Thursday, February 22, 2024

PolitiFact's how-to primer on improperly fact-checking an analogy

There's so much wrong with this Feb. 22, 2024 PolitiFact fact check that I'm bound to go way beyond the scope of the title.

How To Wrongly Fact Check an Analogy

PolitiFact's summary/quotation of Trump's statement counts as reasonably accurate. He drew an analogy between the fine imposed in the New York fraud case to the political persecution of Alexei A. Navalny, who notably opposed Vladimir Putin in Russian.

At its most basic level, the analogy says Navalny and Trump were treated unfairly in court over politics. But PolitiFact affords nearly zero attention to the basic comparison. Instead, PolitiFact focused on differences as though differences can erase similarities.

Karl Malden's nose remains Karl Malden's nose even if you put it on Emma Stone. And Emma Stone with Karl Malden's nose is Emma Stone having a point of similarity with Karl Malden.

PolitiFact classed Trump's statement (wrongly, we think) as hyperbole, but then justified revoking Trump's license for hyperbole because "we determined there were enough factual elements at play to rate his statement on the Truth-O-Meter."

We're not sure how that's supposed to work. As we noted on X, PolitiFact could use a similar approach to find a vegetarian "Pants on Fire" for comparing vegetarian bacon to regular bacon. The bacon example came straight from a dictionary definition of "analog."

Here We Go Again: "Experts"

Part of PolitiFact's schtick comes from its interviews of experts. Typically the pool of experts leans left, and often has a record of giving politically to Democrats. For some reason PolitiFact doesn't see that as a mark against its own credibility.

Let's take a look, shall we?

Harley Balzer
Highly partisan political giving. One of the most partisan records we've encountered, and that's really saying something.

Erik Herron
We found no political giving under Herron's name. But we did find an X post by Herron that appears to acknowledge the legitimacy of analogies where the comparison may seem strained.

Ric Simmons 
Simmons (employed at The Ohio State University) has two political donations listed. One was to Democrat Joe Biden and the other to the anti-Trump group "The Lincoln Project."

Scott Gehlbach
Gehlbach's partisan political giving fails to challenge that of Balzer, but it's solidly behind Democrats with the exception of one nonpartisan figure, now a (liberal) judge in the Wisconsin court system.

Stephen Sestanovich
Sestanovich has six donations, minimum $250, all going to Democrats.

Kathryn Hendley
Hendley has only one political donation listed, with a Democrat listed as the recipient of the $200 gift.

Mark Osler
Osler has given exclusively to Democrats, with six donations in the range of $50-$250.

What are the chances a fact checker can find seven expert sources and six out of seven have given exclusively to Democrats? It's as though PolitiFact intentionally seeks out Democrats to serve as its experts.

Of course, the mere fact that the experts give to Democrats should not discredit their expertise. But PolitiFact simply uses the experts to underscore that the Navalny case is different than the Trump case. We don't need experts to prove that, and as we pointed out above, differences are irrelevant to the similarities, The former cannot erase the latter.

PolitiFingers on the Scale

As if distracting from the point of Trump's argument and using partisan experts wasn't enough, we have PolitiFingers on the scale of this fact check.

PolitiFact omits all mention of two significant aspects of the fraud case against Trump. Both aspects tend to support the Navalny analogy.

First, the trial judge found that Trump's fraud did not damage anyone financially. That makes the prosecution and the judgment unusual. The fine represents higher conjectured interest charges from lower valuations of Trump properties. We doubt such a basis has ever before been used in the United States to support a fraud penalty.


(Gregory) Germain, the Syracuse professor, said the government did a good job of showing Trump inflated the value of his properties, but noted that sophisticated financial institutions didn't require a third-party appraisal like they do for a typical mortgage on a home.

"There are no cases like it," Germain said.

An Associated Press story makes a related point:

And though the bank offered Trump lower interest rates because he had agreed to personally guarantee the loans with his own money, it’s not clear how much better the rates were because of the inflated figures. The bank never complained, and it’s unclear how much it lost, if anything. Bank officials called to testify couldn’t say for sure if Trump’s personal statement of worth had any impact on the rates.

“This sets a horrible precedent,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, a New York real estate lawyer who once successfully sued a Trump condo building for misrepresenting sales to lure buyers.

Second, PolitiFact's fact check misrepresents the ease of appealing the ruling. 


Former President Donald Trump is gearing up to fight a massive fine in the New York business fraud case that threatens to erase most of the cash he says he has on hand.

But first, he has to secure a bond — and that might not be so easy.

Why doesn't PolitiFact tell you any of that?

Because they're biased.

They make sure there are no observations from a conservative such as Andrew C. McCarthy:


PolitiFact is on a real tear against Trump early in 2024. It's almost like they're trying to retroactively make true their false claims about Trump's "Truth-O-Meter" record.

In fact it was Louis Jacobson, listed first on the byline of PolitiFact's fact check, who recently endured two corrections from Slate after it published an interview with him. Jacobson made two flatly false claims about Trump's record on the "Truth-O-Meter."

One wonders whether publicly making false claims about Trump should disqualify Jacobson from working on fact checks involving Trump.

Note: Huh--Looks like Slate botched its editor's note: "It has also been updated to clarify that among major politicians frequently fact-checked by PolitiFact, Trump has the highest percentage of Pants on Fire ratings." I gave them the example of Michele Bachmann, who has had 72 "Truth-O-Meter" ratings.

Hmm. Looks like it's time for another correction request, if there's no clear justification for that claim.

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