PolitiFact

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Balance through looking at both sides

The way I figure out bias, is by reading both sides views of something, and then comparing their facts and complaint, sampling each of them (fact checking them), or fact checking their fact-checking, and you can get a good idea of how biased they are.

I tended to follow Newsbusters (MRC) and MediaMatters (same organization) or ThinkProgress and MediaMatters (different organizations) for about a month, comparing their complaints and weighting their arguments for severity of infraction and accuracy. MRC/Newsbusters certain gets a little whiney at times and does the lies of omission (or clipped edits) in parts to prove their point a bit too much. But they do it a tiny fraction of the other side, and have about 4 times the content, 3 times the support for their points, and much more validity if you know the topics than the latter two combined. That gives you a picture.

When you look at Politifact, the picture becomes pretty clear -- they're very partisan, sometimes wrong, and when they are wrong they behave badly by either:

  • (a) not fixing errors that are known falsehoods, letting the disinformation remain
  • (b) correcting the errors without admission of their mistake (just fixing the article without noting that this was a retraction)
  • (c) pretending the earlier errors didn't exist in later articles
  • (d) attacking those that point out the errors

None of which instills confidence in their professionalism, or quest to speak truth to power (as they're the power). On top of that, you have the other two common ways of bias:

  • Selection bias
  • Standards bias (double standard)

Below I offer examples of each of them (and more).

This is too easy, as there are websites dedicated to debunking the bias in fake unbiased places like Politifact. Like the popular:

But in the end, if you go through that site, they decimate Politifact facade of not being partisan hacks. If you read any examples of their known falsehoods, or long winded lawyering of issues they don't want to admit are true (because they make a Republican look good), or make excuses for why they soft-pedaled a Democrat who was obviously wrong, then you kind of get the idea. Assuming you're not too partisan to be self-blinded to it.

Selection bias

PolitiFacts worst sin is in how they pick what to review (selection bias). George Mason University Center for Media and Public Affairs did a study (and the NYT ran a piece on it, written by PolitiFact editors), which showed "Republicans lied 3x as often as Democrats" (especially ones PolitiFact doesn't like), according to PolitiFact -- and that was widely quoted by the left leaning media to say "see, Republicans are bigger liars". But the facts are there's no evidence that the Republicans lie any more than Democrats. If you look at actually psychological honesty studies by part, at best, these numbers would be loosely even, and at worse, would skew the other way. (The majority of the Press being biased left, means they hold Republicans to a higher standard and Democrats to a lower one, so by nature of that bias, Republicans learn to be better or the Press will hammer them).

What the study really showed was the PolitiFact was 3x as likely to pick a Republican lie to complain about than a Democrat one. (And/or hold them to a different standard). Even during years where Obama is embroiled in lying about Benghazi, the "fact checkers" were calling Romney pants-on-fire for doubting the President's claim that this was a spontaneous attack by people mad over a video that no one heard of, and happened to be carrying mortars and RPG's with them. So instead of calling Obama's claim false, they called Romney's accusations that Obama lied, unsupported by the evidence at the time -- and never corrected the record later when it proved that Romney was correct and Obama had been lying.

So from the same study, the Democrats heard what they wanted to, that Republican Politicians lie more, and they repeat the mythos. And Republicans and Independents saw a glimpse of the truth, that partisan democrat cheerleaders posing as fact checkers are far more likely to use their jobs to attack Republicans and make excuses for Democrats than to be unbiased purveyors of truth.

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Standards bias

The simplest example of standards bias is the following example of Politifact's anti-Republican bias:

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But there are many examples like that.

MSNBC's Ed Schultz makes an exaggerated claim that's off by at least 33% (and more like 50%) -- and it's "half true". Conservative talk show host Larry Elders is off by less than 25%, and he's "Mostly False".

When Ted Cruz cited a well researched and well known claim that ["most violent criminals are democrats", PolitiFact loses their nut, and picked nits about how the study cited | "didn't differentiate between violent criminals and all criminals", as if that's going to really change the outcome. PolitiFact whined about correlation is not causation, but Cruz's point wasn't that voting democrat will make you a felon, his point was that the reason the DNC is soft on crime, is because violent felons are more of their base. (They are). Then PolitiFact didn't research any of the dozens of other papers, as there have been many, in many states about how felons vote, or what racial/cultural and socio-economic demographic they are (and how those demographics vote) -- and declared something that was completely true, as "mostly false".

Oversampling

For Trump's top 5 lies, like Large Scale Voter Fraud, Not supporting Iraq War, or Obama's birth certificate, they not only use selection bias on what they check (or choosing how it was phrased to make it look worse), and judge it by a harsher standard than Hillary, but they check the same lie 5, 6 and 7 times each. For bigger lies by Hillary like "was named after Sir Edmund Hillary", "Landed Under Sniper fire in Bosnia", or "Did not send classified info in emails", they checked the same lie, 0, 0 and 2 times (the latter having one true and one false).

Then there's how many times you get checked at all (a form of selection bias) -- for example Marco Rubio was fact-checked as many times before he took office than long-time senator and erstwhile Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been checked in his entire career. Ted Cruz was checked more than any Democrat Senator, and Paul Ryan was fact-checked nearly 2:1 as often as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was. Michelle Bachmann was checked about as much as vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine.

Then when scoring who lies most, it's obviously the Republicans, right?

Excuse making

A great example of this is take something that's true -- Obamacare (ACA) has clauses where there will be "death panel" -- e.g. government bureaucrats and administrators will be on a board determining what care someone should/shouldn't be entitled to, and is making life and death decisions over patient coverage. Instead of ignoring it, they write long winded distracting articles that try to convince their base that "Death Panel" is the "Lie of year", because it's not a panel that will vote to kill, it's a panel that will vote to deny you coverage and the disease/malady will kill you. e.g. the longer a PolitiFact article is, the more wrong (political) it usually is.

PolitiFact gives themselves lie of the year

Politifact rated Obamacare's 'Keep Your Health Plan' promise as "True" in 2008, and 2013 "Pants on Fire" and "Lie of the Year". And in the latter post they lied about it, and referenced a 2009 or 2012 articles, and they rated it "half true"... which is half true, since they rated it completely true in 2008. So they were wrong (biased) about Obama in 2008, then biased in 2013 by not admitting their bias of 2008 and telling the whole truth about their history of that claim.

Then they ignore that for the last 5 years, they dinged Republicans dozens of times as "Half True" (or worse), for pointing out that Obama's claim was proving to be false and likely to get worse. They didn't go back and correct the record for | Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus or Mitt Romney in | June or | October of 2012 -- leaving their "false" claim to impugn the reputation of a politician that was telling the truth they didn't want to hear. Not that it would matter, the harm had been done during an election, which is what was important.

In case the fact that they eventually corrected the record gives you some sense of vindication that at least they can eventually be embarrassed into doing the right thing, remember the context: they didn't even have "if you like your plan" as one of the choices on their poll. But so many readers complained that it was reluctantly added (despite them trying to bury the lede)... and then to their frustration, it won their reader poll, and by so much that they had to add it as their lie of the year. So this wasn't exactly PolitiFact being honest or introspective, it was more a reader revolt holding them accountable.

General bias

Tom Feran as editor of Politifact Ohio caught doing multiple "Gobama!" and "evil conservatives" tweets. Sure, and Sean Hannity would make a non-partisan fact-checker as well:

Louis Jacobson of PolitiFact reported that (a) one of Kevin D. Williamson (of National Review) had made an erroneous claim (that ACA covered things like acupuncture and naturopathic medicine), because it did (b) that the reporter had tried to reach Kevin for comment, but was unable to get to him. (This reach out was by tweeting, instead of email or a phone call). Instead of owning their mistakes, they pretended the original claim was half true, but first straw-manning Kevin's claims.

Retractions

I know of exactly one retraction PolitiFact has made. Back in 2014 John Kerry made the laughable claim that the Obama administration had helped broker a deal that successfully removed "100 percent" of chemical weapons from Syria, that they rated as "Mostly True". When 3 years later Syria used chemical weapons to kill up to 100 civilians, and human rights workers are pointing out Syria still has at least 12 chemical weapon production facilities, that claim isn't holding water. Of course, I expect there are hundreds or thousands of citations of that fact check, or other fact checks that were based on it for the last 3 years, which all made out the Obama/Kerry administration to be honest when they were lying, and anyone that questioned them was called a liar, when they were telling the truth.

Conclusion

My problem isn't just with the rampant bias, it's with the media that celebrates and quotes from PolitiFact freely when they're making obvious partisan mistakes (like the ones mentioned), but then rarely offers retractions or corrections when PolitiFact is eating crow. If you don't remember widespread discussions on talk shows and the news about PolitiFact's failures, or they still get cited as a reputable source for non-partisan fact checking, or anyone uses them as a "fact check" site, then it proves my point.

Just wander the Hillary Clinton many scandals, scams, or gasslightings, and see how PolitiFact handles them. They seem more like a DNC PAC, than objective journalism, both on issues they touch, and how they handle them. (Especially when you contrast them with how they handle unsupported claims against Trump). (People whine that makes me a Trump supporter, but I just care about using the same yardstick):

Remember, PolitiFact was given the Pulitzer Prize for exceptional dishonesty and lack of objectivity in Journalism -- which reflects more on how politically embarrassing Pulitzer has become, than any honorific deserved by PolitiFact, just because it's the most widely quoted "Fact Checkers" popular among the left leaning media. And it's not just PolitiFact (though they're the focus of this article), the AP, FactCheck, and the other sources are just as bad, or worse. But again, that doesn't prove PolitiFact's journalistic standards, it just proves the medias bias.

References

Examples of Bias

Spicer: Hitler didn't use chemical weapons

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Media and left reaction, "Oh my God, Spicer just said something that was inartfully worded but completely true, and he corrected himself / clarified in the same conference, apologize twice immediately, and the Democrats made the same point without tons of drama, let's make fun of him!" So I don't think it was a good comment. But the histrionics do more to prove the medias bias than Spicer's stupidity or insensitivity.

Birth of Birthers

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Some absurd "fact checkers" deny that Hillary originated the Birther movement, by claiming: it was her top strategists plan and staffers but not her personally -or- that technically the rumors predated her (she only popularized them), -or- just offering one of the source stories and making an excuse for it (while ignoring all the others). But that proves how sloppy and partisan the fact checkers are. This article details the timelines and lets the reader decide if it's fair to blame the Hillary campaign, and if the fact checkers that didn't expose this are incompetent or liars.