Thursday, February 18, 2021

Republican uses wrong embedded URL, receives "False" rating as a reward (Updated)

Have we mentioned lately that PolitiFact is biased and leans left? Ready for another example?

Buckle up.

Before looking at anything PolitiFact California had to say about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's claim, we had reason to suspect something weird was going on. We knew the CBO estimated potential job losses in the millions for a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour. And PolitiFact often gives partial credit for a valid underlying point. So a politician can give a figure that's substantially off and still get a rating in the "Mostly False" to "Mostly True" range.

In McCarthy's case, it seems that his office put together a press release and used the wrong URL. The Congressional Budget Office put together a report in 2019 estimating the effects of a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour and its high-end estimate for job losses was 3.7 million.

On the other hand, the CBO recently gave a new assessment of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and revised its job loss estimates down. The high-end estimate dropped to 2.7 million.

Here's the relevant part of the Feb. 9, 2021 press release:

At this critical point, the Democrats’ big, creative response is to raise the federal national wage to $15 an hour — a move the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office previously found could cost nearly 4 million workers their jobs. Plus, these job losses would disproportionately hit already economically disadvantaged populations the most.

The new version of the CBO's report came out on Feb. 8, 2021, the day before McCarthy's office published the press release. It's plausible and perhaps likely the press release was largely composed before the CBO released the new report. The press release cited the known report, and staffers hunted up the embedded URL leading to the brand new report.

Of course we do not know that is what happened. Certainly if McCarthy knew of the new report and its updated estimates and stuck with the old estimates--even while using the qualifier "previously"--that counts as misleading.

But here's the thing: PolitiFact concluded, just as we did, that McCarthy appeared to cite the 2019 report. PolitiFact put that reveal front and center in its "If Your Time Is Short" bullet point summary:

  • McCarthy appears to be citing a Congressional Budget Office analysis from 2019 that said, at the high-end, 3.7 million jobs could be lost from the wage hike.

  • But in his statement, he cited the CBO’s new analysis published this week which found an average estimate of 1.4 million jobs would be lost.

Yes, PolitiFact, McCarthy appears to be citing the 2019 CBO analysis. And, yes, the press release "cited" the 2021 report insofar as it embedded the link to that report instead of the 2019 one.

Therefore, PolitiFact said, McCarthy's claim was "False" notwithstanding his valid point that the CBO gave a high-end estimate for job losses in the millions.

Anyone who thinks that's fair needs to learn more about PolitiFact's inconsistencies on rating numbers claims. McCarthy could easily have received a "Half True" and especially so if he was a Democrat making a claim Democrats would like to be true.

Wisconsin Montana Democrat Steve Bullock said a quarter of gun sales avoid background checks. PolitiFact Wisconsin said his claim was "Mostly False" even though it said the true number was only 13 percent. Going by that number, Bullock exaggerated by at least 53 percent.

For comparison, McCarthy's use of the 2019 CBO figure exaggerated the truth by 37 percent. And PolitiFact ruled McCarthy's claim "False."

It's yet another reminder that PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" ratings are subjective and not ultimately rooted in objective findings.

Correction/Update July 29, 2022: We incorrectly identified Steve Bullock as a "Wisconsin Democrat." Bullock was the Democratic governor of Montana. H/T to PFB friend Matthew Hoy for pointing out the error.

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