly does.

But that's actually a trap for left-leaning fact checkers who pretend to be nonpartisan. They have a hard time judging when they go too far. Like when they fact check jokes:

PolitiFact's Nov. 1, 2020 item fact-checking President Trump found "Pants on Fire" Trump's claim that his supporters were protecting challenger Joe Biden's campaign bus.

How do we know it was a joke?

We watched video of the Trump appearance where he made the statement. The claim comes in the midst of a segment of a speech done in the style of a classic stand-up comedy routine. Certainly Trump mixed in serious political claims, but many of the lines were intended to provoke laughter, and the one about protecting Biden's bus unquestionably drew laughter. In context, Trump was making a point about the enthusiasm of his supporters, and his story about cars and trucks surrounding the bus emphasized the number of vehicles involved.

PolitiFact played it completely straight:

"You see the way our people, they, you know, they were protecting his bus yesterday," Trump said Nov. 1 during a rally in Michigan. "Because they are nice. They had hundreds of cars."

The FBI’s San Antonio office said Nov. 1 that it is "aware of the incident and investigating."

Trump’s benevolent explanation lacks evidence.

How does a fact checker overlook/omit those contextual clues?

The left-leaning Huffington Post figured it out (bold emphasis added):

President Donald Trump on Sunday mockingly claimed that his supporters were “protecting” a campaign bus belonging to Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden when a caravan of vehicles dangerously surrounded it on a Texas highway, leading to a vehicular collision.

“They were protecting their bus yesterday because they’re nice,” Trump said at a rally in Michigan to cheers, laughter and applause.

If PolitiFact noticed the audience laughing and intentionally suppressed evidence Trump was joking, then PolitiFact deceived its audience by omission.

When PolitiFact catches politicians doing that sort of thing a "Half True" rating often results.

PolitiFact does not hold itself to the same standard it applies to Republican politicians.

Correction 12/13/2020: We misspelled "PolitiFact" on the title line, omitting the first of two i's.

Monday, November 30, 2020

PolitiFact claims it's "Half True" Georgia senator wants to get rid of health care during the COVID-19 pandemic

We found an item that fits beautifully in our traditional category "Words Matter, Except When They Don't" as well as our new category "Rubberstamps for Democrats."


Warnock's exaggeration on this claim qualifies as Trumpian. There's no indication at all, as PolitiFact admits, that Sen. Loeffler wants to get rid of health care ("per se") during the middle of a pandemic. Warnock is talking about Loeffler's (alleged) support of a lawsuit brought by the states that seeks to overturn the ACA as unconstitutional.

Most of the deception in Warnock's claim comes from two twists. 

First, Warnock translates getting rid of Obamacare into getting rid of health care. That's a monstrous stretch. Obamacare counts as an insurance program, not a health care program. Getting rid of Obamacare gets rid of some insurance coverage. It does not get rid of health care.

Second, the structure of Warnock's claim would tell the audience that Loeffler would prefer getting rid of health care during "the middle of a pandemic" to getting rid of health care at some other time (such as not "in the middle of a pandemic." But that's not really at issue. The issue would be whether she believes the ACA is unconstitutional. We shouldn't expect her reading of the law to change during a pandemic.

Even if Warnock were to claim Loeffler favors "getting rid of the Afforable Care Act in the middle of a pandemic" the claim would only count as roughly half true*. Gratuitously allowing "the middle of a pandemic" to stretch from the beginning to the end of the pandemic, we have no real evidence that Loeffler particularly wants the ACA to end during that span. What we (might) have is Loeffler carrying the same opinion about the constitutionality of the ACA regardless of a pandemic.

If the Supreme Court rules on the ACA lawsuit in 2021, as expected, we may be looking at the tail end of the pandemic and not its "middle," and that's assuming the SCOTUS orders a precipitous end to the ACA. There's no particular reason to expect that.

Some experts consider it highly unlikely that the Affordable Care Act would be overturned. And it is important to note that even if the Affordable Care Act is ruled unconstitutional, these impacts would not necessarily take effect the instant that the Supreme Court hands down the verdict.

If the Affordable Care Act was ruled unconstitutional, it would set off a chain of events in the political and legal spheres that are hard to predict in advance. Very likely, Congress and the Administration would take steps shortly after the decision to try to stabilize the situation.

Warnock's ad is a logic-free misleading appeal to emotion. She wants to take health care away from people who are dying! As political ads go, it's about as low as they come.

PolitiFact's "Half True" rating of Warnock's misleading bull hockey serves as just another illustration of PolitiFact's marked leftward lean. It's such a wildly generous "Half True" that it counts as a rubberstamp.

Narrative matters to PolitiFact far more than words (pun not intended, but I'll keep it).


There's a third deception in this fact check, in that Warnock and PolitiFact pull a big switcheroo. 

Loeffler voted against a bill that would keep the Department of Justice from agreeing with lawsuits seeking to overturn the ACA. Warnock and PolitiFact take that as support for the lawsuit, in the absence of other evidence. But maybe Loeffler simply did not want to see Congress try to tie the hands of the constitutionally co-equal executive branch in its dealings with the judicial branch. Loeffler's support for the DoJ's ability to choose its positions on issues would not directly equate to agreeing with the DoJ position on those issues.

PolitiFact glosses over the discrepancy.

That's the kind of thing a fact checker might do if politically biased.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

PolitiFact's 'Rubberstamps for Democrats' program

To be clear, PolitiFact has, as far as we know, no program it calls "Rubberstamps for Democrats." We invented that name for PolitiFact's propensity to put only enough effort into a fact check of a Democrat to find a result that reflects favorably on the Democrat.

PolitiFact Wisconsin gave us a terrific example of the genre with its Nov. 17, 2020 article supporting a narrative promoted by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.).

During a television appearance, Sen. Baldwin said the Department of Homeland Security said the 2020 election was the most secure in the history of the United States.

PolitiFact offered no context to speak of for Sen. Baldwin's remark. See for yourself:

That was the claim from U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, in a Nov. 15, 2020 appearance on WISN-TV’s "UpFront" program

"We heard from the Department of Homeland Security this week that this was probably the most secure election that’s ever been run in the United States," Baldwin said. 

Is it true that some of the nation’s own top cybersecurity experts disagree with Trump?

We're always curious about the context, even if PolitiFact isn't. In this case, we found that the journalist interviewing Sen. Baldwin, Matt Smith, led the senator toward her statement when he introduced her segment of the show (transcript ours, see starting at 1:05 of the video):

Trump has made unsubstantiated allegations of widespread voter fraud about an election the Department of Homeland Security this week called the most secure in American history.
While it's certainly possible Smith and Baldwin heard that report independently, the interview gives the impression Baldwin is just echoing back what Smith had said.

That's clue No. 1 that PolitiFact was looking to give Sen. Baldwin a rubberstamped positive rating. Do fact checkers truly wonder "Is that true?" when a politician echoes back what a journalist said just a couple of minutes before?

More importantly, did the Department of Homeland Security say what Sen. Baldwin and Smith claimed?


Fuzzy Math: (EIS-GCC)+SCC=DHS

Looking at the joint statement to which Sen. Baldwin referred, it is credited to members of the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council (EIS-GCC) and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Committee (SCC).

PolitiFact, judging from its story and its source list, did no digging to find out the specifics of the relationship between the committees and the Department of Homeland Security. Instead, we get this:

On Nov. 12, 2020, officials from two Department of Homeland Security committees — the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council and the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council overseeing cybersecurity — released a joint statement debunking their own boss’s rampant misinformation campaign.

How did PolitiFact conclude that the people who signed the letter were DHS employees under the Trump administration, other than by jumping to conclusions based on similarly spotty reporting from one of its listed sources, Axios?

PolitiFact and Axios simply leave out relevant information. While the committees have members (at least one, anyway) who work under DHS, most, by far, are in the private sector or state government working in a partnership organized by DHS. DHS developed the partnership to improve election security infrastructure. So, when members of the committees release a statement telling us that our election was supremely secure, they are patting themselves on the back: Hey, we did a great job! How about that?!

It's not as if these committees were objectively examining this election compared to others to judge the level of security. If they had done that, we'd have it from them in a detailed report. Now, to be fair, the joint statement lists specific reasons for saying the 2020 election showed improved security. They mention the widespread use of paper ballot backups, allowing elections officials to go back and correct various types of mistakes. And they may have good reason to believe elections systems now have greater resistance to hacking than in the past. However, it is unlikely on its face that the signing members have any solid reason for judging this election more secure than any particular election in the past. If they had any such solid reason they didn't bother mentioning it in their letter.

When journalists like Smith or politicians like Baldwin say the statement came from the Department of Homeland Security they apply or echo misleading spin, implying that the statement has the direct backing of DHS. There is apparently no such backing. The strongest backing apparently comes from the decision of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency--directly under DHS--to publish the joint letter from members of the committees. 

ABC News reported President Trump fired the head of CISA, Christopher Krebs, on Nov. 17, 2020 after Krebs said there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 election.

Krebs said on Nov. 12, 2020 (via the Washington Times) he expected Trump to fire him.

Did PolitiFact make any connection between these events? Not at all. Or if it did, it was deemed unimportant.

In short, the Department of Homeland Security kinda-sorta-but-not-really said what Smith and Baldwin claimed it said. Which is to say it wasn't really DHS but at least one DHS official along with others working in partnership with DHS.

Review: Who they are and what they do:

Election Infrastructure Subsector Government Coordinating Council

Sector Coordinating Councils

Finally, here's a link to a list of the active parties for the elections GCC and SCC. The SCC has representation by voting system companies including Dominion. See for yourself.

To reiterate, it is nothing short of deceptive to represent the joint statement of a GCC and SCC as coming from the Department of Homeland Security. DHS has a finger in the pie, but that's about it.

And it's important to note that it isn't clear at all the select members who put their names on the joint statement carry the authority of their respective councils.


We could do another article on this PolitiFact "fact check" noting that it provides no specific evidence to support its claim that the joint statement "debunks" claims from President Trump.

The statement notably debunks claims from President Donald Trump and others that have alleged massive fraud.

 Does it? Explain how, fact checkers.

Monday, November 16, 2020

PolitiFact, misspellings and minor errors

We have noted that PolitiFact has over the years tried to minimize the impression that it often publishes things that need correction. And PolitiFact's lengthy description of its corrections policy contains loopholes that give its editors a hand in lessening the appearance of fact checker error.

The Case in Point

PolitiFact published a Nov. 10, 2020 PolitiSplainer telling readers how two incumbent Republican senators were attacking Republicans in the Georgia state government over that state's election recount.

PolitiFact reported that the senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, were "facing tough recall elections."

When PolitiFact tweeted out that misinformation to its Twitter audience someone quickly noticed the mistake:


Art Allen was right. Neither Republican senator faces a recall election.

Allen wasn't the only person to highlight the mistake. But the mistake stayed on in PolitiFact's tweets and in the box summarizing the article at the main PolitiFact website (highlights added for emphasis):

To be clear, a recall election is not the same thing as a runoff election.

By November 16 PolitiFact had corrected its error, yet without admitting any wrongdoing.

The page received no "corrections or updates" tag and features no correction or update notice.

How can that be, given that PolitiFact has, according to its editor, one of the most robust and detailed corrections policies in journalism?

It's easy-peasy. And that's because the robust details in the corrections policy are ambiguous. The details make readers think PolitiFact is transparent about its mistakes when in reality the policy features (intentional?) loopholes that allow the fact checker to obscure its history of embarrassing mistakes.

The mistake on "recall elections" was likely treated under this section of PolitiFact's policy:

Typos, grammatical errors, misspellings – We correct typos, grammatical errors, misspellings, transpositions and other small errors without a mark of correction or tag and as soon as they are brought to our attention.

By counting the use of "recall" where "runoff" was meant as a typo, grammatical error, misspelling or other small error, PolitiFact ends up deceiving its audience about the robustness of its corrections policy. When we read (in the same statement of principles) that PolitiFact corrects its errors "with appropriate transparency" we expect that to include an admission when PolitiFact finds itself guilty of spreading misinformation.

PolitiFact undeniably spread misinformation. People who saw only PolitiFact's early tweets highlighting its article were misinformed that Loeffler and Perdue were facing recall elections. Those whose time was short and read only the article summary were similarly misinformed. And PolitiFact, contrary to its commitment under the principles of the International Fact-Checking Network, which it professes to follow, took no steps to make sure those who were misled had the corrected version brought to their attention.

We publish our corrections policy and follow it scrupulously. We correct clearly and transparently in line with our corrections policy, seeking so far as possible to ensure that readers see the corrected version.

That's how these Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists operate. This has always been part of their approach to corrections.

It's embarrassing to mix up "runoff election" with "recall election." Therefore, PolitiFact buries its mistake as though it merely mixed up "its" with "it's."

"Recall" is not a misspelling of "runoff" any more than "Trump" is a misspelling of "Biden." If every wrong word can count as a misspelling then journalists can completely do away with correction notices under a policy like PolitiFact's.

Correction Nov. 16, 2020: In the fifth-to-last paragraph we committed an error similar to PolitiFact's stating that PolitiFact "misinformed that Loeffler and Perdue were facing runoff elections." In fact, PolitiFact misinformed its readers that Loeffler and Perdue were facing recall elections and not runoff elections. Hat tip to Matthew Hoy for catching the error and alerting us to its existence. The problem is fixed with this update.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Viva Frei: PolitiFact is Fake News

Rest assured, PFB readers, the recent lack of new content at PolitiFact Bias has nothing at all to do with improved work at PolitiFact. PolitiFact stinks as badly as ever. We just don't have the time right now to devote to publishing.

But it was worth taking a moment to highlight a video blog by Viva Frei, a Canadian neighbor who happened to notice some problems at PolitiFact.

Frei hits PolitiFact over a story on cash bail, and hits PolitiFact over a fact check of the claim Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, Calif.) broke the law when she tore up the copy of the State of the Union address Trump delivered to her before Congress.

Frei's certainly caught PolitiFact grading a different claim than it claimed to fact check on the bail issue. Only the United States and the Philippines have money bail systems dominated by private commercial bond companies. A good number of other countries have money bail systems, and the claimant, Gavin Newsom, did not bother with that kind of specificity. The "Mostly True" rating could not apply for that reason alone.

Enjoy the video! And hat tip to reader "Brian" for bringing the video to our attention.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

PolitiFact spins Biden's position on forced busing

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden opposed forced busing to achieve racial integration in public schools.

That's obvious from PolitiFact's presentation of its June 29, 2020 of a Facebook meme, right?

PolitiFact Bias tips its hat to Newsbusters, which highlighted this item with a July 10, 2020 article of its own. Newsbusters correctly noted that PolitiFact applied plenty of spin to its article, producing an emphasis on Biden's progressive vision of "orderly integration"--whatever that was supposed to mean--while de-emphasizing the negative.

What is 'Orderly Integration'?

What was Biden's view of the "orderly integration" that was preferable to forced busing? PolitiFact relied on a secondary source, The New York Times, for that information:
Biden argued that housing integration was a better way to desegregate public schools though it would take much longer to implement than a busing plan, the (New York Times') story says.
That's one way to characterize what the Times' story said. Your mileage may vary (ours did):

In a television interview, Mr. Biden called busing an “asinine concept” and said he had “gotten to the point where I think our only recourse to eliminate busing may be a constitutional amendment.” As an alternative, he argued for putting “more money into the black schools” and opening up housing patterns, warning that otherwise “we are going to end up with the races at war.”

“You take people who aren’t racist, people who are good citizens, who believe in equal education and opportunity, and you stunt their children’s intellectual growth by busing them to an inferior school and you’re going to fill them with hatred,” he said in the interview.

We see nothing in the Times' article showing Biden predicted "white flight" as a result of forced busing.

Apparently "orderly integration" means "opening up housing patterns," whatever that means.

The Times mentioned a "television interview" of Biden as its source. The Times did not offer any detail regarding who produced or broadcasted the interview.

What was the Times' Source?
We found a Vox story mentioning a 1975 television interview featuring Biden and touching on the subject of busing. But the supporting link led to a Washington Post archive of a Congressional Record entry of TV News--The People Paper's print interview with Biden. We found no evidence that interview ever aired on television. We suspect Vox and The New York Times' concluded from the newspaper's name that the interview was aired on television. We had little luck finding information about the publication. But the text of the interview supports that it served as the Times' source:
"It ls true that the white man has suppressed the black man, and continues to suppress the black man. It is harder to be black than to be white. But you have to open up avenues for blacks without closing avenues for whites; you don't hold society back to let one segment catch up. You put more money into the black schools for remedial reading programs, you upgrade facilities, you upgrade opportunities, open up housing patterns."
The interview fails to tell us what "open up housing patterns" means. We hoped Googling the phrase would help, but discovered that searching for the specific phrase while excluding "Biden" returned zero hits. Perhaps one day a journalist will think to ask Biden what he was talking about.

Did Biden use 'coded language'?

We were struck by the fact that the fact checkers could not find an expert to denounce Biden's reference to the "racial jungle" as a racist "dog whistle" or "coded language."

To be clear, we hold that any labeling of something as "coded language" or a "dog whistle" needs solid evidence in support. But journalists tend to find it easy to dispense with such formalities when they can find experts or activists willing to make the charge.

Biden's Words Turned on Their Head

PolitiFact's skillfully twisted subheading makes it look like Biden's feared a "racial jungle" would occur without ill-defined "orderly integration." That wording suggests to readers that Biden would have used racial integration to avoid that "racial jungle."

But Biden was saying using forced busing to achieve integration was not orderly and would backfire.

PolitiFact could have avoided the definitional muddle by summarizing Biden using well-understood phrases: Biden believed racial integration using forced busing would lead to his children growing up in a "racial jungle."

PolitiFact avoided using plain speech to communicate Biden's position to its readers.

We got forced busing. Did we get a "racial jungle"?

It looks like PolitiFact was trying to do Biden a favor.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Trump again tries using hyperbole without a license

President Donald Trump said nobody had heard of "Juneteenth," the name given to a day many use to commemorate the end of U.S. slavery, until he popularized it. So PolitiFact fact-checked whether it was true that nobody had heard of it.

The result was a "Pants on Fire" rating. PolitiFact said millions of people knew about Juneteenth before Trump scheduled a campaign rally for that day.

PolitiFact cited the Wall Street Journal for its quotation of Trump. Here's how PolitiFact presented it to readers:

President Donald Trump took credit for boosting awareness of Juneteenth, a day that marks the end of slavery in America.

"I did something good: I made Juneteenth very famous," Mr. Trump said, in a Wall Street Journal interview. "It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it."

PolitiFact claims in its statement of principles it recognizes the literary technique of hyperbole (bold emphasis added):

In deciding which statements to check, we consider these questions:

• Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.

Hyperbole involves the use of exaggeration to make a particular point. Hyperbole works as hyperbole when the audience understands that the exaggeration was not meant literally.

It's as though PolitiFact has caught Mr. Trump red-handed, trying to use hyperbole without a license.

We think Trump's statement certainly bears the obvious signs of hyperbole. If literally nobody had heard of Juneteenth before Trump scheduled his campaign rally, then Trump did not merely make Juneteenth very famous. He helped create it by inspiring others. But Trump's words, in fact, suggest that Juneteenth existed as "an important event, an important time" before that. Those words from Trump cue the average reader that "nobody had ever heard of it" was not meant literally but instead meant that Juneteenth was not well known.

Vice President Joe Biden illustrated what Trump likely meant. A (user-created) video clip from C-SPAN shows Biden on June 11, 2020 apparently expressing the belief that "Juneteenth" was the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The massacre happened on June 1, 1921. Trump's rally was originally scheduled on "Juneteenth,"--June 19, 2020--but was moved back one day to June 20, 2020. The rally took place in Tulsa, which of course was the location of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

If Biden did not know about it then perhaps others did not know about it as well.

Maybe the problem is that PolitiFact does not set partisanship aside when it issues hyperbole licenses.

(Note: we'll add the full complement of tags after publishing, thanks to Blogger's new interface that only remembers one assigned tag when first publishing)

Does PolitiFact deliberately try to cite biased experts? (Updated)

If there's one thing PolitiFact excels at, it's finding biased experts to quote in its fact checks.

Sometimes there's an identifiable conservative, but PolitiFact favors majority rule when it surveys a handful of experts. It seems to us that PolitiFact lately is suppressing the appearance of dissent by not bothering to find a representative sample of experts.

How about a new example?

For this fact check on President Trump's criticism of President Obama, PolitiFact cited three experts, in support of its "Truth-O-Meter" ruling.

Two out of the three were appointed to Mr. Obama's "Task Force on 21st Century Policing." All three have FEC records showing they donate politically to Democrats:
The first two on the list, in fact, specifically donated to Mr. Obama's presidential campaign.  Thus making them perfect experts to comment on Mr. Trump's criticism of Mr. Obama?

Seriously, isn't this set of experts exactly the last sort of thing a nonpartisan fact-checking organization that declares itself "not biased" should do?

As bad as its selection of experts looks, the real problem with the fact check happens when PolitiFact arbitrarily decides that the thing Trump said President Obama did not try to do was "police reform" when Trump said "fix this." Plenty of things can fit under "police reform," and PolitiFact proves it by citing how "the Justice Department did overhaul its rules to address racial profiling."

Other evidence supposedly showing Trump wrong was the task force's (non-binding!) set of recommendations. The paucity of the evidence comes through in PolitiFact's summary:
The record shows that is not true. After the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and related racial justice protests, Obama established a task force to examine better policing practices. The Obama administration also investigated patterns or practices of misconduct in police departments and entered into court-binding agreements that require departments to correct misconduct.
So putting together a task force to make recommendations on police reform is trying to "fix this."

And, for what it's worth, the fact check offered no clear support for its claim "The Obama administration also investigated patterns or practices of misconduct in police departments." PolitiFact included a paragraph describing what the administration supposedly did, but that paragraph did not reference any of its experts and did not cite either by link or by name any source backing the claim.

Mr. Trump was not specific about what he meant by "fix this." Rather than granting fact-checkers license for free interpretation, that type of ambiguity in a statement makes it nearly impossible to fairly fact check the statement. Put simply, a fact checker has to have a pretty clear idea of what a claim means in order to fact check it adequately. Trump may have had in mind his administration's move to create a record of police behavior that would make it hard for officers with poor records to move to a different police department after committing questionable conduct. It's hard to say.

Here's Mr. Trump's statement with some context:
Donald Trump: (11:32)
Under this executive order departments will also need a share of information about credible abuses so that offers with significant issues do not simply move from one police department to the next, that's a problem. And the heads of our police department said, "Whatever you can do about that please let us know." We're letting you know, we're doing a lot about it. In addition, my order will direct federal funding to support officers in dealing with homeless individuals and those who have mental illness and substance abuse problems. We will provide more resources for co-responders, such as social workers who can help officers manage these complex encounters. And this is what they've studied and worked on all their lives, they understand how to do it. We're going to get the best of them put in our police departments and working with our police.

Donald Trump: (12:33)
We will have reform without undermining our many great and extremely talented law enforcement officers. President Obama and Vice President Biden never even tried to fix this during their eight-year period.
We can apparently credit the Obama administration with talking about doing some of the things Trump directed via executive order.

In PolitiFact's estimation, that seems to fully count as trying to actually do them.

And PolitiFact's opinion was backed by experts who give money to Democratic Party politicians, so how could it be wrong?

Update June 21, 2020:

The International Fact-Checking Network Code of Principles

In 2020 the International Fact-Checking Network beefed up its statement of principles, listing more stringent requirements in order to achieve "verified" status in adhering to its Code of Principles.

The requirements are so stringent that we can't help but think that it portends lower standards for applying the standards.

Take this, for example, from the form explaining to organizations how to demonstrate their compliance (bold emphasis added):
3. The applicant discloses in its fact checks relevant interests of the sources it quotes
where the reader might reasonably conclude those interests could influence the
accuracy of the evidence provided.
It also discloses in its fact checks any commercial
or other such relationships it has that a member of the public might reasonably
conclude could influence the findings of the fact-check.
Is there a way to read the requirement in bold that would relieve PolitiFact from the responsibility of disclosing that every one of the experts it chose for this fact check has an FEC record showing support for Democratic Party politics?

If there is, then we expect that IFCN verification will continue, as it has in the past, to serve as a deceitful fig leaf creating the appearance of adherence to standards fact checkers show little interest in following.

We doubt any number of code infractions could make the Poynter-owned IFCN suspend the verification status of Poynter-owned PolitiFact.

Note: Near the time of this update we also updated the list of story tags.

Edit 2050 PDT 6/21/20: Changed "a" "to" and "police" to "of" "for" and "officers" respectively for clarity in penultimate sentence of paragraph immediately preceding Trump 11:32 quote - Jeff

Monday, June 8, 2020

PolitiFact mangles fact check of Larry Elder

Editor's note June 8, 2020: We intended to acknowledge when we published that Newsbusters beat us to the punch with a story on PolitiFact's Larry Elder fact check. Our version does not rely on that version in any sense. We're taking the opportunity with this update to fix an improper use of its/it's in the second paragraph

The reason we do not trust PolitiFact fact-checking?

It's because we accepted PolitiFact's challenge to second-guess its work even before PolitiFact started asking. What we found then isn't pretty. It still isn't pretty.

Let's have a look at PolitiFact's June 5, 2020 fact check of conservative radio talk show host Larry Elder.

In Context

PolitiFact claims, as part of its statement of principles, to fact check claims in their original context.

How did PolitiFact do on that?

As the U.S. entered a second week of protests after the death of George Floyd, conservative radio host Larry Elder argued that "cops rarely kill anybody, let alone an unarmed black person."

"Last year, there were nine unarmed black people killed. Nineteen unarmed white people," Elder said June 2 on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s TV show.

We had no luck getting the linked Fox News video to play. Likely Fox News shoulders the blame for that. We got around the problem by going to a transcript posted at Fox News. A version of the Hannity show we found at an alternative source varied substantially from the Fox News transcript. But the transcript had the words PolitiFact used, so we're assuming the video version we found was somehow corrupted.

Here's the transcript version of Elder's words with bold emphasis to highlight the part PolitiFact quoted:

HANNITY: Shoot him in the leg he said, Larry. If he comes at you, if somebody comes up at you with a knife, just shoot him in the leg and not a word about all the officers shot, killed, injured in the process, that even last night. Not a word today.

LARRY ELDER, SALEM RADIO HOST: Yes, it's unreal. The number one responsibly of government is to protect people and property and that is not happening. And, Sean, what is so maddening about all of this, and we touched on this the other night, the premise is false. It is not true that the police are out there mowing down black people.

Again, according to the CDC, in the last 45 years, black -- killings of blacks by the police have declined 75 percent. Last year, there were nine unarmed black people killed, 19 unarmed white people. Name the unarmed white people who were killed. You can't because the media gives to the impression that this is something that happens all the time.

Obama says this ought not be normal. Mr. Former President, it's not normal, it is rare. Cops rarely kill anybody let alone an unarmed black person. And the idea that this happens all the time is why some of these young people are out in the streets, and it is simply false. Isn't that good news? It's not true!

We consider it an unorthodox treatment of a quotation to present the first part of the quotation before the second part. On the positive side, PolitiFact's construction does appear to capture the point Elder was trying to make: Police rarely kill unarmed black people. Elder's earlier comment about police not "mowing down black people" helps make clear he was talking about intentional actions resulting in the deaths of blacks.

The problem? PolitiFact treated Elder's claim as though he was making a different point.

(T)he number of unarmed people killed in encounters with law enforcement in 2019 is higher for both races than Elder claimed. How much higher is not clear.  What is clear, experts told us, is that despite what Elder’s absolute numbers may suggest, black people in the U.S. have died from fatal encounters with police at a disproportionate rate.
PolitiFact replaces Elder's point with "what Elder's absolute numbers may suggest," and uses the disagreement of experts with that suggestion to suggest Elder's point was wrong.

We'll see that PolitiFact argued a straw man.

Absolute Numbers

Elder was too vague in describing his statistic on police killings of unarmed persons, though arguably the context he established of "mowing down" was a legitimate clue he was talking about shootings. But PolitiFact did not rest its argument on Elder's ambiguity. PolitiFact argued Elder's raw numbers might produce a false impression that police killings of unarmed blacks are not disproportionate.

Elder said police killed nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites.

PolitiFact, using data from "Mapping Police Violence," corrected those numbers counting all deaths caused by police, whether on-duty or off-duty. The findings?

Mapping Police Violence said police killed 28 unarmed blacks and 51 unarmed whites.

By Elder's numbers, killings of unarmed blacks made up 32.1 percent of combined killings of unarmed whites and blacks.

By Mapping Police Violence's numbers, killings of unarmed blacks made up 35.4 percent of combined killings of unarmed whites and blacks.

That does not count as a major difference. If Elder had used the same numbers PolitiFact used PolitiFact could still have claimed Elder's raw numbers "may suggest" black people in the U.S. have not died from fatal encounters with police at a disproportionate rate.

Elder wasn't saying anything about disproportionate rates any more than Mapping Police Violence was. Elder was making the point that the killings have gone down over time to become rare.

Though Mapping Police Violence only posts data back through 2013, its chart from unarmed black victims of police killings would support Elder's point:

Disproportionate Rates?

PolitiFact (citing experts!) said deaths of unarmed black victims of police killings were disproportionally high. But PolitiFact made the comparison in terms of overall U.S. population. That counts as the wrong measure. Finding the proportionality of those killings requires apples-to-apples comparisons of the number of police encounters according to race.

The Centers for Disease Control has done preliminary research in that direction.

Missing the Point?

Bearing in mind Elder's apparent point that black deaths at the hands of police are decreasing, let's review PolitiFact's concluding rationale for its "Mostly False" rating.

PolitiFact credited Elder for using numbers that matched those published by the Washington Post. PolitiFact noted the Post's numbers "have increased since Elder made his claim," but PolitiFact principles say it grades statements according to information available at the time. So the increase to the Post's numbers ought to be moot in grading Elder's claim.

PolitiFact dinged Elder for not including all killings of unarmed blacks. But given Elder's point, his statistic only needs to serve as a representative benchmark for the decrease he claimed. PolitiFact presented no evidence Elder failed to do that. In other words, if counting all killings by police whatever the means leads to the same type of decrease over time, Elder's central point still finds support.

Finally, PolitiFact charged that Elder "omitted important context: that black people in the U.S. are disproportionately killed by police relative to their share of the population. But as we pointed out, share of the population is the wrong measure. In addition, it is not clear that Elder's point needs that context. A decrease in black deaths at the hands of police is a decrease regardless of  whether it remains disproportional. This part of PolitiFact's argument resembles a straw man.

This type of slipshod fact-checking occurs frequently at PolitiFact.

Afters: Experts Among Us

PolitiFact has unceremoniously dumped its past assurance to readers that it cites unbiased experts. Surveying the pool of experts PolitiFact cites tends to show a distinct leftward lean. Let's have a look at the pool of experts for this fact check:

  1. Frank Edwards: No FEC record we could find. Twitter account offers mere hints of a leftward lean
  2. Lorie Fridell: FEC record shows she gives to Democrats
  3. Brian Burghart: No FEC record we could find. Job: journalist
A leftward lean does not make an expert wrong, of course. We do find PolitiFact has an apparent history of picking sources that fit its chosen narrative while leaving out dissenting voices. And that tendency seems worse than ever this year.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Facebook should flag itself

We got tagged on Facebook by a person who apparently had one of their posts flagged through Facebook's fact-checker partnership. The original post did not show for us (we're looking into that), but we found it amusing that Facebook's notice contains a falsehood:

It's this part: "All fact-checkers who partner with Facebook must be signatories of the International Fact-Checking Network and follow their Code of Principles."

The IFCN verification process is soft. For example, IFCN signatories agree to "scrupulously" follow a clearly stated corrections policy. Zebra Fact Check has pointed out numerous times PolitiFact has failed in its adherence to its own corrections policy. What happens to PolitiFact as a result? Nothing. We've seen no apparent break in the Facebook partnership. More concerning than that, PolitiFact has still not acted to correct the great bulk of the errors that we've pointed out over the years. That includes things like botching a quotation. It's mostly stuff that's black-and-white error, not any kind of matter of opinion.

So, when Facebook tells you its fact checkers follow the IFCN Code of Principles they're trusting the IFCN to do the enforcement. And it just isn't happening in any strict sense.

It's worth noting, of course, that the non-profit Poynter Institute owns both PolitiFact and the accountability organization that oversees PolitiFact. No problem there, right?

PolitiFact: A peaceful protest is a peaceful protest is a peaceful protest

When President Trump said he supports peaceful protestors, the protectors of democracy at PolitiFact jumped into their batmobile and sprang into action, ready and willing to confront Trump's rhetoric with conflations of constitutional right to assembly with other forms of peaceful protest.
Trump has said before that peaceful protests are the hallmark of democracy.


But Trump has also pushed back against protests, especially the Black Lives Matter movement. We reviewed his record.
Did Trump push back against the right to protest or was it against the content of the protest? Do we even care?

To illustrate Trump's pushback against protests, especially Black Lives Matter protests, PolitiFact led with a lengthy subsection on former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, while doing his job for an NFL football team, knelt during the National Anthem in support of the Black Lives Matter cause. The performance of the National Anthem precedes the start of NFL games.

It's not a freedom of assembly issue. But if Kaepernick assembled with others peacefully in public to take a knee during a performance of the anthem and Trump opposed the assembly and not the point of the protest, then PolitiFact would have Trump dead to rights.

That's a big "if."

Strike one.

Next up, PolitiFact presented the example of Rep. Maxine Waters, who called for U.S. society to shun and harass the members of Mr. Trump's cabinet. Presumably refusing service and generally harrassing Trump's cabinet on ideological grounds passes as some sort of peaceful pubic protest. PolitiFact made no particular effort to associate Waters' recommended protest with the Black Lives Matter movement, instead attaching it to border policy.

It doesn't seem certain that trying to totally exclude Trump's cabinet from conducting any type of business in public, including dining and grocery shopping, properly counts as a peaceful protest. If everyone followed Waters' prescription the Cabinet would need to grow its own food or else starve unless it met the demands of the peaceful protestors.

Needless to say, PolitiFact doesn't delve into that.

Strike two.

Apparently PolitiiFact finished with Trump's focus in opposition to Black Lives Matter, moving on to Mr. Trump's intolerance of heckling at his campaign rallies.

PolitiFact does not point out that heckling at a private rally open to the public is not a good example of the exercise of the right to free assembly.
Leading up the 2016 election, then-candidate Trump reserved harsh words for protesters who popped up at his rallies, including those whose actions were peaceful.
For PolitiFact, there is no important distinction between showing up to heckle at a campaign rally held in a private venue and the right to public assembly. Peaceful protest is peaceful protest is peaceful protest. I wonder how long I could peacefully protest in Jon Greenberg's office before seeing the issuance of a trespass order?

Greenberg opposes peaceful protest.

See how that works?

Strike three.

But PolitiFact lacks the good grace to return to the dugout after merely three strikes:

When opponents of placing Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court marched and rallied, Trump referred to them as "a mob" and tagged all Democrats in the midterm elections as "too extreme and too dangerous to govern." 

"Republicans believe in the rule of law — not the rule of the mob," Trump tweeted Oct. 11, 2018.

We're not sure how PolitiFact deduced that Trump was talking about peaceful protests in his tweet. He wasn't responding to anybody else's tweet. We suppose that PolitiFact's sole evidence was the date of the tweet plus Trump's use of the word "mob." Because fact-checking?

Here's the tweet:
Are we playing "Pin the Context on the Tweet" or what?

And how would opposing giving in to protestors' demands oppose their right to protest? Is it appropriate to conflate opposition to protestors' demands with opposition to their right to peacefully protest?

Isn't that exactly what PolitiFact is doing?

It appears to us that PolitiFact argues that one cannot support peaceful protest without supporting the specific demands of the peaceful protestors.

But that's insane isn't it?

A fair examination of the topic must draw the distinction between supporting the right to protest and supporting the specific cause of the protestors.

Strike four. Go sit down, PolitiFact.