Saturday, May 2, 2020

'Objective' PolitiFact Uses Biased Framing

Though PolitiFact absurdly tries to claim it is unbiased, its work shows bias in a multitude of ways.

One bias that popped out this week was in PolitiFact's PolitiSplainer about Tara Reade and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Reade has accused Biden of sexual harassment to the point of rape. Her description of the alleged incident would technically meet at least one statutory definition of "rape."

But get a load of PolitiFact introductory paragraph concerning Reade and Biden:
More than two dozen women have accused President Donald Trump of sexual assault, and many of the allegations emerged not long before his election in November 2016. In October of that year, multiple women said he forced himself on them. A few months earlier, another woman who worked with Trump in the 1990s claimed he once pushed her against a wall and put his hand up her skirt.
There's not a word in there about Reade or Biden. The focus is entirely on sexual assault accusations against President Trump.

Why would an explainer on Reade and Biden start out focusing on allegations made against Trump, readers may wonder?

It's journalistic framing. That is, telling a story in a way to convey a particular message. The message in this case is "both sides do it" but Trump did it worse (so if it's between Biden and Trump vote Biden).

This is from the fact-checking organization that in 2018 published an article assuring readers it is unbiased. Because we could not see their faces as they published it we cannot say they published it with straight faces.

Blasey Ford/Kavanaugh, Hill/Thomas

How did PolitiFact treat parallel allegations against Justice Kavanaugh when Christine Blasey Ford accused him of attempted rape? Both sides do it?

Not quite:
As senators weigh the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh amid allegations of sexual misconduct, many Americans are thinking back to a previous example of accusations against a Supreme Court nominee.
Instead of "both sides do it" PolitiFact offered us a frame telling us that Republicans are doing it again. Clarence Thomas, though black, represented male power, which back in the olden days could easily dismiss accusations from women such as Thomas' accuser, Anita Hill:
The 1991 hearing "exposed critical fault lines in the lived-experience of those at the crossroads of race and gender," said Deborah Douglas, a journalist and visiting professor at DePauw University. "Thomas, a black man, could evoke the image of a ‘high-tech lynching’ to plead both innocence and male privilege, trumping the lived experience of a woman who represents a class of woman, the black woman, arguably, the last thought in the American public imagination."

Though Ford is white, gender has played out similarly in both cases, said Douglas, who is African-American.
What's missing from PolitiFact's PolitiSplainer on Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh? PolitiFact offers no assessment of the strength of the evidence. The article notes Anita Hill supposedly had corroborating witnesses, but does nothing to emphasize that point of contrast with the Blasey Ford allegations. Blasey Ford had no helpful corroboration from the time period the incident allegedly occurred. And PolitiFact somehow fails to mention it.

PolitiFact's Reade/Biden story, in contrast, puts focus on the evidence, albeit with signs of bias against Reade.

Spinning the Reade Evidence

Regarding the Larry King Live episode where Reade's mother apparently talked to King about an incident regarding her daughter, PolitiFact left out details supporting Reade's account. PolitiFact allowed excessive doubt to hang over the idea that it was Reade's mother who called:
On April 24, the Intercept reported on an August 1993 Larry King Live episode in which a woman calls into the CNN show to discuss her daughter’s "problems" with a senator. Reade says that caller was her mother, who has since died.
So all we have is Reade's word for it?


Circumstantial evidence PolitiFact left out strongly supports Reade's account. The time frame (1993) matches. PolitiFact mentions the call occurred in 1993 but does not remind readers how this helps support Reade's account.

More importantly, the show identified the caller with the town San Luis Obispo. That's where Reade's mother lived (The Tribune, San Luis Obispo).
The woman who says former Vice President Joe Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993 used to live in Morro Bay and apparently returned here shortly after the alleged incident.

Video uncovered over the weekend and first reported by The Intercept shows an August 1993 segment on CNN’s “Larry King Live” in which a caller from San Luis Obispo County later confirmed by media outlets to be the mother of former Biden staffer Tara Reade appears to confirm that Reade had told her mother of an alleged sexual assault by Biden, who is the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee for president.

Read more here:
PolitiFact saw no reason for its readers to know that.

Note the story we quoted from The Tribune ran on April 28, 2020. PolitiFact's fact check published on April 30, 2020. In fact, CNN had reported the San Luis Obispo connection on April 25, 2020. And PolitiFact doesn't have it figured out by April 30?

Can an unbiased source leave out something like that?

When PolitiFact assures its readers it is unbiased it is lying to them, if not to itself.

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