Tuesday, September 26, 2023

PolitiFact aids President Biden's post hoc ergo propter hoc deception

 What can PolitiFact do to help President Biden?


"But wait," our liberal or progressive friends might object. "That's just PolitiFact reporting the facts. There's no pro-Biden bias there."

On the contrary! And it's completely obvious how PolitiFact favored Biden, particularly in comparison to parallel fact checks of Republicans (and even some other Democrats).

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

What is "post hoc ergo propter hoc"? It's a common logical fallacy that says, in effect, "After this, therefore because of this." For example, if one goes to the doctor and receives a cancer diagnosis, the cancer did not necessarily occur because of the doctor visit.

Politicians love using these types of fallacies. The flawed reasoning allows them to claim credit for pretty much anything that happened after they took office, so long as there's a recognizable correlation of events. And, of course, they're careful to emphasize the good things and downplay the bad things.

So, how did Biden play Hispanic unemployment?

Let PolitiFact explain it:

In one spot, titled "It’s Us" ("Nosotros" in its Spanish version) a narrator says Biden has helped the Latino community by lowering its unemployment rate.

"Since he has taken office, unemployment in our community has been cut in half," the narrator says in the ad, which the campaign says is part of a 16-week, $25 million advertising push. Hispanic Heritage Month began Sept. 15.

The framing is standard politics. Note when your guy took office, note something good that happened and take credit either implicitly or explicitly. In this case, the ad gives Biden explicit credit as communicated with PolitiFact's summary/paraphrase "Biden has helped the Latino community by lowering its unemployment rate." You can't get much more explicit than that in terms of simply taking credit.

So, PolitiFact reports the fallacious framing well enough, but does PolitiFact explain the fallacious reasoning involved?

PolitiFact does take a minor stab at it, almost like a footnote (bold emphasis added):

Unemployment in this community spiked at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, following national trends. The current Latino or Hispanic unemployment rate is similar to what it was in 2019 before the pandemic.

Although presidents can influence economic policies, the factors that contribute to unemployment are complex. The effects of pandemics such as COVID-19 carry more weight than whoever is in the White House. 

So, what happens when a politician tries to trick an audience with a logical booby trap (post hoc ergo propter hoc)? Well, if the politician is Joe Biden and there's an election coming up, the fact checker can offer a rating that ignores the plain deception and dock Mr. Biden a point for saying the rate was reduced by half when the reduction was a bit short of half.

Addressing the 'Crucial Message'

Non-partisan PolitiFact (to be clear, there's no such thing in the sense of lacking bias) would have docked Biden for both deceptions, ending up at "Half True" at best.

Now, how do I know that PolitiFact should take the claiming of dubious or illicit credit into account?

PolitiFact's founding editor Bill Adair wrote an article about it, and it was published at PolitiFact.com.
About a year ago, we 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.

 Apparently the change in methodology Adair led did not lead to consistent practice. The "crucial message" in the Biden ad is the credit Biden deserves for helping the Latino community. That's explicit. Yet PolitiFact ignored the compound claim for purposes of the rating, gifting Biden with a "Mostly True" where "Half True" would have made PolitiFact appear consistent in this case.

But PolitiFact is not consistent. PolitiFact is biased. Its bias bends its principles with ease.