When Fact Checkers Go Bad…Very Bad

January 25th, 2012 at 12:20 am

OMG…this is beyond preposterous.

Politifact—the self-anointed fact checkers—grade this statement from the President speech tonight as “half-true:”

“In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.”

This is not half true or two-thirds true.  It is just true.

So why, I ask you, why do they go where they go?  Because of this:

In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs “before our policies were in full effect.” Then he describe [sic!] the subsequent job increases, essentially taking credit for the job growth. But labor economists tell us that no mayor or governor or president deserves all the claim or all the credit for changes in employment.

Really?  That’s it?  That makes the fact not a fact?  I’ve seen some very useful work by these folks, but between this and this, Politifact just can’t be trusted.  Full stop.

 

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38 comments in reply to "When Fact Checkers Go Bad…Very Bad"

  1. Nylund says:

    So if someone else said the same exact thing then it’d be true? It’s only not true because Obama “essentially” took credit for it. It’s not even because he took credit for it! He didn’t! It’s because he “essentially” did merely by speaking them, and because he personally spoke them, the true facts were magically transformed into half-true facts.

    I didn’t know that empirical facts could gain or lose truth merely based on who said them.


  2. Jeffrey Kramer says:

    If we could have any confidence that they would apply this ‘standard’ consistently, it would be silly but tolerable. But somehow I anticipate that they wouldn’t be so grudging to President Romney. Or, if they were, the first attacks by Fox News for their hypercritical and hypocritical liberalism (“Did we see this kind of standard applied when Saint Obama was in office? Of course not!”) would bring on an apology and a pledge not to do it again.


  3. Anthony Miller says:

    FACTCHECK.ORG appears to be the most reliable in fact checking.

    The GOP philosophy only survives or appears to be right for America through the prism of lies and/or misinformation.


  4. Dennis says:

    I suspect that there are those at Politifact who believe it would be wrong to post “The President only made minor and obscure errors, and even those are largely a matter of opinion.” Like much of the media, they feel they have to find something, anything, to criticize in the name of “balance.”

    I notice that FactCheck.Org has criticized the statement that “the Taliban’s momentum has been broken” as though he had said “the Taliban has been destroyed,” or “the Taliban can no longer function.”


    • kabosh says:

      I suspect that’s because the Taliban is entirely resurgent, and has forced the Afghan government into power-sharing negotiations, which is not quite the same as “momentum has been broken.” Although in physics terms, I guess technically it’s true: if a speeding object is temporarily slowed or stopped, then subsequently returns to great speed, its momentum *was* “broken.” In the past. At some point.


  5. Craig Pennington says:

    Back when their Lie of the Year nominating process started, I saw some wag refer to them as PolitiFox. I thought it was perhaps hyperbole at the time, but then their actual Lie of the Year selection (which was not the winner of the online poll) convinced me otherwise.


  6. Eddie-G says:

    So it’s half true because you can invent a scenario where the assertion can be taken out of context and misrepresented. Be fun to see Politifact held to this “standard”.


  7. Woberz says:

    This is very funny. The article essentially says something like “This statement is only true as long as you analyze what the statement says, not what it doesn’t say.”


  8. Michael says:

    You’ve got it pretty well — Politifact is an organization which has as one of its goals the support of Republican candidates.


  9. Lee says:

    Writing about what these guys say is helping them. It publicizes their names and gets their view out to more people. I say stop paying attention to them and just maybe they will whither on the vine. Ignore them and they will go away. Stop paying attention to them — they purposefully say things that are argumentative because that is how to get people to talk about them. Remember, no publicity is bad publicity (because no one will hear nothing), but bad publicity is good publicity.


  10. Bumpa says:

    It appears that the stress should be more on “Politi” than on “fact.” Just what do they say the “facts” in this situation really are and would it agree with what the Right is saying?


  11. Eclectic Obsvr says:

    These Fact Checkers have thrown away their credibility over a need to find fault with Democrats and Pres. Obama. Otherwise all they would be doing is continually reporting on how Republicans are making up stuff continously.

    I’ve stopped reading them.


  12. FlipYrWhig says:

    I look forward to PolitiFact scoring every invocation of the greatness of the American people as “half true,” because, you see, very many of them are kind of unimpressive and sucky.


  13. biggerbox says:

    Politifact currently rates four of Obama’s statements from the speech last night, and only give one, the milk spill regulation, an unqualified ‘True’.

    Apparently, it’s only half-true that GM is back on top as the world’s #1 automaker. And it’s only “mostly true” that American oil production is the highest it’s been in 8 years.


  14. bnmng says:

    Just based on a quick search, it seems Politifact has a policy of using “half-true” whenever a polititian takes credit for creating jobs. I would think Obama should rate a little higher, considering how the jobs loss immediately reversed when his policies took effect.


  15. JC says:

    Unfortunately we can’t properly gauge job and economic activity if government a) gets out of the way or b) does XYZ instead of ABC and partisans on either side shape those views to fit the book they’re selling. That said, the economic baseline, one would think, improves if the country’s CEO is not acting as the Class Warrior in Chief, but instead the Corporate Executive in Chief.


    • Chigliakus says:

      This is amusing. So after 30 years of government bending over backwards to “get out of the way” and deregulating to the point where depository institutions and investment banks could merge, we can’t judge its effects on job and economic activity? The effects of deregulation are pretty clear to anyone not blinded by free market fundamentalism. Deregulation was the primary cause of the economic collapse of 2008, how’d that affect jobs and economic activity? If you read this blog you’ll see the current US income inequality numbers were last seen during the Gilded Age, and that there’s a convincing argument to be made for the American Recovery Act having prevented a repeat of the Great Depression.

      I do agree that our elected officials need to stop waging a class war on the poor and middle class, except that’s probably not what you meant. I’m curious if you’re shilling for the rich against your own class, or if you’re one of those guys paying less than 15% tax on the millions in income that you were unable to shelter in offshore tax havens?



  16. Courtney says:

    Looks like they admit they got caught with their pants down:

    “EDITOR’S NOTE: Our original Half True rating was based on an interpretation that Obama was crediting his policies for the jobs increase. But we’ve concluded that he was not making that linkage as strongly as we initially believed and have decided to change the ruling to Mostly True.”


  17. Ken says:

    Politifact is backpedaling. They’ve just changed the rating to “Mostly True.”


  18. Scott Wooldridge says:

    Politifact apparently realizes they read that wrong. They have upgraded the statement to “Mostly True.” I guess they don’t have a dial for “We screwed up.”


    • Lars Olsson says:

      Clearly, they need one. But that hubristic, self-promoting pile of rationalization offered by PolitiFact brass after the “Lie of the Year” debacle makes me doubtful they’d even consider the idea of such a thing worth considering, let alone badly needed.


  19. the dude says:

    Obama: Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.

    Politifact Analysis: Obama was correct when he said that “right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.”

    Politifact Rating: Mostly true.

    Politifact Justification: We think Obama’s phrasing suggests that he thinks … etc

    So … fact-checking with dollops of mind-reading!

    See: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/jan/24/barack-obama/barack-obama-says-us-oil-production-eight-year-hig/


  20. DrJim says:

    I’m going to take a contrarian position. I think that – unintentionally – Politifact is helping to get out the word that what Obama said are actually facts. Thanks for the help, Politifact!


  21. Jay Fines says:

    The fact in question is obviously true. In contrast, Politifact seems to want to grade opinions/interpretation/analysis as if they were facts. Reasonable people can interpret the facts differently (and unreasonable ones even more so). If Obama has a different interpretation of the facts than Mitt Romney (not taking a view on whether he’s reasonable or unreasonable) that doesn’t make the facts “half true” or even “mostly true.” They’re true, up to the measurement error in the underlying data.

    Another way to look at this is that there are facts, and analysis, and opinions. You can have your own opinions, but not your own facts. Politifact should be grading facts, and just the facts.


  22. Steve Bock says:

    Even the down grade to mostly true is pathetic. They are still being dishonest, and their walk-back has a logical hole you could drive a train through:

    “Finally, there’s another dimension. In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs “before our policies were in full effect.” Then he describe the subsequent job increases. This suggests that he’s taking a degree of credit for the job growth, which runs counter to the reality that no mayor or governor or president deserves all the blame or all the credit for changes in employment.”

    So the writer accuses Obama of taking “a degree of credit for the job growth” then purports “that no mayor or governor or president deserves all the blame or all the credit for changes in employment.”

    Sheesh. Did that guy even read what he just wrote there?


  23. Lars Olsson says:

    I’d agree that they aren’t to be trusted, but add that the reason that’s a problem is because the entire raison d’etre for outfits like PolitiFact are to provide the level of trust that we no longer are able to get from sources we traditionally trusted (see: Gregory, David and his insistence that it’s not his job to fact check his guests).

    PolitiFact’s entire value is in providing a needed service (fact-checking) from a 3rd-party perspective, because the supposed watchdogs (the press) aren’t providing it themselves so reliably any more. But if we have to fact-check the fact-checkers, that makes them even more useless than those journalism outfits like Press the Meat which no longer reliably fact-check.

    Hell, at least the journalists still provide some actual original news content; it just isn’t reliably true anymore. But PolitiFact’s entire POINT is (or was supposed to be) to provide that certainty we can’t get out of too many of our media/journalism figures anymore. Take away that certainty, and there’s LITERALLY nothing remaining.


  24. Tom says:

    Curious: Here in Florida Rick Scott, the CEO who creates jobs, has taken credit in his press releases for every hire in FL since his inauguration–but none of the massive state layoffs. So Obama could not have created any of these jobs and Politifact has a point! This is why we need to elect Romney, since as a former CEO all increases in employment will be due to his policies.


  25. Jonnan says:

    But … but … If we hold Republicans and Democrats to the same standards, Republicans will accuse us of being Liberal!


  26. empy says:

    The purpose of Politifact is not to check facts. Their purpose is to throw doubt on the ability to fact check in the first place. Fact checking is not difficult to do but is labor intensive and most “news” corporations don’t want to be bothered, so we get the now standard A says sun rises in the east and B says it obviously come up from the south, you decide who is correct.

    Politifact is simply theater to muddy just how simple a fact check is and make it look like some special service. Anyone who quotes them is suspect even though they do some good work most of the time. Their Lie of the Year list killed any credibility they ever earned for the sake of fake balance.


  27. A Conservative Teacher says:

    Fact check this…

    On the following site there is a table that shows the number of people employed in our nation, in the thousands, over time. It’s data provided by the Department of Labor. There is no spin on the data- they’re just numbers:
    http://www.adpemploymentreport.com/data/History_December_2011.xlsx

    When Bush took office, there were 111358K employed in nonfarm private jobs; when he left office there were 111043- that’s a loss overall of over 300000 jobs, which he deserves blame for. (But keep in mind that this is the bulk of the jobs collapse in 2008 too-onths before that the number was at 114752K, meaning that during the first 7 years of Bush he created 3 million jobs, but he did earn the job losses so let’s just go with the final numbers).

    When Obama took office, there were 111043K people employed in nonfarm private jobs; today there are 109646K. This means that during President Obama’s administration, 1,397,000 jobs have been lost.

    I find the argument that he has created 3 million jobs during his time as Presient to be misleading at best, an outright lie at worst. Under his leadership, not only did he not recover from the 3 million in job losses under Bush in 2008, he actually made the situation worse and through his policies put another 1 million out of work.


    • MarkS says:

      “I find the argument that he has created 3 million jobs during his time as Presient to be misleading at best, an outright lie at worst.”

      If President Obama had made this argument, you would be right in judging it a lie. But he didn’t say that. He said something else. What he said was true.


    • Chigliakus says:

      I can see why you would like your cherry-picked numbers better since they support your narrative, but if Obama’s policies cost us another 1 million jobs then why did the economy turn around after the major provisions of the ARRA took effect? The ARRA passed in late February of ’09 and your preferred data show that job losses had stabilized by December of ’09. From there the economy steadily added jobs for the rest of Obama’s term, around 3 million jobs in fact.

      What were your fellow conservatives screaming about during this time, do you remember? They were screaming about debt and interst rates, they wanted harsh austerity and rate hikes, and they were predicting that the bond vigilantes were going to punish the US govt. and hyperinflation was just around the corner. We can see what would have happened had Obama listened to the opposition by looking across the pond, see http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/the-greater-depression/


  28. ecolecon says:

    Does anybody still remember spinsanity? Back in the Bush years, they were supposed to be fact checkers but then came out with surprising insights such as: Bush had never claimed that Iraq had WMD, had never linked Saddam Hussein to 9/11, and had never claimed that Iraq was an “imminent threat”. As a result, spinsanity spent most of its column space defending the Bush administration. Using breathtaking double standards and a level of sophistry that would make even some politicians blush, spinsanity ended up attacking those who blew the whistle on Bush’s lies. (e.g. http://www.spinsanity.org/post.html?2004_02_01_archive.html#107574662948215391, http://www.spinsanity.org/columns/20030624.html)

    What explains the tendency of self-described fact-checkers to side with the powers-that-be against valid if sometimes exaggerated criticism? It seems that the only kind of criticism they find acceptable is the measured tone of a technical journal. Political debate should be sterile and conservative. Any sharp, pointed, polemical response will displease them. But polemics, political rhetoric and hyperbole are an essential part of political debate. A political critique doesn’t have to be based on the most benign interpretation of what is being criticized, and it doesn’t have to weigh all the arguments equally. Just look at the Declaration of Independence – how unfair and polemical were those attacks on King George! No doubt Poilitifact would rate them “misleading”, if not pants on fire.


  29. Stephen says:

    You can only imagine what would be said if the ecconomy was still tanking and the Repubs were hammering that it is Obamas fault (Of course they are doing that any way but the facts are hard to ignore by the general public, i.e. things are getting better, GM was saved and is prospering, unemployment is decressing OBL is dead etc.)Would these “Politifact” hacks be giveing them high marks for “telling” the truth? I think so. “Politi-fox” is absolutley appropriate.


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