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.

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