Thursday, January 14, 2021

PolitiFact takes Devin Nunes out of context to give "False" rating

PolitiFact says a "Half True" claim is one that is "partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context."

 Also PolitiFact:

Did Rep. Nunes self-stultify when he, a Republican, communicated the notion that Republicans have no way to communicate with the demise of Parler?

PolititiFact's treatment of his claim is almost that simple, and it could have been as simple as that given PolitiFact's failure to consider the context. As a general rule of literary interpretation, the interpreter ought to look for evidence in context that might explain an apparently self-contradictory statement.

To help illustrate that point, we'll look for evidence PolitiFact followed its own published statement of principles in fact-checking Nunes' claim.

What did Nunes say?

For starters, we put together a transcript from the Fox News clip PolitiFact used as its source. Fox News is poor for preserving its videos and also poor for publishing transcripts. Our transcript may end up the best available before much time has passed. We note that regretfully.

We highlight in bold the parts of Nunes' statement that PolitiFact used in its story (punctuation may vary).

The effect of this is that there is no longer a free, and open social media company, or site, for any American to get on any longer. Because these big companies, Apple, Amazon, Google, they have just destroyed a, what was likely, Parler's likely a billion dollar company. Poof, it's gone. 

But it's more than just the financial aspect of that. Republicans have no way to communicate. If, it doesn't even matter if you're Republican or conservative. If you don't want to be regulated by left wingers, that are at Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, where you get shadowbanned, nobody gets to see you, nobody gets to see you, they get to decide what's violent or not violent. It's preposterous. 

So, I don't know where the hell the Department of Justice is at right now, or the FBI, uh, this is clearly a violation of antitrust, civil rights, RICO statutes, there should be a racketeering investigation on all the people that coordinated this attack on not only a company, but on all of those, of those, like us, like me, like you, Maria; I have three million followers on Parler. Tonight, I will no longer be able to communicate with those people. And they're Americans. 

Context, Context, Context

Is it hard at all to see Nunes point in the above? He's saying with the loss of Parler, people (including Republicans) have no social media option that isn't regulated by left wingers. That's the context for "Republicans have no way to communicate." PolitiFact follows that with "And" in its telling. We are confident our transcript is correct. Nunes followed with "If." So the idea he was trying to communicate was "Republicans have no way to communicate if (they) don't want to be regulated by left wingers."

PolitiFact's misquotation of Nunes counts as minor, but as we have noted, when such mistakes help PolitiFact in setting a misleading narrative they count as significant indicators of bias.

He added: "Republicans have no way to communicate. And it doesn't even matter if you're a Republican or conservative. If you don't want to be regulated by left-wingers that are at Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, where you get shadowbanned, nobody gets to see you."

If a fact checker has no interest in seeing the contextual clues explaining a statement, then the fact checker will more likely overlook contextual clues explaining a statement.

Nunes said "If" not "And" and his statement about it not mattering if you're a Republican or conservative was an interruption of his idea that hamstringing Parler took from Republicans the social media company not regulated by left wingers.

How did PolitiFact miss it?

Careless Interpretation Leads to Faulty Premise

When PolitiFact overlooked the context of Nunes' remarks, it led to the false premise that Nunes was literally saying Republicans have no way at all to communicate. Though PolitiFact did not use Nunes own ability to speak to contradict his claim, the evidence the fact checkers used was not far removed from that:

Some users on Twitter found it ironic that Nunes was making his claim on Fox News, the most watched cable network, and a favorite medium for Republicans to communicate.

We may forgive Twittter randos for badly missing Nunes point. But isn't PolitiFact supposed to be better than that?


And long before social media, members of Congress had several venues to communicate with constituents, including some unfiltered ones.

Long before social media (the thing Nunes was talking about), Republicans could communicate with constituents a number of ways! 

One would think that context simply does not exist for PolitiFact.

Want more? PolitiFact has more:

House members can communicate via press releases, send out mass emails or paper mail to constituents, or host phone-in or online town halls. Capitol Hill has places where members can hold in-person press conferences or satellite interviews with media outlets back home or national outlets, or record a video message to email to their constituents.

What does that have to do with social media companies having the power to moderate conservatives who try to use social media? Nothing, really. It's just PolitiFact ignoring the context and fact-checking a straw man version of Nunes' claim. It's the type of thing fact-checkers do routinely, and we've been pointing it out for years and years.

PolitiFact continues on and on in the same vein. But by now we hope our readers get the idea.

 It's just another claim PolitiFact invented in order to find it false.


PolitiFact used a number of (scare quote) "expert" sources in this fact check. The quotations likely reflect that the experts were asked whether Republicans can communicate without Parler. PolitiFact does not share with its readers the text of its inquiries. But it's a good bet those inquiries used PolitiFact's false premise as their basis.

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