Sunday, December 19, 2021

BizPacReview: PolitiFact's 2021 LOTY 'just a liberal talking point all dressed up for prom'

Sierra Marlee, in an article published at BizPacReview, fairly summed up PolitiFact's ho-hum "Lie of the Year" for 2021.

PolitiFact, a fact-checking site that purports to be an unbiased source of information, has chosen its 2021 “Lie of the Year” and it’s a doozy.

The organization picked the one topic that could be found on every Democratic talking points sheet from January until December: The Capitol Hill riot. Specifically, they decided to select all of the claims and statements “downplaying the realities and significance of the Capitol insurrection.”

That opening description ended up under the title "PolitiFact’s lie of the year is just a liberal talking point all dressed up for prom."

That sounds about right. 

Marlee lets tweets from PolitiFact and its critics tell most of the story. Apparently that's a new journalistic genre.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

LIndsey Graham out of context

Here we go again. PolitiFact has had quite a run in 2021 when it comes to taking Republicans' claims out of context.

This latest one forced me to set aside other projects that have crow(d)ed out PolitiFact Bias posts.

Did Sen. Graham say the CBO says the "Build Back Better" Act would amount to $3 trillion in deficit spending. 

He did say that, but PolitiFact took it out of context.

PolitiFact explained to its readers that Graham was talking about a modified version of the "Build Back Better" Act (bold emphasis added):

Graham said the CBO predicted the Build Back Better Act would add $3 trillion to deficits over 10 years.

He’s referring to a bill that’s not the Build Back Better Act. At Graham’s request, the CBO looked at the impact of extending the temporary programs in the bill for a full 10 years. That is an assessment of a hypothetical situation, not the bill at hand. 

We rate this claim False.

What's the problem with PolitiFact's reasoning?

It was clear in context that Graham was talking about the CBO's scoring of permanent versions of the bill's temporary provisions. The Fox News interviewer, Chris Wallace, made that clear at the outset of the interview (bold for the portion PolitiFact may have relied on for its quotation of Graham):

WALLACE: You commissioned the Congressional Budget Office to project how much Build Back Better will cost over the 10 years, assuming that the programs that are in it, the spending programs that are in it, go on for 10 years and are not as in the case with child care just for one year.

GRAHAM: Right.

WALLACE: The CBO found, instead of adding $200 billion to the deficit, it will add $3 trillion to the deficit. But, Senator, the White House says that that's fake because if the programs are extended, they'll find ways to pay for them.

GRAHAM: Well, give me a plan to pay for them then. President Biden said the bill was fully -- fully paid for. Vice President Harris said it was paid for. Schumer, Pelosi, Secretary of Treasury Yellen. The CBO says it's not paid for. It's $3 trillion of deficit spending. It's not $1.75 trillion over 10 years, it's $4.9 trillion.
We doubt PolitiFact's headline version of Graham's statement qualifies as proper application of AP style for quotations. But the main point is that, in context, Graham would be understood to be talking about the added cost of making the temporary measures permanent. And PolitiFact affirms what Graham says about that CBO projection.

So how does Graham warrant a "False" rating if he wasn't trying to fool people into thinking the new CBO scoring was for the version of the bill with the temporary provisions?

PolitiFact's Twist on the Committee For a Responsible Budget

Also of note, PolitiFact's fact check takes the Committee For a Responsible Budget out of context, using a part of one of its articles to make Graham look out of line for citing the CBO's scoring of the bill with the temporary provisions made permanent:

Modified means the CBO scored a bill that’s different from the one on the table.

"These estimates do not reflect what is actually written in the Build Back Better Act nor its official cost for scorekeeping purposes," the deficit hawk group Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget wrote. "Lawmakers may choose to allow some provisions to expire, to extend some as written, and to modify some."

That's exactly what the Committee said, but it was in the context of explaining the CBO's alternative scoring and comparing that scoring to the Committee's own alternative scoring of "Build Back Better" with its temporary provisions made permanent (highlights for the portion PolitiFact cherry picked):

Importantly, these estimates do not reflect what is actually written in the Build Back Better Act nor its official cost for scorekeeping purposes. Lawmakers may choose to allow some provisions to expire, to extend some as written, and to modify some. To offset the cost of extending these provisions as President Biden has committed, they would need to more than double current offsets in the bill. Extending programs without these offsets would substantially increase in the debt. $3 trillion of new debt would increase debt to over 116 percent of Gross Domestic Product in 2031, up from 107.5 percent under current law.

The Build Back Better Act relies on a substantial amount of short-term policies and arbitrary sunsets to reduce its cost, raising the possibility of deficit-financed extensions in future years. A more robust and fiscally responsible package would not rely on these gimmicks to achieve deficit neutrality.

The second paragraph in particular aligns well with Sen. Graham's criticism of "Build Back Better."

PolitiFact hid that also from its readers, along with the fact that Graham was obviously talking about the CBO's scoring of temporary provisions made permanent.

Such fact-checking is no better than lying.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

MetaFact Group: PolitiFact “fact-checks” accurate reporting about study showing vaccines provide less immunity than prior infections

A relative newcomer to the fact-checking the fact-checkers club, MetaFact Group, today published an on-target item showing yet another example of a misleading PolitiFact technique.

It's PolitiFact's method of putting words, or at least an implied argument, into the mouth of another.

PolitiFact has rated as “half true” a headline by the Gateway Pundit that accurately summarizes the findings of a study by Maccabi Healthcare and Tel Aviv University, showing those vaccinated against COVID-19 were 13 times more likely to still be infected than those not vaccinated (but recovered from covid--Ed.). The study states “SARS-CoV-2-naĆÆve vaccinees had a 13.06-fold (95% CI, 8.08 to 21.11) increased risk for breakthrough infection with the Delta variant compared to those previously infected.”

PolitiFact said the headline was misleading because the study had not yet passed peer review and the headline also supposedly implied that it was a good idea not to receive the vaccine (bold emphasis added):

The headline accurately reflects some of the study’s findings but ignores the study’s limitations, including that only one vaccine was tested, and that other studies have found that COVID-19 poses much greater danger to people who have not been vaccinated.

Without that context, the headline leaves the impression that it’s safer to get COVID-19 and hope to recover than to try to avoid it by getting vaccinated. That’s not true.

This is the same PolitiFact that recently told us that fossil fuel power plants kill millions of birds annually without informing its readers that the estimate was based almost entirely on predictions of how many birds climate change might kill in the future. The research paper averaged predicted future bird deaths out over a 40-year period. Because science. See more details at Bryan's Zebra Fact Check site.

It's okay for PolitiFact fact checkers to skimp on context. But it's not okay for you, me, or Gateway Pundit.

MetaFact Group also made a critical point about the legitimacy of the Gateway Pundit article:

(K)nowing that natural immunity maybe [sic] superior to vaccine-based immunity is a relevant point of discussion for a university considering whether it can mandate its students, faculty and staff take the COVID-19 vaccines.
Read the article at Meta Fact Group and bookmark the site.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Search engine update!

Occasionally we get curious about how search engines are treating the PolitiFact Bias site. We have a number of SEO advantages, perhaps the strongest being the lack of advertising.

One of our advantage was using the (still free!) Google Blogger platform. Once upon a time, using that platform gained an SEO advantage from the Google search engine. But times change, and Google's algorithms also change.

Results are mine. Thanks to algorithms, your results may vary:

DuckDuckGo: No. 1, if we don't count the sponsored link. Otherwise No. 2.

Bing: No. 1.

Google: Our Twitter account is No. 4, thanks to Jeff's fine work.

Our Facebook page ends up at the bottom of the second page of hits.

This website comes in as the fourth hit on Google's third page of results.

We count this as a result of Google's successful effort to elevate "reliable" websites and downgrade dubious ones in its search results.

Even when the dubious ones are right and the "reliable" ones are wrong.

Friday, August 27, 2021

PolitiFact creates smear of Dan Patrick by evaluating invented claim

PolitiFact took something Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) said and completely transformed it into something PolitiFact could give a "False" rating.

It's another clear illustration of the fact-checking methodology PFB co-founder Jeff borrowed for use on the PolitiFact Bias Facebook page years ago.

It's from

PolitiFact cheats by giving Patrick's statement a wild interpretation and then declares him a liar.

Let's break it down, starting with PolitiFact's headline/graphic/deck presentation.

If we were to interpret Patrick hyper-literally, he starts right off with a falsehood. Democrats do not blame Republicans on low vaccination rates. Rather, they blame Republicans for low vaccinations rates (leading to growth of the covid-19 pandemic).

Hopefully, it's plain that using such an interpretation counts as pedantic. It's plain from the context what Patrick was trying to say.

Patrick follows with "Well, the biggest group in most states are African Americans who have not been vaccinated." The context does less to clarify Patrick's meaning, but the meaning has to fit with his point: He aims to undercut the Democratic Party's narrative that unvaccinated Republicans drive the covid-19 resurgence. Patrick's last line in the quotation supports that interpretation ("90% of them vote for Democrats").

Either of two meanings would fit the context of Patrick's point as we have described it. Patrick could be talking about the raw numbers of unvaccinated African Americans--plainly a stretch given that Blacks make up less than 14% of the population--or he could mean that in most states Blacks are the demographic with the lowest vaccination rate.

Either interpretation might serve Patrick's purpose, and PolitiFact reported he later clarified that he was talking about low vaccination rates, not sheer numbers of unvaccinated Blacks.

But that's not how PolitiFact plays media fact checkers.

Here's the big cheat (bold emphasis added):

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, asked last week to defend the Texas response to surging coronavirus cases, blamed Democrats for the present COVID-19 wave, specifically African Americans, who he said are reliable Democratic voters.

Where is PolitiFact's proof that Patrick blamed Democrats, particularly Black Democrats, for the recent COVID-19 wave?

Here's PolitiFact's second mention of Patrick's alleged point:

Regardless of whether or not he was referring to vaccination rates, he did not seek to change his main point, that Black populations are playing a major role in fueling the present COVID-19 surge. But there’s no evidence to support that. 
PolitiFact should have noted that "there's no evidence to support that" Patrick's main point was "that Black populations are playing a major role in fueling the present COVID-19 surge."


Oddly, by the time PolitiFact reached its concluding section Patrick's point had changed to something else: Democrats are responsible for vaccine hesitancy!


In an attempt to blame vaccine hesitancy on Democrats, Patrick said on Fox News that the biggest group of unvaccinated people in most states is African Americans.

There's likewise no evidence Patrick was blaming vaccine hesitancy on Democrats, though he did say Democrats were not doing enough to get Blacks vaccinated.

Second paragraph of PolitiFact's conclusion:

His on-air statement is wrong. Black people aren’t the largest group of unvaccinated people in any state. But his revised statement, that vaccination rates among the Black population lag behind that of other racial groups, is correct. 
With two plausible ways to interpret Patrick's statement, PolitiFact chose the one it could rate false and apparently gave no consideration to the one it said was true when levying its "False" rating.

We fully grant that the interpretation PolitiFact chose was the more literal of the two. But the same condition that holds when we interpret "on" as "for" when Patrick started speaking holds for Patrick's second sentence. The Fox News host asked Patrick for a quick response. Quick responses may understandably require charitable interpretation.

PolitiFact prefers not to do that for Patrick's second sentence. And that, plus the point PolitiFact chose for Patrick, resulted in the "False" rating.

PolitiFact cheated to make Patrick a liar.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

PolitiFact supplies misleading missing context

This week the fact checkers at PolitiFact fixed a supposed problem with missing context by supplying completely misleading context.

Gohmert wasn't talking about solar panel farms. He was talking about facilities that concentrate reflected sunlight. Nor did Gohmert suggest avian deaths would bring the nation down. But those blunders represent the least of our worries.

The big problem in the fact check comes from its attempt to set the record straight. PolitiFact claimed Gohmert left out the fact that fossil fuel plants cause far more deaths than solar energy plants like the one Gohmert mentioned: "Solar farms kill thousands of birds, but not as many as fossil fuel plants."

"Is that true?" we wondered.

It may be true, we suppose. But the reasoning PolitiFact provided was illegitimate.

"It is wrong to single out solar and wind (power) as having bird mortality issues," said David Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship. "The estimated number of birds killed by fossil fuel power plants through collisions, electrocution and poisoning actually dwarfs those attributed to solar and wind."

A 2016 study found that solar power plants cause 37,800 to 138,600 annual avian deaths in the U.S., compared with 14.5 million attributed to fossil fuel power plants. Another study attributed 365 million to 988 million avian deaths to collisions with buildings and windows.

The big problem (there are many small problems in the fact check) starts between the two paragraphs above. The Jenkins quotation sets up the reader to expect that avian deaths caused by fossil fuel plants will represent deaths from "collisions, electrocution and poisoning."

But the second paragraph betrays that expectation. The 14.5 million estimate in the second paragraph comes almost entirely from the predicted effects of climate change.

We must be kidding, right?

We're not kidding.

PolitiFact's link leads to A preliminary assessment of avian mortality at utility-scale solar energy facilities in the United States, hosted at Science Direct. That paper estimates bird deaths at facilities like the Ivanpah solar facility Gohmert mentioned, including those under construction. The paper says it includes collisions with facility structures along with birds killed while trying to fly through the concentrated sunlight (formatting tweaked to help simulate the appearance of the original):

There are currently 2 known types of direct solar energy-related bird mortality [9], [12], [13]:

  1. Collision-related mortality – mortality resulting from the direct contact of the bird with a solar project structure(s). This type of mortality has been documented at solar projects of all technology types.
  2. Solar flux-related mortality – mortality resulting from the burning/singeing effects of exposure to concentrated sunlight. Mortality may result in several ways: (a) direct mortality; (b) singeing of flight feathers that cause loss of flight ability, leading to impact with other objects; or (c) impairment of flight capability to reduce the ability to forage or avoid predators, resulting in starvation or predation of the individual [12]. Solar flux-related mortality has been observed only at facilities employing power tower technologies.

As for the estimate for fossil fuel energy generation, the authors derived that based on research from an earlier paper:

We ... used the mortalities calculated by Sovacool [25] as an estimate of avian mortalities associated with fossil fuel power plants across the United States.

The Sovacool paper did not limit itself to the avian death categories PolitiFact mentioned. PolitiFact readers would naturally conclude that in a typical year such as 2019 (after the study was published), fossil fuel power generation resulted in approximately 14 million dead birds from collisions, electrocutions and poisoning.

That's false.

In fact, the study got nearly that entire number by estimating future effects on bird populations in the United States from climate change.

So this PolitiFact fact check will be in the running for worst fact check of the year.


Adding the avian deaths from coal mining, plant operation, acid rain, mercury, and climate change together results in a total of 5.18 fatalities per GWh (see Table 3).
Table 3:


Table 3 makes abundantly clear that Sovacool draws the great bulk of estimated avian deaths from fossil fuel electricity generation on the future effects of climate change.

Footnote No. 6 on the previous page makes that conclusion inescapable (bold emphasis added):

While there are more than 9800 species and an estimated global population of 100 billion to one trillion individual wild birds in the world, only 5.6 billion birds live in United States during the summer (Hughes et al., 1997; Elliott, 2003; Hassan et al., 2005). Taking the mean in climate change induced avian deaths expected by Thomas et al. (26%), one gets 1.5 billion birds spread across 41 years for the United States, or an average of 36.6 million dead birds per year. Attributing 39% of these deaths to power plants (responsible for 39% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions), one gets 14.3 million birds for 2.87 million GWh per year, or 4.98 deaths per GWh.

Note that the number in Sovacool's footnote closely matches the estimate from paper PolitiFact cited (14.5 million annually).

So PolitiFact is peddling an apples-to-oranges comparison between two types of bird deaths at solar energy power plants and future predicted climate change effects from fossil fuel energy plants. And doesn't tell you that's what it's doing.

It's hypocrisy of the highest order.

There are more layers to this BS narrative on bird deaths from fossil fuels, but suffice it to say that PolitiFact's claim that fossil fuel generation causes far more bird deaths than solar is far more misleading than Gohmert's claim about Ivanpah.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

PolitiFact's shell game with claim selection

There they go again.

We've pointed out the bias inherent in PolitiFact's choices about what parts of a claim to rate. And they're at it again at PolitiFact, this time at PolitiFact Wisconsin:

PolitiFact Wisconsin based its "Pants on Fire" judgment solely on the source of the money.

  • Cost: about $50k (true)
  • Source of funds: tax dollars (false)
  • Rock considered a symbol of racism by some (true)

So guess where PolitiFact puts its story focus? Take it away, PF:

For this fact-check, we’ll be focusing on her claim that Wisconsin taxpayers were on the hook for the rock removal.
So PolitiFact didn't consider the amount spent on the rock removal or the reason it was moved.

Totally legit? No. It's one of the easy avenues for bias to enter fact-checking, which some people hilariously believe is strictly the telling of facts.

We've brought up in the past the "Mostly True" rating Barack Obama received during the Democratic presidential primaries when he claimed his uncle had helped liberate Auschwitz.

Here's that set of claims, for comparison:

  • Uncle among Allied troops liberating concentration camp (true/truish)
  • Auschwitz: (false--Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz)

In Obama's case, PolitiFact downplayed a claim it could have chosen to make the focus of its fact check. Instead, it prioritized everything else in the claim to justify the "Mostly True" rating.

To avoid that manifestation of bias, a fact checker needs to employ the same standards consistently. Picking and choosing story focus counts as yet another subjective aspect of fact check ratings.

It's a scam. And it's a lie to call it unbiased.

Yet that's what PolitiFact does.

Obama could have received a "Pants on Fire" rating with a story focus on whether his uncle liberated Auschwitz.

Campos-Duffy could have received a "Mostly True" with a story focus taking her whole claim into account and giving her credit for the true elements.

And we want these people partnering with Facebook to help decide what get throttled down?

Updated seconds after publication to tag the PolitiFact writer Laura Schulte.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

PolitiFact attack on DeSantis attacks a straw man

PolitiFact's supposed fact check of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida did not fact check what DeSantis said. Instead it attacked a straw man version of DeSantis' words.

The tag we use on these kinds of stories here at PolitiFact Bias is "altered claims." It's a relatively common occurrence. We just don't have time to document them all.

The problem sticking out like a sore thumb yet invisible to PolitiFact? DeSantis didn't say anything about what's driving the coronavirus surge. Look for yourself. Here's PolitiFact's account of what DeSantis said, with our highlights of DeSantis' actual words:

DeSantis unloaded on Biden during an Aug. 4 news conference in Panama City, Fla. 

"He’s imported more virus from around the world by having a wide open southern border. You have hundreds of thousands of people pouring across every month," DeSantis said. "You have over 100 different countries where people are pouring through. Not only are they letting them through — they're then farming them out all across our communities across this country. Putting them on planes, putting them on buses."

DeSantis doubled down in a fundraising letter later that day: "Joe Biden has the nerve to tell me to get out of the way on COVID while he lets COVID-infected migrants pour over our southern border by the hundreds of thousands. No elected official is doing more to enable the transmission of COVID in America than Joe Biden with his open borders policies."

See? There's not a word from DeSantis about what's driving the current coronavirus surge.

Perhaps the fact checkers somehow derived the core of their fact check based on the news report they cited in the story (WPTV):

DeSantis accused Biden of accelerating the pandemic through lax security at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But again, DeSantis didn't say anything about accelerating the pandemic. He said Biden's border policy was "helping to facilitate" the spread of covid-19:

(")And so he's not shutting down the virus, he's helping to facilitate it in our country."

"Facilitate" is not the same word as "accelerate." They don't mean the same thing.

"Accelerate" is not the same word as "drive." They don't mean the same thing.

In like manner, "facilitate" doesn't mean the same thing as "drive." 

It's irresponsible and wrong for journalists to play the telephone game with key terms.

The fact check's conclusion derives almost entirely from PolitiFact's straw man focus:

DeSantis said Biden has driven the current coronavirus surge because he "imported more virus from around the world by having a wide open southern border." 

The available evidence shows that coronavirus hot spots tend to be clustered either far from the border or on the water, whereas the entire land border with Mexico has fairly low rates. The hotspot locations tend to correlate with low rates of vaccination among the public. 

In addition, the U.S. does not have a "wide open" border. Most people who are encountered are turned away under a Trump-era policy that Biden continued. 

We rate the statement False.

DeSantis did not say Biden has driven the current coronavirus surge. DeSantis said Biden had done more than any other elected official to facilitate the spread of covid. PolitiFact's experts affirmed that border crossings under Biden represent a valid concern. PolitiFact never bothered comparing Biden's border policy to that of any other elected official (Gov. Cuomo, maybe?).

PolitiFact put two other (post-publication note: we deal with one of them!) elements in its fact check that we find worthy of note.

'Hotspot Locations Tend to Correlate With Low Rates of Vaccination'

That sentence was a fact check of Biden, albeit carried out with a carelessness that totally undermines its validity.

Let's take a look at the map of "hotspots" PolitiFact provided.


Now take a look at the Johns Hopkins map (as of Aug. 8, 2021--archived version doesn't show the map) showing vaccine percentages by state (fully vaccinated, top; at least one dose, bottom):


The claim from President Biden and repeated by PolitiFact, deserved far more scrutiny than it got (look at Nebraska and Nevada, just for starters).

PolitiFact supposedly relied on The New York Times to support the notion that low vaccination rates explain the surge's current pattern:

There’s also a more plausible explanation for the coronavirus surge’s current pattern: Case rates are higher in places with lower rates of vaccination. 

An analysis by the New York Times found that at the end of July, counties with vaccination rates below 30% had coronavirus case rates well over double the case rates in counties with at least 60% vaccination. And five of the six least-vaccinated states — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi — are all squarely within the geographical quadrant of the country that has the highest case rates.

PolitiFact's claim relies on specious reasoning, given that the Times conducted nothing like a controlled experiment. The Times showed some charts of test results in high-vaccinated counties compared to low-vaccinated counties. But a vaccinated person is more likely to dismiss mild illness as something other than covid and skip testing. Unvaccinated people would be more likely to get tested and artificially bump the percentage for positive tests in counties with low vaccination percentages.

We'd say that a fact checker who fails to realize this perhaps belongs in another line of work.

Instead of building a straw man out of DeSantis' claim, PolitiFact would have served the public better by doing a serious examination of Biden's implied claim that vaccination effectively provides a significant degree of immunity against covid--to the point where vaccinated persons do not need to worry much about passing the virus on to others (vaccinated and unvaccinated alike).

How does Iceland fit with PolitiFact's rubberstamping of Biden's claim, for example?

From the Brussels Times (bold emphasis added):

About one month ago, the country became the first in Europe to lift all its domestic restrictions, however, on 12 July, it faced a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases for the first time since October, registering 355 new infections, despite over 70% of the total population being vaccinated.

Three-quarters of these were among vaccinated people, and most were linked to the Delta variant of the virus, according to the health authorities. The last such spike in the country had been in late October.

How will mainstream media fact checkers wean themselves from preferring narratives instead of checking facts?

Thursday, August 5, 2021

PolitiFact has it both ways on 'vaccination'

 PolitiFact's July 30, 2021 fact check confirming as "Mostly True" that Gen. George Washington "mandated smallpox vaccines for the Continental Army" surprised us.

It surprised us because is was barely six months (Dec. 15, 2020) ago that PolitiFact effectively told us that immunity acquired from having COVID-19 did not count as any sort of vaccine.

In December 2020, President Donald J. Trump said (bold emphasis added):

I think that the vaccine was our goal. That was number one because that was the way — that was the way it ends. Plus, you do have an immunity. You develop immunity over a period of time, and I hear we’re close to 15 percent. I’m hearing that, and that is terrific. That’s a very powerful vaccine in itself."

For some reason, PolitiFact concluded Trump was saying 15 percent natural immunity could confer herd immunity. But Trump was obviously saying that immunity acquired via means other than the new vaccines would contribute toward herd immunity. PolitiFact gave the impression that claim was false, basically by suggesting natural immunity doesn't count as a vaccine:

Is 15% natural immunity among the American population anywhere close to a "powerful vaccine," as Trump alleges? 

No, said the experts. And there’s nothing "terrific" about that level of infection within the community.

We doubt the experts were primarily at fault for misinterpreting Trump's statement, by the way. PolitiFact likely insinuated its misleading narrative in the questions it posed to its chosen list of experts.

PolitiFact's July 2021 fact check reversed on viewing naturally acquired immunity as a vaccine.

The smallpox vaccine didn’t exist when Washington was commander in chief of the Continental Army, but the point remains: he ordered the inoculation of troops against smallpox by the means that was then available, variolation.

So, even though vaccines were not invented until after the Revolutionary War, PolitiFact found it "Mostly True" that Washington mandated vaccinations for the Continental Army.

Variolation, by the way, simply meant intentionally infecting people with smallpox. It was the same virus, but tended to cause less severe illness

It's just another reminder that PolitiFact "fact checks" largely count as subjective exercises.

Note: We also wrote about the fact check of Trump back in January 2021.

Note 2: We doubt scientists have a solid idea why variolation was effective.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

PolitiFact accidentally tells the truth about the Hunter Biden laptop

PolitiFact tried so hard to bury the Hunter Biden laptop story in a June 14, 2021 story that it ended up accidentally telling the truth about it.

Donald Trump claimed that he was "right about everything" and PolitiFact published its article to contest that claim item by item. Trump said the "Biden laptop was real," apparently trying to make the point that the Hunter Biden laptop story the mainstream media largely ignored in the runup to the 2020 election was truly based on Hunter Biden's laptop.

PolitiFact's telling:

'Hunter Biden’s laptop was real'

It was real in the sense that it exists, but it didn’t prove much. 

Trump allies obtained a laptop or copies of a laptop during the 2020 campaign that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son. Over time, there has been less doubt that the laptop did in fact belong to Hunter Biden, though how the laptop came to be obtained by Trump allies and Trump-friendly media outlets is unclear.

Conservative media have done quite a bit of reporting on how the laptop ended up in Rudy Giuliani's hands, not to mention those of the FBI. We find it interesting that PolitiFact declined to report on or link to any of those details. Instead of providing those details, PolitiFact gave us Hunter Biden's side of things and a link to that story:

Hunter Biden has been open about his history as a recovering drug addict; he’s said it’s possible the laptop was stolen from him.

Did you know the FBI is investigating Hunter Biden's business dealing with China? No? PolitiFact apparently doesn't, either. Or at least PolitiFact figured it's not relevant to this story

PolitiFact wraps up the section on Biden's laptop by accidentally telling the truth:

Nothing from the laptop has revealed illegal or unethical behavior by Joe Biden as vice president with regard to his son’s tenure as a director for Burisma, a Ukraine-based natural gas company.
Though PolitiFact's statement isn't even necessarily true in itself, it tells a series of truths in what it doesn't say. It doesn't say whether the laptop shows illegal or unethical behavior as vice president not regarding Hunter Biden's (apparently well-paid) tenure with Burisma.

What can't we fit through the loophole PolitiFact leaves open?

PolitiFact's statement is compatible with each of the following prospective assertions about what the laptop shows:

  • Illegal behavior by Joe Biden while not serving as vice president
  • Unethical behavior by Joe Biden while not serving as vice president
  • Illegal behavior by Vice President Biden unrelated to Hunter Biden's role as a Burisma employee
  • Unethical behavior by VP Biden unrelated to Hunter Biden's role as a Burisma employee

We're not saying any of the statements on our list is necessarily true. We're saying PolitiFact's disclaimer about what the Hunter Biden laptop doesn't show is so laughably narrow that it's incriminating.


Why would any news organization, let alone a fact-checking organization, include such a preposterous caveat in a story? It looks designed to mislead readers. 

If it's just simple incompetence, it's of the kind that looks much worse than simple incompetence. It looks like an attempt to deceive readers.

That's a bad look.

Typo correction June 15, 2021: Bursima=.Burisma

Correction June 16, 2021: Fixed some flawed text formatting and changed "It doesn't say whether the laptop shows illegal or unethical behavior as vice president regarding Hunter Biden's (apparently well-paid) tenure with Burisma" to "It doesn't say whether the laptop shows illegal or unethical behavior as vice president not regarding Hunter Biden's (apparently well-paid) tenure with Burisma." Our apologies for any confusion our error caused.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

PolitiFact turns incoherent Obama statement into "Half True" claim


Remember President Obama the constitutional scholar?
Here, the constitutional scholar makes the ability of 30 percent of the U.S. population to control a majority of Senate seats conditional on filibuster reform.

It's a completely preposterous argument, yet somehow PolitiFact arranges the tea leaves so they spell out "Half True."

As for what Obama got wrong, PolitiFact admits it only obliquely (bold emphasis added):

In the transcript of the interview with Klein, this passage about the filibuster included a link to a Washington Post analysis of the differences between population and representation in the Senate. However, the Post article doesn’t precisely support what Obama said. 


While the article’s conclusion is generally consistent with Obama’s point, it doesn’t have anything to do with the filibuster or the 60-vote threshold to end one. Rather, the article looked at representation throughout the entire chamber.

PolitiFact tries to make it "Obama's point" that Senate can magnify the power of small populations. But that wasn't really Obama's point. Obama was arguing for filibuster reform.

There is no filibuster reform that changes that basic feature of the Senate. Obama's argument doesn't even count as coherent.

PolitiFact makes a great show of explicating Obama's claim that "30 percent of the population potentially controls the majority of Senate seats." But that's true regardless of the filibuster. We could keep 1,000 people in each of 49 states and have everybody else move to Alaska. That would give a tiny percentage of the U.S. population a supermajority of Senate seats.

So what? There's no argument for filibuster reform in there.

One might use the above scenario to argue for changing the Constitution itself to make it more democratic. But we would hope that somebody would remember that the undemocratic features in the U.S. Constitution were put there deliberately, specifically because the framers considered democracy in the form of popular rule an exceptionally bad form of government. That's why they set up a republic with a federalist system dividing up political power in a variety of ways.

Watch PolitiFact argue Obama's point was something other than filibuster reform (bold emphasis added):

(W)e crunched the numbers from the 2020 Census and concluded that Obama’s overall point had merit but that he misstated the details.

In particular, Obama said that states with a small percentage of the population could control "the majority of Senate seats." Given today’s partisan tendencies in each state, controlling an actual majority of seats would not be feasible for that small a percentage. However, a small percentage of the population could control enough seats to successfully wield the filibuster, which effectively gives them control over whether a majority can pass legislation.

As illustrated above, a small percentage of the population could potentially wield a supermajority in the Senate. It has nothing to do with the filibuster, and the need for filibuster reform was Obama's point.

Check out PolitiFact's summary version of Obama's point:

Obama said, "The filibuster, if it does not get reformed, still means that maybe 30% of the population potentially controls the majority of Senate seats."

In the Senate’s current makeup, senators representing 29% to 39% of the U.S. population would be sufficient to mount a filibuster and block a vote on legislation, in a sense controlling what can be passed in the chamber.

In the first paragraph PolitiFact relates what Obama actually said. In the second paragraph PolitiFact translates what he said into something completely different. "Majority of Senate seats" turns magically into the number of seats needed to successfully filibuster.

Obama's argument was elaborate window-dressing for the real and truthful argument for filibuster reform: "If we change the filibuster we can pass more of the legislation we want to pass." That statement could earn a "True" from PolitiFact, eh?

It was completely ridiculous for Obama to try to suggest filibuster reform would affect the constitutional ability of small-population states to potentially control a majority of Senate seats. The one is independent of the other. That leaves Obama's true point, the supposed need for filibuster reform, without any coherent support.

It was nice of PolitiFact to overlook that fact in rating Obama's spurious argument "Half True."

It's flatly false that the filibuster, reformed or not, allows a minority population to control a majority of Senate seats. That's a feature of the Constitution, not the filibuster.

A constitutional scholar ought to know that.

Correction June 8, 2021: Removed a redundant "the" from "and the the need for filibuster reform." Hat tip to the the Eye Creatures.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Andrew Clyde out of context

If Republicans fail to make enough false statements, apparently PolitiFact has to invent them.

Is it to meet a quota?

PolitiFact is on a roll, lately, taking claims out of context to present them as false. Today's example involves Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.).

When PolitiFact gets around to showing what Rep. Clyde actually said, it creates an instant contrast with the sensationalistic presentation above. "Pants on Fire"! Oh, my!

(Bold highlights added to match what PolitiFact highlighted in its above misquotation of Clyde):
"Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures. If you didn't know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit," Clyde said at a May 12 House hearing.

 In context, Clyde appears to clearly talk about video of protestors passing through Statuary Hall. In other words, video like this:

We think any normal, competent fact checker should have no trouble at all figuring this out.

When PolitiFact repeatedly publishes material in this vein, it makes us suspect PolitiFact is not a normal, competent fact checker.

Would it surprise our readers to learn that PolitiFact awarded Clyde his "Pants on Fire" rating based on evidence that had nothing to do with video from the Statuary Room?

(H)ere is what a normal visit looks like for tourists: They go on guide-led tours of historic areas. They buy souvenirs at the gift shop. They view temporary exhibits. They dine in the restaurant. And they do it all without bringing in weapons (or even water).

Here’s what rioters did on Jan. 6. They forced their way through barricades and past law enforcement to breach the building. They smashed windows and broke doors. They ransacked offices. They chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" They attacked police officers. They caused the House and Senate to shut down for several hours on the day they were certifying the presidential election. One put his feet up on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and left her a nasty note. None of these actions are things that tourists normally do at the Capitol.

Here's a list of things we do not see in the Jan. 6, 2021 video from Bloomberg News showing protestors making their way through the Statuary Room:

  • forcing their way past barricades
  • forcing their way past law enforcement
  • smashing windows, breaking doors
  • ransacking offices
  • chanting "Hang Mike Pence!"
  • Attacking police
  • causing any apparent shutdown
  • putting feet on the House Speaker's desk
  • leaving nasty notes

PolitiFact's fact check counts as a ridiculous sham, based on a straw man reading of Rep. Clyde's words. We can imagine legitimate criticism of what Clyde said. For example, one might legitimately claim that by restricting his comments to the Statuary Room video he distracted from things the Capitol mob did elsewhere.

But PolitiFact's fact check succeeded in avoiding any legitimate criticism of Clyde's claim.

Afters I

PolitiFact appears to have handled its headline quotation of Rep. Clyde improperly, using AP Style as the guide:

A longer quotation might span multiple sentences. Use four ellipsis points (rather than three) to indicate any omission between two sentences. The first point indicates the period at the end of the first sentence quoted, and the three spaced ellipsis points follow.

The existing punctuation appears to credit (?) Rep. Clyde with a fragmentary sentence: "Watching the TV footage at the Capitol."  There was no such fragment in the actual quotation. Cutting and pasting the headline material shows a space between the first ellipsis point (probably intended as a period by the PolitiFact team) and the three ellipsis points that followed. Usage of the ellipsis following the AP Style blog instructions would have had four ellipsis points evenly spaced. That was not PolitiFact's approach.

For what it's worth, we're not sure how that supposedly correct format would help the casual reader understand that material was omitted before and after the period.

Afters II

In its concluding paragraphs, PolitiFact informed its readers that taking pictures or capturing video do not count as tourist activities (bold emphasis added):

Clyde’s spokesperson pointed to a few moments of video of people walking through Statuary Hall snapping photos or videos. But those people were not engaged in anything that resembles tourism. They were part of a group who had violently breached the U.S. Capitol. 
Color us skeptical.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

PolitiFact unpublishes 2020 fact check on coronavirus origin

Hat tip to NY Post editor Sohrab Ahmari,whose tweet alerted us to this story.

Though unpublishing stories counts as a bit of a taboo in journalism, PolitiFact appears to prefer the practice when it comes to minimizing some of its most sensational blunders.

The latest? In a Sept. 16, 2020 fact check, PolitiFact declared it a "Pants on Fire" conspiracy theory that the coronavirus might have resulted from humans tampering with it in the lab.

No, we're not making this up:

PolitiFact, placing full confidence in experts it cited, declared that human tampering could not account for the genetic code of the coronavirus (bold emphasis added):

The genetic structure of the novel coronavirus, which has been shared by thousands of scientists worldwide, rules out the possibility that it was manipulated in a lab. Public health authorities have repeatedly said the virus was not created in a lab. Scientists believe the coronavirus originated in bats before jumping to humans. Experts have publicly rebuked Yan’s paper, and it’s unclear whether it was peer reviewed.

The claim is inaccurate and ridiculous. We rate it Pants on Fire!

Though PolitiFact repented of its fact check to the point of unpublishing it, the IFCN-verified fact checkers admitted no error and have not run a correction, clarification or update to appear on its comprehensive (cough) list of corrections and updates.

Here's the editor's note that greets web surfers when they succeed in stumbling across the archived fact check:

Editor’s note, May 17, 2021: When this fact-check was first published in September 2020, PolitiFact’s sources included researchers who asserted the SARS-CoV-2 virus could not have been manipulated. That assertion is now more widely disputed. For that reason, we are removing this fact-check from our database pending a more thorough review. Currently, we consider the claim to be unsupported by evidence and in dispute. The original fact-check in its entirety is preserved below for transparency and archival purposes. Read our May 2021 report for more on the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The fact check occurred as part of PolitiFact's partnership with Facebook. That means Facebook likely used the fact check to help justify sanctioning (censoring) Facebook accounts that suggested the Wuhan coronavirus originated in a lab.

These are the wrong people (using the wrong methods) to trust with the power of censorship.

On the positive side, PolitiFact redirected the old URL to the (temporarily?) archived version of its fact check. That's better than receiving a 404 error, as has happened in the past with PolitiFact's unpublishing.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Kevin McCarthy out of context

PolitiFact: The supposedly unbiased fact checker that takes statements from politicians out of context all the time, but punishes politicians for taking statements out of context.

If it sounds hypocritical that's because it is.

PolitiFact put its out-of-context crosshairs on Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy on May 14, 2021. Supposedly McCarthy said no one questions Joe Biden's election as president.

McCarthy might as well have said "No one in the entire universe questions Biden's election," in PolitiFact's eyes.

PolitiFact puts what's supposed to pass for its reasoning in its concluding paragraphs:

McCarthy said, "I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election." 

This runs contrary to the actions and statements of numerous members and leaders of his own party, including himself. McCarthy objected to certifying election results from two states that Biden won, claiming electoral process concerns. Those concerns haven’t been proven. McCarthy and other Republicans also supported a lawsuit that challenged the validity of Biden’s victory in some states. 

Some Republican lawmakers who have been questioned about Biden’s legitimate victory state the obvious — that Biden is president — while still suggesting that it happened unlawfully.

As usual, the context serves as the key to understanding what was said. PolitiFact pays lip service to the context with a full quote of McCarthy that will end up putting the lie to its reasoning:

Here's PolitiFact's (accurate) version of the expanded context of McCarthy's statement:

"I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the president today. So from that point of view, I don’t think that’s a problem."

PolitiFact could have done better by quoting in full the question McCarthy was answering. Here's the Washington Post's account of that question:

“You’re about to elevate someone to a leadership position who is still questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election results,” NBC News’s Kristen Welker asked McCarthy, referring to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who will probably replace Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as the third-ranking member of the Republican caucus in the House. “Does that not complicate your efforts to find common ground with the president?”

Was McCarthy answering that question by saying nobody at all questions Biden's election? Of course not. He was addressing the idea that questions about the election would hamper efforts to find common ground. First, he says nobody (in the leadership group, including Stefanik) currently questions Biden's election. He offers the opinion "that's over with," acknowledging that happened in the past.

When we put that information, along with one more sentence from McCarthy, in PolitiFact's concluding paragraph, PolitiFact's reasoning crashes and burns (bold emphasis added to our editorial suggestion):

McCarthy said, "I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with.

This runs contrary to the actions and statements of numerous members and leaders of his own party, including himself. McCarthy objected to certifying election results from two states that Biden won, claiming electoral process concerns. Those concerns haven’t been proven. McCarthy and other Republicans also supported a lawsuit that challenged the validity of Biden’s victory in some states. 

Some Republican lawmakers who have been questioned about Biden’s legitimate victory state the obvious — that Biden is president — while still suggesting that it happened unlawfully.

With the context added, nothing McCarthy said runs contrary to any of the evidence PolitiFact offered to contradict McCarthy's claim. Things Republicans like McCarthy and Stefanik did in January 2021 do not count as continued questioning of Biden's election.

And it becomes obvious that PolitiFact misled its readers by telling them "McCarthy’s May 12 claim that the legitimacy of Biden’s victory hasn’t been questioned is wrong."

That's not what McCarthy said. "Nobody is questioning" isn't the same thing as "hasn't been questioned."

Such fact checks from PolitiFact count as an embarrassment to fact-checking.

It's a very bad idea to give this brand of fact-checking power over social media censorship.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Tucker Carlson out of context

If  politicians take facts and presents them out of context, PolitiFact uses its "Truth-O-Meter" to punish them.

If PolitiFact takes politicians out of context and issues ratings based on its own bad behavior, that's just part of a day's work for the worst mainstream fact checker in the United States.

Speak of the devil:

We're showing the presentation PolitiFact used on its Facebook page. PolitiFact used the same wording in the deck section of its website.

Immediately one should notice that the claim that a COVID-19 vaccine might not work seems consistent with estimated efficacy rates in the 70 to 96 percent range as estimated the the vaccines' manufacturers. The CDC website comes right out and says "Some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still get sick because no vaccine is 100% effective."

PolitiFact gave Carlson's a "Pants on Fire" rating for saying vaccines might not work. Does the CDC get that rating, too?

Let's look to the concluding paragraphs of the fact check to see what PolitiFact said Carlson got wrong.

Carlson said, "Maybe (the COVID-19 vaccine) doesn't work, and they're simply not telling you that."

That claim is countered by clinical trials and real-world studies that show the available vaccines effectively protect against COVID-19 infections and severe symptoms.

PolitiFact makes it sound like vaccines are 100% effective, regardless of the statement from the CDC. Not only do the vaccines protect you from infection, they protect you from severe symptoms after you're infected, by PolitiFact's telling. Without fail? Or is it possible the vaccine might not work?

Maybe PolitiFact simply missed Carlson's point. Perhaps the fact checkers think Carlson believes the vaccines do not work at all even though earlier in the same program he affirmed that they work.

We have two more concluding paragraphs from PolitiFact: 

Carlson based his claim largely on the fact that the CDC still recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks and keep their distance in public spaces. Carlson said he couldn’t think of a reason why the CDC would do that, but we found some pretty simple explanations. 

Experts said those precautions are advisable because most of the U.S. population remains unprotected and because scientists are still studying to what extent the vaccines stop transmission, among other things.

Carefully note in the last paragraph how PolitiFact justifies the continued use of masks and social distancing for vaccinated people. PolitiFact mentions unprotected people and the possibility of transmission from vaccinated persons. It's two clauses describing one reason, with the reader left to guess at the "other things."

PolitiFact is saying scientists think the vaccine may not work to prevent transmission of the virus from vaccinated people to unprotected people.

Will PolitiFact rate itself or the scientists whose views it touts "Pants on Fire"?

How can fact checkers fire so wide of the mark?

It was and is obvious Carlson was making a point about the rhetoric about the vaccine. Get it, it works, said the government, and we can get back to normal. Later, the government says it's nice you got the vaccine but you can't get back to normal.

Carlson has a legitimate point, and PolitiFact's own reasoning proves it ("scientists are still studying"). Why are the scientists still studying it? Because it might not work to prevent transmission.

Fact checkers should not fail to figure out such basic stuff.

PolitiFact provided a link to Facebook for watching the relevant segment of Carlson's show. Their link didn't work for us, but we found the video independently and found the link matches what PolitiFact posted (huh? yeah). We're providing the same link in hopes that it works better for our readers.

It worked in pre-publication testing, but we shall see.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Newsbusters and fact checks not published

We at PolitiFact Bias have long noted that fact checkers have a bias against fact-checking things that seem true, or at least publishing fact checks that confirm somebody said something true.

How does that affect an entity's "Truth-O-Meter" report card? Well, depending on how many favorable ratings were spiked, it skews the report card unfavorably. It's a form of selection bias.

And that brings us to NewsBusters (hat tip to Tim Graham).

In brief, Newsbusters published a chart to Facebook. PolitiFact initiated an investigation of the information in the chart, asking NewsBusters to show the specific source of the information. Newsbusters did that, apparently to PolitiFact's satisfaction, and PolitiFact never published any fact check about it.

How often does that happen and to whom? Nobody outside of PolitiFact really knows.

It's just one more symptom of a corrupt fact-checking system. PolitiFact buttonholes Newsbusters with the threat of social media sanction hanging over the latter. If Newsbusters doesn't respond, PolitiFact may issue an unfavorable rating based on its "burden of proof" criterion.

Meanwhile, PolitiFact can preposterously report that real wages are increasing but failing to keep pace with inflation with no plausible threat of sanction to its work.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Former PolitiFact expert source Brian Riedl on PolitiFact

 The tweet:

Click the link for the other two tweets in the thread.

Add Riedl's name to a fairly impressive list of similar experiences from people like Michael F. Cannon and Judith Curry.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Layers of Editors: How fast is PolitiFact's stupidity growing?

Uh-oh! PolitiFact's incompetence unfairly harmed a Democrat again! This time it was hapless Joe Biden who ended up with the short straw by PolitiFact's blinkered judgment.

PolitiFact explained that over the past 10 years the number of Hispanics increased by about 10 million, while the number of Asian Americans went up by 5.2 million.

Why is an increase, on average, of 520,000 per year a faster increase than about 1 million per year?

PolitiFact explains, sort of:

Biden said "the fastest-growing population in the United States is Hispanic." That’s incorrect: The fastest-growing group is Asian Americans, with Hispanics ranking second. Hispanics did record the largest numerical increase in population of any group between 2010 and 2019, but that’s a different measure than "fastest growing."

Instead of recognizing more than one measure of "fastest-growing," PolitiFact arbitrarily accepts one measure while rejecting the other.

But an increase of 1 million per year on average is a rate of growth, and arguably more useful than measuring rate of growth as a percentage of an existing population.

We pointed out on Twitter that PolitiFact's reasoning would suggest that a one foot tall tree that doubles in size is growing faster than a 50 foot tall tree that grows two feet during the same span of time.

Sure, the first tree may surpass the second tree in size if it continues to double in size year-by-year. But it will never happen unless the first tree starts to surpass the second tree in the number of inches of growth per year.


And the math works similarly for population growth. Unless Asian Americans start adding more population in absolute numbers than do Hispanics, the number of Hispanics will forever be greater than the number of Asian Americans. Forever. In fact, Asian Americans will not start closing the gap between the two populations until they start adding more people in raw numbers rather than merely in terms of percentage.

So who do these fact checkers think they are?

Update March 8, 2021: Added the link to the PolitiFact "fact check" in the second paragraph.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A big problem with PolitiFact's updated website

If it was a snake, it would have bit me.

When "Unwoke Narrative" used a Twitter thread to go off on PolitiFact for the "Mostly False" rating it gave to an Unwoke Narrative Instagram post, one of the issues was a charge PolitiFact used a misquotation.

We questioned Unwoke Narrative about that charge, noting that the supposed misquotation looked like a paraphrase or summary.

Unwoke Narrative made a great point in response. PolitiFact signals to readers that its quotations/summaries/paraphrases of the claims it is checking are quotations.

The deck material of PolitiFact fact checks gets formatted the way many blog templates show quotations. There's a solid vertical bar to the left of the quoted material. And a lone quotation mark in the margin.

Here's an example:

The image of Biden to the upper left occurs in the shape of a word balloon. Just below the Biden balloon and a little to the right we find the lone quotation mark. And to the right of that a vertical yellow line. That's three cues to the reader that what is not a quotation of Biden is a quotation of Biden.

For comparison, have a look at this example from a page designed to help bloggers blog more stylishly:

It's a similar scheme. It features the vertical line, albeit with a skinnier vertical line bracketing the quotation on the right margin. And there's the lone quotation mark just to the left of the quotation.

How did I overlook this for a year?

I thought of one way PolitiFact's format might not mislead people: Maybe it's a pull quote? If it was a pull quote, then PolitiFact could justify putting partial quotations inside a bigger quotation using the standard doubled quotation marks (" instead of ').

But these aren't pull quotes. They're summaries, paraphrases, quotations or sometimes combinations of those formatted as quotations.

We find it unimaginable that professional journalists could find this presentation acceptable. We imagine the experienced journalists at PolitiFact gave the design team too much free rein and then failed to see the problem when it came time to approve the revised format.

It's a deceptive practice and needs to go.

I still can't believe I didn't notice it without having it pointed out to me.

Editor who won't do corrections makes correction request (Updated)

Here and at Zebra Fact Check we have documented obvious errors pointed out to PolitiFact that PolitiFact simply declines to fix.

How delicious, then, when we heard that PolitiFact Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan requested corrections of the conservative publication the Federalist. And royally botched at least one of them.

The Federalist noted PolitiFact had done little to fact check Democratic Party politicians in the new Biden administration, and PolitiFact apparently objected.

The Federalist's Tristan Justice told the story on Feb. 20, 2021:

“Your report is wrong in multiple ways,” Holan wrote in a Friday email. “For one, we published three fact-checks on Feb. 16, so our last check on Biden was the day before your report was published. The link you use in the story shows that. Please issue a correction ASAP.”

Holan followed up two hours later, demanding an update.

The link embedded in the initial post to Biden’s fact-checks on the PolitiFact website, however, which remains unchanged, shows PolitiFact published three fact-checks after the story was published in The Federalist, of statements made on Feb. 16, including Biden’s remarks on vaccines. Contrary to Holan’s assertion, these fact-checks were published on Feb. 17 and 18, following the Federalist article.

The Federalist story included an image backing up Justice's description, which we independently verified. It looks like Holan probably mistook the date the claims were made as the publish date. When PolitiFact revamped its website about a year ago, it moved the claim date up to the top of the article and the publish date down and to the left to accompany the writer's byline.

Old way:

The old layout had the date of the claim in the box up top and the publish date next to the author's byline, down at the bottom of the header section.

New way:

With the new layout the claim date moved all the way up to the top, under the source of the claim. The publish date moved, along with the writer's byline, to the left margin. And shrank.

It looks like Holan believed the claim dates were the publish dates. It's not the kind of mistake an organization wants to see from its editor-in-chief.

We asked Holan for an explanation but received no reply.

It's worth pointing out that Holan claimed there were a number of errors in the Federalist article. We also asked her about those, after we asked Justice, the Federalist writer, about them. If Holan found legitimate problems with the Federalist story then Justice should not have buried the fact.

But as for Justice's allegation that Holan was mistaken with the first part of her correction request, the Internet Archive record from Feb. 17, 2021 shows no fact checks featuring Joe Biden published on Feb. 16, 2021.

Update March 5, 2021: A commenter has correctly noted that this post could benefit from added context. We inserted a short new paragraph in the three slot and added the link to the Federalist story that was always intended to be there. We appreciate comments that help us improve our work.

Monday, February 22, 2021

PolitiFact's "In Context" deception (Updated)

In (a) perfect world, fact checkers would publish "In Context" features that simply offer surrounding context with objective explanatory notes.

This ain't no perfect world.

The PolitiFact "In Context" articles tend to serve as editorials, just like its fact checks. Two "In Context" articles from the past year (actually one from 2021 and one from 2019) will serve as our illustrative examples.

The Vaccine Supply

President Biden said "It’s one thing to have the vaccine, which we didn’t have when we came into office, but a vaccinator; how do you get the vaccine into someone’s arm?"

Instead of using context to figure out what Mr. Biden meant or perhaps intended to say, PolitiFact offered that he was not saying there was no vaccine when he took office because elsewhere in the speech he said there were 50 million vaccine doses when he took office ("we came into office, there (were) only 50 million doses that were available"):

You can judge his meaning for yourself, but it’s clear to us that Biden didn’t mean there were no vaccines available before he took office.
So Mr. Biden could have meant anything except for there were no vaccines available when he took office? Oh thank you, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checkers!

The fact checkers at CNN at least made a game attempt to make heads or tails out of Mr. Biden's words:

Biden made a series of claims about the Covid-19 vaccine situation upon his January inauguration. He said early at the town hall that when "we came into office, there was only 50 million doses that were available." Moments later, he said, "We got into office and found out the supply -- there was no backlog. I mean, there was nothing in the refrigerator, figuratively and literally speaking, and there were 10 million doses a day that were available." Soon after that, he told Cooper, "But when you and I talked last, we talked about -- it's one thing to have the vaccine, which we didn't have when we came into office, but a vaccinator -- how do you get the vaccine into someone's arm?"

Facts First: Biden got at least one of these statistics wrong -- in a way that made Trump look better, not worse, so Biden's inaccuracy appeared accidental, but we're noting it anyway. A White House official said that Biden's claim about "10 million doses a day" being available when he took office was meant to be a reference to the 10 million doses a week that were being sent to states as of the second week of Biden's term, up from 8.6 million a week when they took over.

CNN's "Facts First" went on to explain that the Trump administration released all vaccine reserves to the states instead of holding back the second doses recommended by the manufacturers. CNN also pointed out that the Biden administration continued that same policy.

The CNN account makes it appear Mr. Biden uttered an incoherent mixture of statistics. PolitiFact didn't even make an attempt in its article to figure out what Biden was talking about. PolitiFact simply discounted the statement Biden made that seemed to contradict his dubious claim about the availability of 50 million vaccine doses when he took office.

PolitiFact's "In Context" article looks like pro-Biden spin next to the CNN account. And we thought of another "In Context" article where PolitiFact used an entirely different approach.

Very Fine People

PolitiFact used Mr. Biden's statement about "50 million doses" to excuse any inaccuracy Biden may have communicated by later saying the vaccine cupboard was bare when he took office.

But PolitiFact's "In Context" article about the circumstances of President Trump's reference to "very fine people," published April 26, 2019, made no similar use of Mr. Trump's same-speech clarification "and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists -- because they should be condemned totally."

With Biden, readers got PolitiFact's assurance that he wasn't saying there were no vaccine doses when he took office, even though he used words to that effect.

With Trump, readers were left with PolitiFact's curiosity as to what the context might show (bold emphasis added):

We wanted to look at Trump’s comments in their original context. Here is a transcript of the questions Trump answered that addressed the Charlottesville controversy in the days after it happened. (His specific remarks about "very fine people, on both sides" come in the final third of the transcript.)

Not only did PolitiFact fail to use the context to defend Trump from the charge that he was calling neo-Nazis "fine people," about a year later (July 27, 2020) PolitiFact made that charge itself, citing its own "In Context" article in support:

• As president in 2017, Trump said there were "very fine people, on both sides," in reference to neo-Nazis and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va.
Making the situation that much more outrageous, PolitiFact declined to correct the latter article when we send a correction request. PolitiFact remained unmoved after we informed the International Fact-Checking Network about its behavior.

Is PolitiFact lucky or what that its owner, the Poynter Institute, also owns the International Fact-Checking Network?

This is how PolitiFact rolls. PolitiFact uses its "In Context" articles to editorially strengthen or weaken narratives, as it chooses.

It's not all about the facts.

Correction: We left out an "a" in the first sentence and also misstated the timing of the two articles our post talks about. Both errors are fixed using parenthetical comments (like this).