We think PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" rating system offers ample evidence of PolitiFact's bias.
1) It's an admittedly subjective rating system.
2) Rating patterns differ widely at different franchises.
3) Fundamentally similar fact checks may conclude with very different ratings.
And to those three reasons we add a fourth, newly ascendant in the data we collect:
4) "Pants on Fire" seems to be going extinct/extinguished.
Have politicians discovered asbestos pants?
Through June 8, 2023, the total number of "Pants on Fire" ratings given to politicians totals
Correction 6/22/2023: We apparently made a careless error in transcribing the number of Pants on Fire ratings given to party politicians during the first half (or so) of 2023. The correct number was two, not five. The corrected number only strengthens our point that "Pants on Fire" numbers have fallen off a cliff. Yes, the chart is wrong as well in reporting five in 2023.
From 2007 through 2009, PolitiFact was just starting out, which helps explain the low numbers during that period. In 2010 state franchises such as PolitiFact Texas and PolitiFact Florida started to contribute heavily to the number of ratings, including "Pants on Fire" ratings.
The era of Bill Adair's directorship was in full flower through 2013. We see the three-year spike of GOP "Pants on Fire" ratings and a rise followed by a slow decline in Democratic Party "Pants on Fire" ratings.
Current Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan took over from Adair, and under Holan we observe a decline in "Pants on Fire" ratings for Democrats. We see the same for Republicans, notwithstanding notable election-year spikes in 2016 and 2020.
So far, the year 2023 stands out for its exceptionally low numbers.
"Republicans Lie More!"
As a catchall excuse for weird PolitiFact data, that just won't cut it. It's not good as an excuse for PolitiFact's selection bias problem. It doesn't explain PolitiFact's biased application of "Pants on Fire" ratings, and it cannot ever explain lower numbers of "Pants on Fire" ratings over time to both political parties.
So, what's the explanation?
The simplest explanation boils down to money. PolitiFact gets paid for its role as the falsehood-sniffing dog for social media censors. The most recent page of "Pants on Fire" ratings at PolitiFact's webpage is filled with "Pants on Fire" ratings given for social media claims, with not one given to a party officeholder, candidate, appointee or the like. Not one. On the previous page there's one for Donald Trump given back in May.
That suggests PolitiFact now takes a greater interest in its social media role than in holding politicians accountable. To be fair, however, PolitiFact can still manipulate political messaging effectively by giving poor ratings to messages Republicans are likely to share. Rating one social media claim, no matter who it's from, can justify stuffing a sock in the social media mouth that would repeat it.
An alternative explanation? Politicians, both Democrat and Republican, are lying less.
It will be fun to see whether fact checkers try to take credit for making politicians more truthful without any sound basis for that claim.