Thursday, December 1, 2022

More PedantiFact: PolitiFact vs. Kevin McCarthy

 Fact checkers supposedly don't fact check opinions.

PolitiFact fact checks opinions. Real Clear Politics has kept a study going looking at how often a set of top fact checkers rate opinions or predictions (among other things). PolitiFact has paced the group.

We expect Real Clear Politics will get around to adding this Nov. 30, 2022 PolitiFact fact check to the list:

 

Why do we think McCarthy was expressing an opinion?

In other words, why do we have the opinion that McCarthy was expressing an opinion?

We're intentionally giving away the answer, of course. "I think" counts as one of the classic ways of marking one's statement as an opinion.

Why does PolitiFact ignore such an obvious clue?

We think it's likely PolitiFact was looking to build a narrative. By overlooking that McCarthy was expressing opinion and focusing on one part of his statement to the exclusion of another, PolitiFact was able to support that narrative under the guise of fact-checking.

PolitiFact supports the narrative that Donald Trump counts as a racist. Facts don't matter in pursuit of that narrative.

PolitiFact quotes McCarthy correctly, and we'll highlight the part that PolitiFact decided to omit from its fact-checking focus even though it's the only part that McCarthy stated as fact:

"I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn't know who he was," McCarthy said.

That drew real-time pushback from a reporter, who said, "He didn't condemn him or his ideology." McCarthy responded, "The president didn't know who he was."
For PolitiFact, it isn't important whether Trump knew who Nick Fuentes was. It's important that Fuentes is a white nationalist, and important to link Fuentes to Trump in a way that reinforces the narrative that Trump is a racist. Toward that end, PolitiFact ignores the claim Trump did not know who Fuentes was and focuses on the supposed lack of condemnation.

We would argue that Trump saying he did not know Fuentes counts as a condemnation, when we consider the context.

PolitiFact argues the opposite, albeit without any real argument in support:

A look at Trump’s statements during the week between the Nov. 22 dinner and McCarthy’s press availability Nov. 29 show that McCarthy was wrong. Specifically, Trump did not condemn Fuentes on four occasions; instead, Trump said in four statements that he did not know who Fuentes was.
PolitiFact implicitly says that it does not count as a condemnation to profess ignorance of Fuentes' identity.

Here's why that's wrong.

Trump was implying that if he had known who Fuentes was, he would not be welcome at dinner. Hardly anything could be more obvious, particularly given the context that Trump went on record condemning neo-Nazis and white nationalism.

We can even source Trump's quotation through PolitiFact, albeit the fact checkers do an excellent job of not drawing attention to it:

"And you had people -- and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists -- because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists. Okay?"

So the fact checkers, though they have reason to know Trump condemned white nationalism, leave that out of a fact check focusing on whether Trump condemned white nationalism. That's context fit for suppression.

The facts don't matter when liberal bloggers posing as unbiased fact checkers want to promote a narrative.

Friday, November 11, 2022

Glenn Youngkin and PolitiPedant Virginia

PolitiFact's penchant for pedantry justly earns it the derisive nickname "PolitiPedant."

Ready for another example? Let's go!

Youngkin claimed he won cities no Republican had won before in Virginia. Obviously a fact checker needs to find a reasonable definition of "city" to fact check Youngkin's claim.

PolitiFact's method credits the state of Virginia with 38 cities. Does that seem low? There's justification for it, even if it's the wrong justification for this fact check. We charge PolitiFact with failing to give readers anything approaching an adequate explanation.

The Independent City

Virginia has an unusual feature regarding its cities. PolitiFact mentions it casually, without explanation, as it sets up its fact-finding:

GOP results in Virginia cities

Youngkin won 14 of Virginia’s 38 independent cities: Bristol; Buena Vista; Chesapeake; Colonial Heights; Covington; Galax; Hopewell; Lynchburg; Norton; Poquoson; Radford; Salem; Virginia Beach and Waynesboro.

In its summary section PolitiFact said "Youngkin won 14 of Virginia's 35 cities in that [2021--ed.] election." Did Virginia have 38 or 35 independent cities in 2021? We expect PolitiFact will fix that inconsistency as though it was a typographical error. But we'll focus on the key term "independent cities," which PolitiFact does not explain to its readers.

There are 41 independent cities in the United States. Virginia counts as home to 38 of them.

So, what is an independent city? It's a city independent of the county (or counties?) in which it is located:

Virginia’s thirty-eight incorporated cities are politically and administratively independent of the counties with which they share borders, just as counties are politically and administratively independent of each other.

In Virginia, unlike the other 49 states, any city that isn't an independent city wears the official designation "town," regardless of its size. In Virginia, a town may be larger than an independent city. That runs counter to the typical understanding of the respective words "city" and "town." Cities, according to the typical definitions, exceed towns in size.

Youngkin in Context 

Was Youngkin using Virginia's understanding of "city" when he addressed his New York audience? We judge there's little reason to think so. Yes, Youngkin himself, as governor of Virginia, must possess some awareness of Virginia's unusual technical standard for cities. But should Youngkin expect this audience to share that understanding? That seems like a stretch.

In the end, Youngkin isn't precluded from using the more common definition of "city" when he mentions cities in Virginia, especially to an outside audience. Many towns in Virginia fit the definition of "city" understood in other states, New York included.

PolitiFact doesn't waste any words at all on that possibility. Why? 

For the journalistic team at PolitiFact Virginia, Virginia's particular approach to defining cities may count as second nature. That may have blinded the team to alternate possibilities. Or, PolitiFact may have stuck with Virginia's narrow definition of "city" to simplify its fact-finding. It's easier to check the list of independent cities to test Youngkin's claim than to check the list of independent cities plus towns-that-may-reasonably-fit-the-usual-definition-of-cities.

But a fact checker that checks facts using methods of convenience over methods of accuracy does not count as much of a fact checker. Maybe Youngkin won no cities that hadn't been won before by a Republican. We do not plan to fact check that. We'll simply point out that PolitiFact Virginia's fact check uses an unacceptable approach to the problem.

PolitiFact should have explained Virginia's unusual approach to designating cities, at minimum, if it failed to properly fact check Youngkin's claim according to the typical definition of "city."

Oversights such as these are what we should expect of biased fact checkers. And that's what we see from PolitiFact on a regular basis.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Narrative-shepherding instead of fact-checking for America as stolen land

One has to hand it to PolitiFact's Yacob Reyes. Earlier this year, Reyes turned a mostly unoccupied barrier island into the whole of Lee County. Now, Reyes turns bad-faith treaties affecting a limited number of American lands into support for the narrative of the United States (plus other modern American nations north and south) consisting of stolen land.

Behold:

PolitiFact's left-wing editorial masquerading as a fact check published on Nov. 3, 2022.

It takes DeSantis out of context, and instead of devoting an "In Context" article to DeSantis' statement, akin to the cover PolitiFact provided for President Obama when he informed business owners "You didn't build that," DeSantis received a "Pants on Fire" rating.

Strikingly, PolitiFact apparently draws a complete blank in trying to figure out why DeSantis would say the United States is not build on stolen land. That comes through in two ways. First, PolitiFact opines in print that it "wondered what DeSantis was referring to and whether he was right in his assessment of whether the U.S. was built on 'stolen land.'" Second, PolitiFact offered absolutely nothing to represent DeSantis position other than tweets from DeSantis associate Christina Pushaw.

Pushaw tweeted an image promoted by Democratic Party candidate for Lieutenant Governor Karla Hernández-Mats saying "No one is illegal on stolen land." After reporting that Hernández-Mats offered no response to its questions about the image, PolitiFact drops that subject for the remainder of the article.

That's how PolitiFact treated the context.

With the context safely ignored, PolitiFact documents some of the admittedly raw deals the Native Americans got and declares DeSantis as wrong as can be:

It's well-documented that the U.S. repeatedly made treaties with Native Americans and then violated them using force and other means to accommodate non-Native settlement. Courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have time and again affirmed that as fact.

Government-endorsed actions to remove Native Americans from their ancestral lands included the 1830 passage of a federal law that led to war and resulted in thousands of Native deaths and more than 3,000 Seminoles being removed from Florida.

DeSantis' claim is wildly historically inaccurate. We rate it Pants on Fire!

How does that push back against a DeSantis objection to the immigration statement Hernández-Mats promoted? It doesn't. Instead, it blandly moves in step with liberal-progressive orthodoxy. PolitiFact can't be bothered to dig up articles that explain the objection to singling out Western nations as occupying stolen land.

The Spectator/Historian Jeff Fynn-Paul:

The narrative of the ‘stolen country’ or ‘Native American genocide’ does not stand up to scrutiny by any honest and clear-sighted historian. It is a dangerously myopic and one-sided interpretation of history. It has only gained currency because most practising historians and history teachers are either susceptible to groupthink, or else have been cowed into silence by fear of losing their jobs. Reduced to its puerile form of ‘statement of guilt’, this myth puts 100 per cent of the burden on Europeans who are held responsible for all historical evil, while the First Nations people are mere victims; martyrs even, whose saintlike innocence presumes that their civilisation and society were practically perfect in every way.

All Land is Stolen/Anthony Galli:

The only reason you can claim to “own” land is because of the implicit threat of military/police force against anyone who might try to take it from you. In the good ol’ prehistoric days, man would have to defend his own cave, but now our self-defense is largely done by our respective governments so that we can worry about other things like what’s on Netflix. In other words, a country is one big cave where the current occupant claims to own the cave by threatening force if you try to “steal” it.

In fact, what makes the United States of America so special is how well we treated the former inhabitants of the land we purchased… relative to how every other nation on Earth had treated conquered people up-till that point, which granted still isn’t saying much because the Trail of Tears definitely wasn’t a walk in the park.

Authors such as these help point out that viewing one's own nation as a thief will tend to erode society. And given that every nation qualifies as a thief in trivial "stolen land" terms, there is no real solution to the problem that doesn't involve destroying society. Further, in terms of permitting free immigration on the southern border, why should the descendants of land-stealing conquistadors have title to land stolen in an arguably more civilized way north of the Mexican border?

It doesn't make sense. But PolitiFact will not present those views.

PolitiFact has a narrative to nurture. And excluding competing narratives serves as one means toward that end.

Research note: PolitiFact's 'Pants on Fire' bias through October 2022

We continue to update our research project examining PolitiFact's bias in applying its "Pants on Fire" rating.

The project notes that the difference between "False" and "Pants on Fire" ratings on PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" counts as subjective. "False" statements are untrue, while "Pants on Fire" statements are untrue and "ridiculous." "Ridiculous" is a subjective judgment on its face, and PolitiFact has never published a description of the it suggesting otherwise.

Through the end of October 2022, PolitiFact had only given a Democratic Party officeholder/candidate/organization/appointee one "Pants on Fire" rating that counts toward our statistics. Our count omits claims from that attack the claimant's own political party. One of those occurred, published through PolitiFact New York.

As a result, we found PolitiFact nearly six times more likely to subjectively rate (what it views as) false claims from Republicans as "Pants on Fire" compared to such claims from Democrats.

Interestingly, PolitiFact National published its first "Pants on Fire" rating for a Democrat in 2022 not long after we tagged PolitiFact's Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan in our tweet about this graph. A graph including the November stats as of today would put the 2022 PoF Bias number near 3.2--not the all-time record but instead solidly among the four highest bias measures taken since 2007.

Of course new ratings may move the numbers greatly by the end of the year.

Readers curious about the trends and details of the chart may wish to look at our explanation for the full chart at the end of 2021.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

PolitiSpin: Biden says he cut the debt by $1.5 trillion? Half True!

We kiddeth not when we call PolitiFact a collection of liberal bloggers posing as non-partisan fact checkers.

U.S. debt hasn't gone down at all under Biden, as PolitiFact admits. PolitiFact cited a September 2022 estimate saying the deficit, not the debt, would decrease by about $1.7 trillion compared to FY2021, but that leaves a deficit of almost $1 trillion that will increase the debt by that same amount.

So, how does a left-leaning fact checker go about making a false statement seem like a partially true statement that leaves out important details or takes things out of context?

Watch and learn, wannabe liberal bloggers who covet the "fact checker" label:

"We’ve also reduced the debt and reduced the debt by $350 billion my first year," Biden said. "This year, it's going to be over $1.5 trillion (that we’ve) reduced the debt."

Biden has a point that his administration has presided over smaller deficits than were seen under the Trump administration, based on Congressional Budget Office estimates. But Biden’s remark leaves out important context. The debt had risen because of a temporary phase of unusual federal spending.

No Reduction of U.S. Debt

It's simple. Declare that when Biden says he reduced the debt by $1.5 trillion he's actually making a valid point about reducing the deficit and therefore reducing the growth of the debt. Then imply that the problem with Biden's claim isn't using "debt" instead of "deficit" but that he has left out the fact that most of the deficit reduction happened as old COVID programs stopped shelling out so much federal money.

We're probably not supposed to point out that PolitiFact omits all mention of Mr. Biden's student loan forgiveness program. The CBO said, on the page PolitiFact cited for its deficit figure, loan forgiveness actions in September 2022 could substantially affect deficit figures for FY2022.

That's what a liberal blogger will leave out that a nonpartisan fact checker will mention.

What About Biden's Underlying Point?

PolitiFact has reliably (?) informed us that the most important aspect of a numbers claim comes from the speaker's underlying point. If the numbers are off but the main point stands, a favorable "Truth-O-Meter" rating may result.

 Adair:

(W)e realized we were ducking the underlying point of blame or credit, which was the crucial message. So we began rating those types of claims as compound statements. We not only checked whether the numbers were accurate, we checked whether economists believed an office holder's policies were much of a factor in the increase or decrease.

It turns out in the Biden fact check PolitiFact found Mr. Biden was taking credit for the non-existent debt reduction:

During a Sept. 18 interview with CBS’ "60 Minutes," President Joe Biden touted his administration’s efforts to rein in federal debt.

We judge that if PolitiFact believed Biden was touting "his administration's efforts to rein in federal debt" then it regards his debt reduction claim was an effort to take credit for that supposed reduction.

So, was it a Biden administration effort that reduced the deficit (not the debt) by $1.5 trillion compared to FY2021?

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):

Spending programs passed earlier in the pandemic began expiring this year, meaning federal outlays have declined. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonprofit public policy group, has estimated that more than 80% of the $1.7 trillion reduction in the deficit can be explained by expiring or shrinking COVID-19 relief.
We calculate that as $1.35 trillion out of the $1.7 trillion, leaving Biden with the potential to claim credit for as much as $350 billion of the deficit reduction. Giving the president credit for the entire amount results in an estimated exaggeration (minimum) of 329 percent (($1.5 trillion-$.35 trillion)/$.35 trillion).

So Biden claimed debt reduction that was not debt reduction and exaggerated his administration's share of the deficit reduction by over three times its actual amount. Therefore, according to PolitiFact, what he said was half true.

The 'Slowing the Rate of Growth' Excuse

PolitiFact cleverly, or perhaps stupidly, excuses Biden's use of "debt" instead of "deficit" by interpreting the claim to mean slowing the growth of the debt. PolitiFact could argue precedent for that approach, for claims about "cutting Medicare" or "cutting Medicaid" tend to receive "Half True" ratings or worse (worse tends to happen if Republican).

The problem? Biden got the "Half True" while exaggerating the numbers in his favor for purposes of claiming credit. And that's with PolitiFact helping out by not mentioning the potential cost of his student loan bailout proposal. The Penn Wharton budget model (University of Pennsylvania) estimated costs of over $500 billion for 2022.

That figure would wipe out the administration's potential share of $350 billion of deficit reduction.

The "slowing the rate of growth" excuse doesn't come close to justifying a "Half True" rating.

We have here another strong entry from PolitiFact for the Worst Fact Check of 2022.

Friday, September 9, 2022

PolitiFact vs Your Lyin' Eyes on the immigration invasion

On Sept. 6, 2022 PolitiFact published an item titled "A surprising number of Americans believe these false claims about immigrants. Here are the facts."

We have a favorite among the supposedly false claims believed by a surprising number of Americans.

"There is no invasion at the southern border"

No invasion at the southern border? Tell us more, PolitiFact.
More than half of Americans surveyed by NPR/Ipsos believe it is completely or somewhat true that the "U.S. is experiencing an invasion at the southern border."

But many immigrants crossing the border illegally turn themselves into Border Patrol agents on purpose, to ask for asylum, Brown said. 

"That is not behavior that you would really attribute to an invader," Brown said. She said that usually, the term invasion is used to describe a concerted effort by a country to forcibly enter another country to take it over.

Such reasoning does not belong in fact-checking. On the contrary, the logic PolitiFact accepts belongs as far from fact-checking as possible.

Here's PolitiFact's supposed logic: If the expert says "invasion" usually means one country making a concerted effort to forcibly enter another to take it over, then "invasion" means one country making a concerted effort to forcibly enter another country to take it over. For PolitiFact, it then follows that Americans viewing a tide of illegal immigration at the southern border incorrectly see it as an invasion.

At least PolitiFact declined to follow the lead of its source, NPR/Ipsos, in calling the term "invasion" racist.

Hopefully the definition from Webster's New World College Dictionary, supposedly a standard for U.S. journalists (we're using the fourth edition) can help clear things up:
 

in-va-sion ... n. ... an invading or being invaded; specif., a) an entering or being entered by an attacking military force b) an intrusion or infringement

Is there any valid reason to suppose that illegal entry to the United States does not count as intrusion? Of course not. And any fact-checker unable to figure that out cannot be worthy of the name.

Regarding the invasion at the southern border, you can believe PolitiFact or your lyin' eyes.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Stanley Kurtz/National Review: "PolitiFact’s Failed Attack on DeSantis, over Civics Education"

With less time to devote to this website, we don't often highlight outside work. But that was actually our aim when we started out!

This article in National Review by Stanley Kurtz does a terrific job rebutting PolitiFact's latest screed targeting Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida.

Late last Friday, PolitiFact issued a “fact check” claiming that Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s recent swipe against the Civics Secures Democracy Act (CSDA) was “false.” Actually, DeSantis’s criticism of CSDA is on the mark. It’s PolitiFact’s reporting that’s fallacious. PolitiFact’s failed attack on DeSantis can fairly be called an opinion piece in disguise. But it’s also something more — and worse — than that. Yacob Reyes of PolitiFact thoroughly misrepresents DeSantis, merely refuting a straw man of his own making. Let’s have a look, then, at the media’s latest bogus hit job on DeSantis.

Key to PolitiFact's argument was its contention that the Civics Secures Democracy Act has language supposedly barring it from being used to set education policy. PolitiFact noted arguments to the contrary but framed them as unsupported conservative opinion. 

 


Framing something as unsupported conservative opinion apparently means not needing to undercut the argument without a fallacious appeal.

The article [by Kurtz, in National Review] then suggested the criteria for receiving the grants could entice states to conform their curricula to "federal demands," such as when states began adopting Common Core, a set of national educational standards. 
Common Core’s critics have often accused the federal government of coercing states into adopting the standards in exchange for grant money. We have fact-checked similar claims about Common Core before and found them inaccurate.
PoliitiFact inaccurately claimed it fact checked similar claims. The claims it checked were only superficially similar.

For our part, we pointed out to the PolitiFact author, Yacob Reyes, that liberal Vox.com made a argument parallel to the one PolitiFact dismissed as unsupported conservative opinion.

The federal government didn't write the standards, but it has promoted them. The stimulus bill included $4.4 billion in Education Department grants for states that adopted "college- and career-ready standards."

States weren't explicitly required to adopt the Common Core in order to compete for the federal money; they could have used their own standards if they proved to the Education Department that those standards prepared students for college. Nearly all of them adopted Common Core instead, and all of the states who eventually won the grants were Common Core states.

Too bad for Vox that correlations are only "True" when PolitiFact says they are.

It's just another case of PolitiFact substituting its own straw men for claims while presenting evidence weighted toward one side.

Kurtz's article is worth reading through to the last word.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

PolitiFact: How can we rig this abortion fact check to help President Biden? Part III

We thought we were done with the series examining PolitiFact's efforts to help President Joe Biden on an abortion claim. Then we saw the video version of PolitiFact's fact check.

PolitiFact released the video after the "clarification" it performed after a Zebra Fact Check (Bryan's fact-checking website) correction request.

Video Version

For review, Mr. Biden said the United States Supreme Court had turned the United States into an "outlier" among developed nations with its Dobbs ruling overturning the Roe v. Wade abortion precedent. Here's how PolitiFact presented the Biden quotation (bold emphasis added):

"With this decision, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court shows how extreme it is, how far removed they are from the majority of this country. They made the United States an outlier among developed nations in the world."

Anatomy of an Equivocal Argument

As with the original version of the fact check, the video version constructs an equivocal argument. Equivocal arguments make use of fallacies of equivocation, where terms change meaning in a way that alters the terms between a premise and the conclusion.

"Economic Peers"

Biden claimed the Court made the United States an outlier among "developed nations," and that claim serves as a premise of PolitiFact's argument supporting the truth of Biden's claim. PolitiFact promptly changes that term to "economic peers" in the version of Biden's claim it chose to fact check:

We asked: 'Is the U.S. now an outlier among its economic peers?'
Why "economic peers" instead of Biden's phrasing, "developed nations"? Maybe because the change makes it easier to help Biden out?

"Economic peers" was just the first of two big steps in PolitiFact's equivocation fallacy.

"G7"

By shifting the focus from Biden's phrasing to its own summary of Biden's words, PolitiFact informs its audience that the G7 (six nations in addition to the United States) counts as the relevant economic peer group.


So, who are American's peers? The G7 is a group of the world's largest developed economies. It includes the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
PolitiFact incrementally weans us off of the "developed nations" Biden mentioned and guides us to a handful of "the world's largest developed economies." And does it in the name of fact-checking.

A conscientious fact checker, minus clear guidance from the source of the claim it is testing, would use the same means of identifying "developed nations" each time it fact checks a claim involving the phrase.

How PolitiFact Has Used the Term 'Developed Nations'

In this case PolitiFact does not use the same means of identifying "developed nations" that it used in other fact checks.

2014

The curve usually includes 23 countries, most of which are Western, and shows the United States lags behind other developed countries like Italy, Japan, Switzerland and New Zealand. Countries considered even less mobile than America include China, Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

2019

The list includes Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

 2021

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development studied paid maternity leave for 36 OECD countries -- developed nations  -- and five additional European Union countries and Costa Rica.
Did no fewer than 29 OECD countries go from developed to something less than developed in one year? Count us skeptical.

PolitiFact does not define "developed nations" with a fact checker's precision. It defines the term to suit its taste for the moment. Its tastes may shift according to availability of data, or according to the framing it gives to the claim it fact checks. "Developed nations" can ultimately be whatever PolitiFact wants them to be.

G7 Abortion Policies?

After absurdly narrowing down "developed nations" to the G7, PolitiFact supposedly reviews the policies for each. Given that Zebra Fact Check pointed out the Northern Ireland discrepancy to PolitiFact, we'll focus on PolitiFact's description of United Kingdom abortion policy:

Abortion in the United Kingdom is legal up to 24 weeks with the approval of two doctors.This can be later if serious health risks emerge.

We pointed out to PolitiFact that policy in Northern Ireland differs from the rest of the UK and they still screwed it up. PolitiFact describes the policy for the bulk of the UK (Great Britain) as though it covers the entirety of the UK. It doesn't. In Northern Ireland abortion is legal up to 12 weeks, but it can be later owing to serious permanent health risk to the mother (or fetal abnormality, high risk of death).

PolitiFact should have known better than to include that falsehood in its video production.

What's an 'outlier'?

PolitiFact's fact check makes us wonder if PolitiFact knows the meaning of "outlier."

1. One that lives or is located outside or at the edge of a given area: outliers of the forest standing in the field.
2. One that exists outside or at an extreme of a category, pattern, or expectation; an extreme case or exception: "those egg-laying outliers of mammaldom, the duck-billed platypus and the anteating echidna" (Natalie Angier).
3. A value far from most others in a set of data: "Outliers make statistical analyses difficult" (Harvey Motulsky).
4. A portion of stratified rock separated from a main formation by erosion.

We think Biden had to have definition No. 2 in mind when he called the United States an "outlier." Did PolitiFact equivocate on the definition of "outlier" and simply forget to tell us? Back to the words of the video:

Other countries in Europe, such as the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, largely follow the pattern.
They're kidding, right? "Largely" follow the pattern?

How many outliers can you have before the group of outliers is not longer outlying? In the European Union, Malta and Poland have strict abortion limits nationally. Why is PolitiFact cherry-picking EU nations with permissive abortion laws as though that solidifies "outlier" status for the United States?

Again, that isn't fact-checking. It's another case of equivocation, a text-based shell game that may trick the audience into accepting a bad argument.

Stated plainly and without moving any shells, if the United States was part of the EU, then Malta and Poland would be the abortion outliers, not the United States. Certainly Malta and Poland are not part of the G7, but are they "developed nations"? Does the EU allow membership to merely developing nations? The United Nations counts Malta and Poland as developed economies. Why doesn't PolitiFact?

PolitiFact isn't fact-checking this question. It's tricking people.

The Video Fact Check Takes a Different Approach Than the Text Version

The text version of the fact check tried to avoid the problem of redefining "outlier" by focusing on legislative method instead of abortion policy proper.

As we've seen just in the group of developed EU nations, the United States does not properly count as an outlier based on abortion policy. So, in its text fact check PolitiFact tried to paint the United States as an outlier based on the way it set abortion policy--devolving the issue to the states instead of establishing it via federal law or federal judicial edict.

The reader should completely disbelieve our accusation until we back it up (bold emphasis added):

Biden said the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade "made the United States an outlier among developed nations in the world" on abortion rights.

The ruling eliminates the national right to an abortion, which puts the U.S. at odds with other developed nations, including the other six G-7 nations, most of which have laws or court rulings that provide for abortion access on a national basis, though with restrictions. The U.S. ruling does leave in place state laws that permit abortion.

PolitiFact's "most of which" line makes that approach a laugher, however. Two of the G7 (The UK and the USA) do not provide abortion via national laws or court rulings, therefore the United States counts as an "outlier"?

Again, how many outliers can you have before the outliers no longer count as outliers? One out of seven might reasonably count as an outlier. But two out of seven? The latter perhaps if the two outliers were at opposite ends of the spectrum.

As we pointed out in our earlier treatment of this fact check, making the United States an outlier because of its federalist system makes a hash of what Mr. Biden tried to argue.

But as so often happens at PolitiFact, fact-checking takes a back seat to nurturing liberal narratives.

What Should Have Been

It should not have been hard to come up with a reasonable list of "developed nations" and then list their abortion policies and compare them to the range available in the United States. And after that see if the dictionary definition of "outlier" applies.

A fact checker that somehow avoids that approach ought to have some explaining to do.

A fact checker that produces an equivocal and incoherent fact check, such as PolitiFact's, ought to have even more explaining to do.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

PolitiFact: How can we rig this abortion fact check to help President Biden? Part II

Lo and behold, PolitiFact made changes to the fact check we critiqued in our previous post.

Recall that we lodged three main criticisms of PolitiFact's "Mostly True" confirmation of President Biden's claim the Supreme Court's Dobbs decision made the United States an outlier among developed nations.

  1. PolitiFact cherry-picked its pool of "developed nations."
  2. It misidentified "Great Britain" as a member of the G7, enabling it to ignore a Northern Ireland spanner in the works
  3. It falsely stated members of the G7, except the United States, "have national laws or court decisions that allow access to abortion, with various restrictions."

PolitiFact partially fixed the second problem.

Fixing the second problem without fixing the third problem magnifies the third problem. And PolitiFact, again, failed to follow its own corrections policy.

Let's start with the "clarification" notice and work from there:

CLARIFICATION, June 27, 2022: This story has been clarified to reflect that the United Kingdom, which contains Northern Ireland, is a G-7 nation. It has also been updated to describe current abortion laws in Northern Ireland.

Note the "clarification" notice announces a clarification and an update.

What does PolitiFact's statement of principles prescribe for clarifications and updates?

Clarification:

Oops! PolitiFact's statement of principles offers no procedure for doing a clarification!

The either means that PolitiFact is following its principles because the principles allow it to do whatever it wants, or else it means that PolitiFact isn't really following a principle.

Update:

Updates – From time to time, we add additional information to stories and fact-checks after they’ve published, not as a correction but as a service to readers. Examples include a response from the speaker we received after publication (that did not change the conclusion of the report), or breaking news after publication that is relevant to the check. Updates can be made parenthetically within the text with a date, or at the end of the report. Updated fact-checks receive a tag of "Corrections and updates."

We think it clear that this policy calls for newly added "update" material within the original text to occur with clear cues to the reader where the material was added ("parenthetically within the text with a date"). Otherwise, the new material occurs at the end of the item after the update notice.

It's easier to find PolitiFact updates done incorrectly than ones done correctly. But this example shows an update done the right way:

 

The method shown communicates clearly to readers how the article changed.

This is infinitely more transparent than PolitiFact's common practice of an update notice at the end saying, in effect "We changed stuff in the story above on this date."

Understood correctly, PolitiFact corrected its story. It fixed its mistake in misleadingly identifying Great Britain as a member of the G7. And the "update" was not new information. It was information PolitiFact should have included originally but mistakenly did not.

The fact check continues to do readers a disservice by failing to inform them that the U.K. in 2019 forced Northern Ireland, via special legislation, to permit abortion. That still-missing fact contradicts PolitiFact's claim that members of the G7 other than the United States"have national laws or court decisions that allow access to abortion, with various restrictions." The legislation forcing Northern Ireland to permit legal abortion was not a national law, nor was it a court decision.

The law is specific to Northern Ireland.

We'll end with an image we created for Twitter. It's an image from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, using its comparison feature. Text highlighted in blue was changed from the original text, and we added red lines under the part of PolitiFact's fact check that remains false.



Saturday, June 25, 2022

PolitiFact: How can we rig this abortion fact check to help President Biden?

Day by day, it's amazing to watch the kind of material PolitiFact publishes as supposedly "not biased" fact-checking.

From yesterday, June 24, we have this (red X added):


In what respect was President Biden claiming the United States counts as an outlier among "developed nations"? Here's how PolitiFact presented the president's statement:
"With this decision, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court shows how extreme it is, how far removed they are from the majority of this country," Biden said a couple hours after the ruling was released on June 24. "They have made the United States an outlier among developed nations in the world."

How far removed is the Supreme Court from the majority in this country? If we start with the amount of legal education, the gulf between does seem obvious. But Biden surely meant the Court's attitude toward abortion, even though the Court was faced with ruling on what U.S. law says about abortion, and not how to transform popular American attitudes into national law.

And how had the Court "made the United States an  outlier among developed nations of the world"? PolitiFact has published items showing it at least understands that abortion law varies widely among comparably developed nations. If it's "Half True" that "'39 out of 42 (countries) in Europe have more restrictive abortion laws' than Mississippi" then how is PolitiFact supposed to pull Biden's fat out of the fire on this one?

PolitiFact called in the Spin Team (our term!) of Madison Czopek and Tom Kertscher. The team developed a PolitiFantastic interpretation of Biden's claim:

While the high court’s decision leaves in place state laws that permit abortion, it removes the national right to an abortion — something that is widely guaranteed by laws or court rulings in other developed nations.

So ... President Biden was just saying that Court made the United States, home of the 10th amendment, an outlier on the basis of  its newfound lack of an explicit or de facto national abortion access law?

But what other developed nations have something like the 10th amendment in their constitutions? If they lack such a thing then isn't this a pointless exercise? The U.S. is an outlier because of the structure of its federalist system, not simply because of the Court.

Damn those torpedoes! PolitiFact's going full speed ahead!

Would you believe ...

... no mention of 'federalism'?

PolitiFact came oh-so-close to unraveling the mystery of the missing federal law setting abortion policy nationally in the United States:

The high court ruled 6-3 to uphold a restrictive Mississippi law and 5-4 to reverse Roe, with the majority opinion saying "the Constitution makes no express reference to a right to obtain an abortion." The decision ended nearly 50 years of federally protected access to abortion and returned power to individual states to set their own laws.

That means access to abortion varies widely in the U.S.

 Correct, PolitiFact. It's almost like the European Union that way.

In the EU, Malta is the only country where abortion is still completely prohibited. But Poland has a near-total ban in place, and many EU states have a range of legal barriers to abortion, such as mandatory counselling, waiting periods between a request and the abortion, third party consent, low upper time limits and limited legal grounds that force many women to travel to other countries, and all the increased restrictions on travel due to Covid-19, especially where access to abortion pills and self-managed abortion have not been made available.

 It's going to be really something when these fact checkers discover the concept of federalism.

... 'developed nations' don't need to be restricted to just the G7?

PolitiFact cleverly removed Malta and Poland from the "developed nations" list by restricting that list to the G7:

Developed nations consisting of the world’s leading economies are sometimes referred to as the G7, or the Group of Seven, which includes the U.S. and six other industrialized nations. Unlike the U.S., those six have national laws or court decisions that allow access to abortion, with various restrictions.

Would you believe PolitiFact has no consistent history of confining "developed nations" to the G7?

... 'Great Britain' as a G7 nation?

Would you believe Great Britain isn't listed as a G7 nation even though PolitiFact includes "Great Britain" on its list?

Would you believe that Great Britain isn't the same thing as the United Kingdom with respect to abortion law?

Great Britain technically refers to the main British island, made up of England, Scotland and Wales. "Great Britain" is sometimes used as a synonym for the United Kingdom, but if PolitiFact meant it that way then it should have pointed out that the U.K. only passed a law later resulting in liberalized abortion law in Northern Ireland in 2019.

"U.K." literally means "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."

So the United Kingdom was the G7 outlier until 2019. The G7 went with no outlier for a couple of years before the SCOTUS struck down the Roe v. Wade precedent.

Why did PolitiFact miss all this stuff?

Probably because PolitiFact is biased. Very probably.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

PolitiFact issues another pathetic appeal for donations

The pressure PolitiFact feels to raise money from individual donors has resulted in a distinct story genre. PolitiFact's lying "PolitiFact is not biased" article from 2018 serves as a fine example, with PolitiFact skirting the facts about itself to sell its biased fact-checking to would be donors.

In 2022, PolitiFact looked to do whiny Taylor Lorenz one better with its mewling "PolitiFact reporters face online harassment; we keep fact-checking anyway."

 In the alleged interest of transparency, PolitiFact tells us it receives vicious attacks. But it does not relate the specifics because that might give them undue attention!

In other words, it's not about transparency. It's about money.

And it's about twisting the truth.

The self-pity party, penned by PolitiFact Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan, begins:

Fact-checking journalism has never been exactly easy. 

Our normal work days include overcoming a series of obstacles: We field questions from readers seeking the facts on topics large and small. We dig for hard-to-find information over the internet and track down experts to interview over the phone. We reach out to press secretaries and spokespeople, seeking their comments and insights. We write the fact-checks and take them through a rigorous editing process with many revisions. We list and link to all of our sources so readers can review our work for themselves. We energetically debate ratings on our Truth-O-Meter.

The "rigorous editing process" counts as a howler. Significant errors often slide past three(!) PolitiFact editors as well as the writer. Zebaa Fact Check documented one such example from May 25, 2022, when PolitiFact rated a false statement (and bankrupt argument) from a Democrat "Mostly True."

The claim that they "energetically debate ratings on our Truth-O-Meter" counts as fluff. The Truth-O-Meter debates are not public. You'll just have to take their word for it. Such transparency! And if the vote of three editors gets split, they're not going to tell you how the vote went down.

Too transparent?

In the interest of transparency, we're not linking to any specific examples

Hilariously, PolitiFact trumpets its transparency in detailing the attacks it has suffered while also taking pains not to identify any specific examples of attacks it has suffered. Instead, PolitiFact names two of its attackers (Dan Bongino! And Ron DeSantis' press secretary Christina Pushaw!). As to what the evildoers did, PolitiFact cannot mention anything specific for fear of amplifying the evil message. But trust PolitiFact when it says the behavior "can only be described as online harassment and intimidation."

To assure our readers of our high-quality content we need more smoke!

PolitiFact offends most deeply with its sanctimonious attitude. Just check this out:

The actions of these anti-journalism forces are deeply concerning to everyone who cares about the independent practice of fact-finding. Disparagement of individual journalists has become an occupational hazard for PolitiFact’s staff and among journalists at media organizations around the country.
Again, PolitiFact offered no specific description of the actions undertaken by "anti-journalism forces."  Bongino supposed misrepresented PolitiFact's findings (no specifics, sorry!). Pushaw published inquiries from journalists, ridiculed them and then did something else bad (PolitiFact hints).

Deeply concerning to everyone who cares about the independent practice of fact-finding? Maybe if PolitiFact had divulged some of the specific facts we would have reason for real concern.

More sanctimony: They say we made mistakes--but we didn't!

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):

Reporters were singled out individually as being unfit for their jobs. They’ve been vilified for not having advanced credentials or specialized academic degrees. (Conversely, they’ve also been criticized as out-of-touch elites.) They’ve been told over and over that they should be fired for incompetence. In reality, their credentials are entirely appropriate for journalism, their reporting was factually valid, and the published fact-checks were solid and without error. For the record, they’re in zero danger of being fired.
Again, in the interest of transparency PolitiFact tells us that the charges of error PolitiFact will not tell us about were themselves wrong, and PolitiFact was right all along!

This is from an organization that, its internal "Truth-O-Meter" debates aside, typically avoids commenting on charges of error. Indeed, the fact checkers at PolitiFact often seem quite happy to stand behind obviously false reporting.

Of course the point is obviou$

Our readers remain a huge source of solace in the face of online attacks. Many of them support us financially with monthly donations. They share our reports online and publicly comment that they appreciate our work. Others contact us directly with simple words of support sent via email or on social media. We are here to serve those who seek fact-based, civil expression. Disagreement is fine. Personal, ugly attacks are shameful — and won’t discourage us from our work.
PolitiFact's article is best viewed as an appeal for money.

If people want to give money to a left-leaning fact checker, give to one that plausibly hews to standards of integrity, like FactCheck.org. FactCheck.org resisted joining the ludicrous "normal tourist visit" media smear of of Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.). PolitiFact went all in (and couldn't even punctuate the supposed quotation correctly).

Name-calling aside, PolitiFact deserves heaps of criticism. It stinks at fact-checking. The worst of the mainstream fact-checkers seems to see itself in no need of improvement except improved cash flow.

Not. Very. Objective.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Enter Strawman: PolitiFact uses interpretive follies to downgrade Republican claim

PolitiFact routinely applies uncharitable interpretation to reach nonsensical conclusions with its trademarked "Truth-O-Meter" ratings. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wisc.) received that treatment from PolitiFact Wisconsin on June 10, 2022.

Grothman said the proposed loan forgiveness plan would primarily benefit the wealthy. And he went on to emphasize the program occurs while low income Americans struggle.

PolitiFact did a fair job at first of presenting Grothman's words:

"Nearly 60% of all student loan debt is held by the rich and upper-middle class," he said in a May 21, 2022 newsletter. "So, by forgiving student loan debt, we would be handing the wealthy a financial windfall while low income Americans suffer further from inflation and rising costs."

DALL-E image of "Enter Strawman"
Enter Strawman

But then the twisting began:
For the purposes of this fact-check, we’re going to look at the portion of the claim about who holds student loan debt, and whether or not forgiveness would help low-income people.
Out of the blue, PolitiFact Wisconsin jumps to the conclusion Grothman's saying loan forgiveness extended to low-income persons would do little to help them.

PolitiFact simply declines to consider Grothmann might mean that executing a policy that most benefits the wealthy makes little sense during an inflation crunch that's particularly hurting lower-income Americans. PolitiFact confirms Grothman was right that the policy would tend to benefit the wealthy. But by pursuing its far-fetched interpretation of Grothman's claim, PolitiFact ends up defeating a straw man:
(Grothmann) misfires a bit in suggesting that loan forgiveness would not matter much to low-income people. For college graduates in lesser-paying jobs, it might make a huge difference in terms of their finances.

"Suggesting." That's PolitiFact-ese for "We made it up."

Grothman wasn't saying loan forgiveness would not help lower income people who received it. He was saying loan forgiveness mostly would benefit the wealthy when lower income people are the ones in need of relief.

But try to tell that to a liberal blogger wearing the "fact checker" label.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

PolitiFact's ongoing double standard on correlation versus causation

PolitiFact does not advertise the fact that it applies standards inconsistently.

But it could do so without misleading people.

The liberal bloggers at PolitiFact, who pass themselves off as objective fact checkers, presented us with a new example the other day.

President Biden passed correlation off as causation. "Mostly True," said PolitiFact: Because, you know, the correlation was there.

PolitiFact's reasoning:

A key study backs Biden up. But the reality is millions of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines remained in circulation during the ban, and that makes it hard to tease out the law’s impact. 

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Of course it's child's play to come up with an example where somebody factually claimed a correlation and got PolitiDinged for it.

The Facebook post did not directly claim causation any more than did President Biden.



PolitiFact confirmed the claimed correlation, but guess what? There was no proof the higher mask usage caused the deaths! So, "False."

PolitiFact's reasoning:

A Facebook post said there’s a "‘positive correlation’ between higher mask usage and COVID-19 deaths."

The post was referencing a study that reviewed data from 35 European countries and found that in places where mask usage was higher, COVID-19 deaths were also higher. But the study’s author said there was no cause-and-effect found.  

Critics of the study said masking protocols were issued in response to high rates of transmission. So it would be expected that deaths would occur while masking would be in place. 

Public health officials recommend masking as one way to help reduce transmission..

We rate this claim False.

Parallel cases. Both claims asserted a correlation. In both cases PolitiFact substantially confirmed the correlation but noted that correlation does not prove causation. Nearly polar opposite ratings resulted. 

That's how PolitiFact rolls.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Literally false and the underlying point is false, therefore "Mostly True"

 Have we mentioned PolitiFact is biased?

Check out this epic fail from the liberal bloggers at PolitiFact (red x added):


PolitiFact found it "Mostly True" that most of the "killers" to which Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) referred tend to be 18, 19 years old.

What's wrong with that?

Let us count the ways.

In reviewing the context, Sen. Murphy was arguing that raising the age at which a person may buy a gun would reduce school shootings. Right now that threshold stands at 18 in most states and for most legal guns, with certain exceptions.

If, as Murphy says, most school shootings come from 18 and 19-year-olds then a law moving the purchase age to 21 could potentially have quite an effect.

"Tend To Be"="Tend To Be Under"?

But PolitiFact took a curious approach to Murphy's claim. The fact checkers treated the claim as though Murphy was saying the "killers" (shooters) were 20 years old or below.

That's not what Murphy said, but giving his claim that interpretation counts as one way liberal bloggers posing as objective journalists could do Murphy a favor.

When PolitiFact checked Murphy's stats, it found half of the shooters were 16 or under:

When the Post analyzed these shootings, it found that more than two-thirds were committed by shooters under the age of 18. The analysis found that the median age for school shooters was 16.

So, using this criteria [sic], Murphy is correct, even slightly understating the case.

See what PolitiFact did, there?

Persons 16 and under are not 18, 19 years old. Not the way Murphy needs them to be 18, 19 years old.

If Murphy can change a law that makes it illegal for most shooters ("18, 19 years old") to buy a gun, that sounds like an effective measure. But persons 17 and under typically can't buy guns as things stand. So, for the true majority of shooters Murphy's law (pun intended?) wouldn't change their ability to buy guns. Rather it would simply remain illegal as it is now.

To emphasize, when PolitiFact found "the media age for school shooters was 16" that effectively means that most school shooters are 17 or below. That actually contradicts Murphy's claim that most are aged 18 or 19. We should expect that most are below the age of 17, in fact.

If Murphy argues for raising the age for buying a gun to 21 based on most shootings coming from persons below the age of 16, that doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make sense because it would not change anything for the majority of shooters. They can't buy guns now or under Murphy's proposed law.

Calculated Nonsense?

By spouting mealy-mouthed nonsense, Murphy succeeded laying out a narrative that gun control advocates would like to back. Murphy makes it seem that raising the gun-buying age to 21 might keep most school shooters from buying their guns.

As noted above, the facts don't back that claim. It's nonsense. But if a Democratic senator can get trusted media sources to back that nonsense, well then it becomes a compelling Media Narrative!

Strict Literal Interpretation

Under strict literal interpretation, Murphy's claim must count as false. If most school shooters are 16 years old or younger then the existence of just one 17 year-old shooter makes his claim false. Half plus one makes a majority every time.

Murphy's claim was false under strict literal (hyperliteral) interpretation.

Normal Interpretation

Normal interpretation is literal interpretation, but taking things like "raining cats and dogs" the way people (literally) understand them normally. We've reviewed how normal interpretation should work in this case. To support a legitimate argument for a higher gun-buying age, Murphy needs to do so by identifying a population that the legislation would reasonably affect. The ages Murphy named (18, 19) meeting that criterion. And, because Murphy used some language indicative of estimation ("tend to be") we can even reasonably count 20 years of age in Murphy's set.

Expanding his set down to 17 doesn't make sense because changing the gun purchase age from 18 to 21 has no effect on a 17-year-old's ability to purchase a gun at 17.

But combining the shootings from 18, 19 and 20 year-olds cannot make up "most" of the school shootings if the media age for the shooters is 16 and at least one shooter was either 17 or over 20.

Murphy's claim was false given normal (literal) interpretation.

Biased Interpretation

PolitiFact used biased interpretation. The fact checkers implicitly said Murphy meant most of the shootings came from people under the age of 18 or 19, even though that makes nonsense of Murphy's argument.

PolitiFact's biased interpretation enhanced a misleading media narrative attractive to liberals.

Coincidence?

Nah. PolitiFact is biased to the left. So we see them do this kind of thing over and over again.

So it's not surprising when PolitiFact rates a literally false statement from a Democrat as "Mostly True."


Correction June 1, 2022: Fixed a typo (we're=we've)

Thursday, March 17, 2022

PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" bias in 2021

As we noted in our post about the "Pants on Fire" research for 2020, we have changed the way we do the research.

PolitiFact revamped its website in 2020, and the update made it next to impossible to reliably identify which of PolitiFact's various franchises were responsible for a fact check. Instead of focusing on PolitiFact National, it makes more sense to lump all of PolitiFact together. But the new approach has a drawback. The new evaluations represent an apples-to-oranges comparison to the old evaluations.

To deal with that problem, we went back and did PolitiFact's entire history since 2007 using the new method.

With the research updated using the new method, we are now able to compare the new research with the old method.

Spoiler: Using the new method, PolitiFact was 2.66 times more likely to rule a claim it viewed as false as "Pants on Fire" from a Republican than for a Democrat. That's PolitiFact's third-highest bias figure of all time, though PolitiFact National, considered separately, has exceeded that figure at least three times.

 

Method Comparison: New vs. Old 

Our new graph shows the old method, running from 2007 through 2019, along with the new method graphed from 2007 through 2021.


The black line represents the old method. The red line represents the new.

The numbers represent the what we term the "PoF bias number," which is an expression of how much more likely it is that PolitiFact will a claim it regards as false a "Pants on Fire" rating for a Republican over a Democrat. So, for 2009 under the old method (black line), the GOP was 3.14 times more likely to have one of its supposedly false statements rated "Pants on Fire."

As our research has documented, PolitiFact has never offered an objective means of determining the ridiculousness of a claim viewed as false. The "Pants on Fire" rating, to all appearance, has to qualify as a subjective judgment. In other words, the rating represents PolitiFact's opinion.

In 2017, under the old method, the bias number dropped to 0.89, showing a bias against Democrats for that year at PolitiFact National. On average over time, of course, Republicans were significantly more likely to have their false claims regarded as "ridiculous" by PolitiFact.

Notably, the new method (red line) shows a moderating effect on PolitiFact's "Pants on Fire" bias from 2008 through 2014. The red line hovers near 1.00 for much of that stretch. After 2015 the red line tends to run higher than the black line, with the notable exception of 2019.

Explaining the Numbers?

We found two correlations that might help explain the patterns we see in the graphs.

PolitiFact changes over time. From 2007 through 2009, PolitiFact National did nearly every rating. Accordingly, the red and black lines track very closely for those years. But in 2010 PolitiFact added several franchises in addition to PolitiFact Florida. Those franchises served to moderate the PoF bias number until 2015, where we measured hardly any bias at all in the application of PolitiFact's harshest rating.

After 2015, a number of franchises cut way back on their contributions to the PolitiFact "database" and a number ceased operations altogether, such as PolitiFact New Jersey and PolitiFact Tennessee. And in 2016 PolitiFact added eight new state franchises (in alphabetical order): Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Vermont and West Virginia.

The Franchise Shift

We made graphs to help illustrate the franchise shift. PolitiFact has had over 20 franchises over its history, so we'll divide the graph into two time segments to aid the visualization.

First, the franchises from 2010 through 2015 (click for larger view):

We see Florida, Texas, Rhode Island and Wisconsin established as consistent contributors. Tennessee lasts one year. Ohio drops after four years. Oregon drops after five and New Jersey after three.

Next, the franchises from 2016 through 2022 (click for larger view):


I omitted minor contributions from PolitiFact Georgia in 2016 (12) and 2017 (2). The orange bar near the top of 2016 is six states combined (hard to make out in the columns after 2016).

Note that the contributions are skinny, except for the one from Wisconsin. But even Wisconsin cut its output compared to the previous graph. We have a correlation suggesting that the participation of different state franchises impacted the bias measure.

But there's another correlation.

Republicans Lie More! Democrats Lie Less!

Liberals like to explain PolitiFact ratings that look bad for Republicans by saying that Republicans lie more. Seriously, they do that. But we found that spikes--especially recent ones--in the "Pants on Fire" bias measure were influenced by PolitiFact's spiking reluctance to give Democrats a "Pants on Fire" rating.

That correlation popped out when we created a graph showing the percentage of false statement given the "Pants on Fire" rating by party. The graph for Republicans stays pretty steady between 20 and 30 percent. The graph for Democrats fluctuates wildly, and the recent spikes in the bias measure correlate with very low percentages of "Pants on Fire" ratings for Democrats.


As is always the case, our findings support the hypothesis that PolitiFact applies its "Pants on Fire" rating subjectively, with Republicans receiving the bulk of the unfair harm. And in this case Republicans receive the bulk of the unfair harm through PolitiFact's avoidance of rating Democrat claims "Pants on Fire."

Do Democrats lie less? We don't really know. We suspect not, given the number of Democrat whoppers PolitiFact allows to escape its notice (such as this recent gem--transcript). We think PolitiFact's bias explains the numbers better than the idea Democrats lie less.



Notes on the PolitiFact franchise numbers: As we noted from the outset, PolitiFact's revamped website made it all but impossible to identify which franchise was responsible for which fact check. So how did we get our numbers?

We mostly ignored tags such as "Texas" or "Wisconsin" and looked for the names of staffers connected to the partnered newsroom. This was a fallible method because the new-look website departs from PolitiFact's old practice of listing any staffers who helped write or research an article. The new site only lists the first one mentioned from the old lists. And it has long been the case that staffers from PolitiFact National would publish fact checks under franchise banners. So our franchise fact check numbers are best taken as estimates.