Back in 2018 we published a post that lists the main points in our argument that PolitiFact leans left. But today's example doesn't quite fit any of the items on that list, so we're adding to it:
PolitiFact's treatment of ambiguity leans leftWhen politicians make statements that may mean more than one thing, PolitiFact tends to see the ambiguity in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.
That's the nature of this example, updating an observation from my old blog Sublime Bloviations back in 2011.
When politician say "taxes" and does not describe in context what taxes are they talking about, what do they mean?
PolitiFact decided the Republican, Michele Bachmann, was talking about all taxes.
PolitiFact decided the Democrat, Marcia Fudge, was talking about income taxes.
Based on the differing interpretations, Bachmann got a "False" rating from PolitiFact while Fudge received a "True" rating.
That brings us to the 2020 election campaign and PolitiFact's not-really-a-fact-check article "Fact-checking the Democratic claim that Amazon doesn't pay taxes."
The article isn't a fact check as such because PolitiFact skipped out on giving "Truth-O-Meter" ratings to Andrew Yang and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Both could easily have scored Bachmannesque "False" ratings.
Yang and Warren both said about the same thing, that Amazon paid no taxes.
Various news agencies have reported that Amazon paid no federal corporate income taxes in 2017 and 2018. But news reports have also made clear that Amazon paid taxes other than federal corporate income taxes.
Of course neither Yang nor Warren will receive the "False" rating PolitiFact bestowed on Bachmann for a comparable error. PolitiFact treated both their statements as though they restricted their claims to federal corporate income tax.
Is it true that despite making billions of dollars, Amazon pays zero dollars in federal income tax?
Short answer: Amazon’s tax returns are private, so we don’t know for sure what Amazon pays in federal taxes. But Amazon’s estimates on its annual 10-K filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission are the closest information we have on this matter. They show mixed results for the past three years: no federal income tax payments for 2017 and 2018, but yes on payments for 2019.
That's the type of impartiality a Democrat can usually expect from PolitiFact. They do not need to specify what kind of taxes they are talking about. PolitiFact will interpret their statements charitably.
It's worth noting that PolitiFact admitted not knowing whether Amazon paid federal income taxes in 2017 and 2018 ("we don’t know for sure what Amazon pays in federal taxes"). And PolitiFact suspends its "burden of proof" criterion yet again for Democrats.
Feb. 10, 2020: Edited to remove a few characters of feline keyboard interference.