A biased (pro-democrat), propaganda fact checker project that emerged out of a project between the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) and Congressional Quarterly in August 2007, both owned by the liberal Poynter Institute for Media Studies Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit which recieves funding from Google, The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Facebook, the Tides Foundation, Charles Koch Institute, the Omidyar Network, and other left-wing organizations. They go far beyond what they say they do, claiming to fact-check subjective things like political rhetoric that are not susceptible to fact-checking.
Leftist Bill Adair, the Times’ Washington bureau chief, was named as the first PolitiFact editor. In 2013, he was succeeded by Angie Drobnic Holan. PolitiFact expanded into 11 other states through partnerships with major metropolitan newspapers such as the Austin American-Statesman, the Atlanta Journal- Constitution, and the Miami Herald. After staffing cuts, the Knoxville News Sentinel and the Cleveland-based Plain Dealer dropped their partnerships.
After Poynter sold Congressional Quarterly to the Economist, PolitiFact became affiliated exclusively with the Times. Critics say that’s when the leftward tilt began. The University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs studied 500 PolitiFact rulings from January 2010 through January 2011. Out of a total of 98 statements, Republicans were associated with 74 of the “False” or “Pants on Fire” ratings on the Truth-O-Meter. That’s 76 percent. Just 22 percent of those liar ratings were given to Democrats (Weekly Standard, Dec. 19, 2011).
A study two years later from George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs similarly ruled: “PolitiFact.com has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims during President Obama’s second term, despite controversies over Obama administration statements on Benghazi, the IRS and the AP” (U.S. News and World Report, May 28, 2013).
None of this is to suggest that Republican politicians don’t lie. They’re politicians. The bigger problem stems from what PolitiFact decides to evaluate and what standards it applies. You’d have to suspend all rational skepticism to think one of the nation’s two parties is almost entirely dishonest while the other is almost entirely honest. Yet, that’s what the PolitiFact stats would have the public believe.
PolitiFact was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for its enterprising coverage of the 2008 election, forever giving it credibility. Part of that body of work in 2008 included rating as “true” the promise by candidate Obama that “if you’ve got a health care plan that you like, you can keep it” under his health care proposal. This rating came in an Oct. 9, 2008 article, about a month before the election. PolitiFact went on to say:
“It remains to be seen whether Obama’s plan will actually be able to achieve the cost savings it promises for the health care system. But people who want to keep their current insurance should be able to do that under Obama’s plan. His description of his plan is accurate, and we rate his statement True” (Forbes, Dec. 27, 2013).
As we now know, Obama’s statement was a bald-faced lie.
Don Surber writes: “Usually, PolitiFact is able to cherry pick enough facts to rationalize its decisions. But in selecting its lie of the year for 2017, the web site was unable to do much more than say well, everyone we like says it is a lie.” That Lie of the Year boldly stated: “A mountain of evidence points to a single fact: Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election of 2016.” Now debunked, like almost all of their lies, not even Mueller and his team of 16 Trump-hating democrats could anything credible enough to piece the lie together.1
Brooks Jackson, the director emeritus of FactCheck.org, claimed responsibility for leading the media charge to keep the candidates honest. “It’s really remarkable to see how big news operations have come around to challenging false and deceitful claims directly,” he said. “It’s about time.” The chief competitor to FactCheck.org engaged in some gloating as well. “Is this the post-truth election as people have claimed? No,” said PolitiFact founder Bill Adair, “It’s actually the thank-goodness-there-are-fact-checkers election.”
Neither Jackson nor Adair got the facts right as it turned out. The public trusts the fact-checkers about as much as they trust politicians. A Rasmussen poll before Election Day found that 29 percent of likely voters believe the media’s fact-checking of political candidates, while 62 percent think the media just “skew the facts to help candidates they support.”
One only has to look at the fact-checking statistics over this past election year to understand why voters have this view. PolitiFact gave its “Pants on Fire” label, the most severe rank for a lie, to Donald Trump 57 times. Hillary Clinton earned that distinction just seven times.
A Media Research Center analysis in June found that Trump received the “False”/“Mostly False”/ “Pants on Fire” label from PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter 77 percent of the time. Clinton received just “False”/“Mostly False” for 26 percent of her statements (Investors Business Daily, June 30, 2016).
From September through Election Day, Republicans overall received a “Pants on Fire” ranking 28 times, and half of those went to Trump. Democrats only received four such ratings, one of which went to Clinton. Even Adair admitted the rankings are subjective. “Yeah, we’re human. We’re making subjective decisions. Lord knows the decision about a Truth-O-Meter rating is entirely subjective,” he said. “As Angie Holan, the editor of PolitiFact, often says, the Truth-O-Meter is not a scientific instrument” (Townhall, Nov. 9, 2016).
Catching politicians in lies is no doubt a worthy endeavor. Fact-checking isn’t the problem. The problem is the subjective nature of selecting what gets fact-checked and by what means; that explains how opinions are masked as fact-checking.
While truth is definite on most fronts, there are matters that can’t truly be fact-checked—often in the realm of strongly held political opinions. Such disputes are what political debates are about. In some cases, it’s what lawsuits are about. Not everything is settled—at least not yet. Even something as highly regarded as the Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year revenue and spending projections can’t be fact-checked per se, because of unforeseen wars or natural disasters that might occur, or plain old irresponsible spending.
What liberal journalist Ben Smith wrote five years ago of fact checkers is even more true today: “At their worst, they’re doing opinion journalism under pseudo-scientific banners, something that’s really corrosive to actual journalism, which if it’s any good is about reported fact in the first place” (Politico, Aug. 17, 2011).
During the 2018 mid-terms, was caught protecting a democrat candidate in the Missouri Senate Race. Here’s one analysis from the Daily Wire:
On Tuesday, Politifact, which purports to be a neutral fact-checking website but in fact leans heavily to the left, got caught protecting a member of the Democratic Party: Democratic Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.
Politifact took issue with the ad from The Senate Leadership Fund, a pro-Republican super PAC, that claimed that McCaskill said “normal people” could afford private planes.[…]After they were corrected, Politifact acknowledged the mistake, writing,
Initially, we published this fact-check with a rating of False, because based on the video available, it did not appear that McCaskill was talking about private planes. After publication, we received more complete video of the question-and-answer session between McCaskill and a constituent that showed she was in fact responding to a question about private planes, as well as a report describing the meeting. We re-assessed the evidence, archived the original version here, and published the version you see here with a new rating of Half True. We apologize for the error.
Also during the 2018 mid-terms, in the Arizona Senate Race, Politifact screwed up their fact-check for the Arizona Senate race. The Daily Caller explains:
PolitiFact incorrectly labeled it “mostly false” that Democratic Senate candidate Kyrsten Sinema “protested troops in a pink tutu” during its live fact-check of the Arizona Senate debate Monday night.
It’s an established fact that Sinema, a former Green Party activist who co-founded an anti-war group, wore a pink tutu at one of the multiple anti-war protests she attended in 2003.
“While we were in harm’s way, she was protesting our troops in a pink tutu,” Republican candidate Martha McSally, a former Air Force fighter pilot, said during Monday night’s debate.
Here’s their Politifact’s evaluation of McSally’s claim:
And here’s the photo of Kyrsten Sinema, protesting the troops, in a pink tutu:
The Daily Caller notes:
A 2003 Arizona State University news article at the time described Sinema wearing “something resembling a pink tutu” at one of the protests.[…]Sinema openly associated with fringe elements of the far-left during her anti-war activism.
She promoted an appearance by Lynne Stewart, a lawyer who was convicted of aiding an Islamic terrorist organization, in 2003.
Sinema also reportedly partnered with anarchists and witches in her anti-war activism and said she did “not care” if Americans wanted to join the Taliban.
Colonel Martha McSally, as I’ve blogged about before, is a former U.S. Air Force A-10 fighter pilot, and squadron commander. She logged a lot of hours leading actual combat missions against America’s enemies – the sorts of people who sell and rape Yazidi girls. She fought them.
And now for the big one: Politifact’s fact-checking of Obamacare.
Politifact’s ‘Lies of the Year’ are actually their Own Lies
In 2009, PolitiFact began its popular feature, “Lie of the Year.” This garnered a lot of media attention.
Perhaps it should have been no surprise that the first dubious distinction was bestowed on one of the media’s favorite punching bags, Sarah Palin, the GOP’s 2008 vice presidential candidate. Palin used the phrase “death panels” in describing Obamacare. Putting aside that she was speaking rhetorically, PolitiFact called it a lie because the law did not literally create panels that sentenced patients to death. Palin was referring in part to an actual government panel, the Independent Medicare Advisory Council, or IMAC, that would advise the government on cutting costs by determining what treatments were most effective and efficient.
PolitiFact’s ruling was absurd, argued Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto, because the law absolutely gave the federal government greater power over life and death decisions and could ultimately lead to rationing of care (Feb. 2, 2011). Taranto wrote:
“Obamacare necessarily expands the power of federal bureaucrats to make such decisions, and it creates enormous fiscal pressures to err on the side of death. Whether it establishes literal panels for that purpose is a hair-splitting quibble. By naming this ‘lie of the year,’ PolitiFact showed itself to be less seeker of truth than servant of power.”
The website seemed to be mounting a full-court defense of Obamacare when in 2010 it gave the “Lie of the Year” dishonor to everyone who referred to the Affordable Care Act as a “government takeover of health care.” PolitiFact argued that since it maintained a private insurance industry rather than a single-payer government owned system, it was not a government takeover.
Interestingly, in 2011, the Pulitzer board gave the highest honor for commentary to Joseph Rago of the Wall Street Journal for his scathing assessment of Obamacare, including his shots at PolitiFact for insisting the law was not a government takeover of health care. Rago wrote in the Journal on Dec. 23, 2010:
“The regulations that PolitiFact waves off are designed to convert insurers into government contractors in the business of fulfilling political demands, with enormous implications for the future of U.S. medicine. All citizens will be required to pay into this system, regardless of their individual needs or preferences. Sounds like a government takeover to us.”
Cato Institute health analyst Michael Cannon, who had previously agreed to do interviews with PolitiFact, stopped talking to its resident fact-checkers over the so-called lies from 2009 and 2010. It’s “not so much that each of those statements is actually factually true; it is rather that they are true for reasons that PolitiFact failed to consider,” he said.
“PolitiFact’s ‘death panels’ fact-check never considered whether President Obama’s contemporaneous ‘IMAC’ proposal would, under standard principles of administrative law, enable the federal government to ration care as Palin claimed.…PolitiFact’s ‘government takeover’ fact-check hung its conclusion on the distinction between ‘public’ vs. ‘private’ health care, without considering whether that distinction might be illusory” (Human Events, Aug. 30, 2012).
Perhaps seeking redemption, PolitiFact turned on Democrats for 2011, naming as “Lie of the Year” the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s claim that Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan meant that “Republicans voted to end Medicare.” They argued the plan would not eliminate Medicare, only reform it.
Conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru said the Democratic claim misled seniors but wasn’t a lie. He explained the Ryan plan would make significant changes to Medicare. Thus, he said Democrats didn’t flat out lie, but were using charged rhetoric (Bloomberg News, Dec. 26, 2011). Ponnuru explained that this kind of incident exhibits a core problem with fact-checking sites:
“The reason we have politics at all is that we disagree, sometimes deeply, about how to promote the common good, and we need a peaceful and productive way to resolve or at least manage these disagreements. We disagree about how to improve U.S. health care, and we disagree about how each other’s proposals to change it should be characterized. The pretense of PolitiFact, and other media “fact checkers,” is that many of our political disputes have obvious correct answers on which all reasonable people looking fairly at the evidence can agree—and any other answer is ‘simply not true.’ This pretense really is false, and like dishonesty, it is corrosive.”
After the election in 2012, PolitiFact, not surprisingly, called Mitt Romney the year’s biggest liar after his campaign said Obama “sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China.” It rated the claim “Pants on Fire” and quoted a Chrysler spokesman denying that Jeep manufacturing was being moved to China. But later, PolitiFact admitted that what its gumshoes called the “Lie of the Year” was the “literal truth.”
The Weekly Standard pointed out that “Romney’s ad never said Jeep was ‘outsourcing’ existing jobs. Again, a fair reading of the ad would be that it implied that Jeep was choosing to create new jobs overseas rather than in the U.S.” Further, Reuters reported after the election, Fiat’s unit Chrysler would produce 100,000 Jeeps in China (Media Research Center, Jan. 18, 2013).
PolitiFact sought to rebut the Weekly Standard, but only succeeded in harming itself, saying that the “Romney campaign was crafty with its word choice, so campaign aides could claim to be speaking the literal truth, but the ad left a false impression that all Jeep production was being moved to China” (Weekly Standard, Jan. 18, 2013).
Anytime you identify something as a “Pants on Fire” lie, then concede it’s the “literal truth, but …” there is a problem. After playing defense for Obamacare, PolitiFact stepped up to the plate and asserted that the president’s oft-repeated claim, “If you like your health care plan you can keep it” was the 2013 “Lie of the Year.” This came amid the four million cancellations sent to U.S. insurance consumers. Given the overwhelming problems that year, it would have been beyond laughable to name any other statement as the top lie. PolitiFact essentially had no choice but to stop defending the law.
But again, don’t forget that when candidate Obama was running for president in 2008, the website went out on a limb to falsely certify this very claim as true.
“in its article detailing why the President’s promise was a lie, PolitiFact neglected to mention an essential detail. In 2008, at a critical point in the presidential campaign, PolitiFact rated the ‘keep your plan’ promise as ‘True,’” Avik Roy wrote. “The whole episode, and PolitiFact’s misleading behavior throughout, tells us a lot about the troubled state of ‘fact-checking’ journalism” (Forbes, Dec. 27, 2013).
In 2014, the “Lie of the Year” ended up being less controversial: “Exaggeration about Ebola.” Perhaps the worst one could say about the conclusion is that “exaggeration” is by definition something short of a lie.
By 2015, the dishonor went to Donald Trump, the eventual Republican presidential nominee. The website singled him out and claimed 75 percent of his statements were “Mostly False,” “False,” or “Pants on Fire” on its Truth-O-Meter.
Then, in 2016, the winner of the dubious honor was “Fake News,” now referring to Internet lies and gossip presented as news stories, which often went viral on Facebook. PolitiFact said, “In 2016, the prevalence of political fact abuse— promulgated by the words of two polarizing presidential candidates and their passionate supporters—gave rise to a spreading of fake news with unprecedented impunity.”
The 2017 Lie of the Year was the aforementioned now known truth that: “Russian election interference is a ‘made-up story‘” This should have been the truth of the year.
PolitiFact awarded their “Lie of the Year” award in 2018 to the “online smear machine” that attempted to “take down Parkland students.” “The attacks against Parkland’s students stand out because of their sheer vitriol,” the piece explains. “Together, the lies against the Parkland students in the wake of unspeakable tragedy were the most significant falsehoods of 2018. We name them PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year.”2
And in 2019, the Politifact Lie of the Year was: Donald Trump’s claim whistleblower got Ukraine call ‘almost completely wrong’ He did! Eric Ciaramella, an anti-Trump CIA plant put in the White House by John Brennan, was not even in the room during the President’s call to the Ukrainian President. Tim Morrison testifying to congress was the person who moved the Ukraine transcript to the secure server and is who was going to nail Trump to the wall according to leftist media reports. However it was a coup, as there was ‘Nothing Illegal In Trump-Zelensky Call’: NSC Official Tells Impeachment Inquiry
“I want to be clear, I was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed,” said Tim Morrison, former NSC Senior Director for European Affairs who was on the July 25 call between the two leaders.
Morrison also testified that the transcript of the phone call which was declassified and released by the White House “accurately and completely reflects the substance of the call.”
For a time, Democrats sought to blame fake news for Hillary Clinton’s loss before President Donald Trump snatched the term to describe questionable reporting by the liberal mainstream media.
PolitiFact itself encourages people to unquestioningly accept its truth ratings through their marketing strategy. When judging a given politician, PolitiFact aggregates its ratings in a way that encourages people to look not at the truth value within any individual article with a speaker’s claim, but at the “larger” picture of the speaker’s commitment to the truth.
This method assumes this or that article might have a problem, but you have to look at the “big picture” of dozens of fact-checks, which inevitably means glossing over the fact that biased details do not add up to an unbiased whole.
(Start) Whenever you see the “Republicans Lie More Than Democrats” headline, whether it is in The Atlantic, the New York Times, Politico, or Salon, you’ll find that the data to support this claim comes from PolitiFact’s aggregate truth metrics. Using collective data instead of individual cases lets PolitiFact gloss over individual articles that delivered a questionable rating, comparable situations for two speakers that PolitiFact treated differently, biased selection of facts, and instances in which PolitiFact made an editorial decision to check one speaker over another.
We could list instance after instance in which we might feel PolitiFact was being unfair, but all those details are washed away when we look at the aggregate totals. And those totals certainly seem to run heavily against politicians with an “R” next to their names.
In the chart below, we’ve ranked politicians according to their “truthiness” as ranked by PolitiFact. Everything above the black line is ranked as “true” or “mostly true.” The individuals are ranked by their “truthiness” from left to right, making Bernie Sanders the most reliably truthful and Donald Trump the least.
A keen observer may notice a pretty clean differentiation. Democrats dominate the “more truthful” side and Republicans dominate the “liars” corner. Of course, the casual explanation is that Republicans lie more often than Democrats. Absent a detailed analysis and reclassification of thousands of articles, there is no good way to disprove this.
Unless, of course, you scrape PolitiFact’s website for these thousands of articles and run your own analytics on that data. If someone were to do this, what sort of patterns would become visible beyond the simple truth value totals?
I’m so very glad you asked, because the answer is a lot of fun. We found far too much to cover in a single article. Here we’ll look briefly at “truth averages” and see how PolitiFact ranks individuals and groups, followed by an analysis of how exactly they differentiate between Republicans and Democrats. In the next piece, we’ll examine how they choose facts and look specifically at how PolitiFact fact-checked the 2016 race.
The Truth, On Average
First we ranked truth values to see how PolitiFact rates different individuals and aggregate groups on a truth scale. PolitiFact has six ratings: “True,” “Mostly True,” “Half-True,” “Mostly False,” “False,” and “Pants on Fire.” Giving each of these a value from 0 to 5, we can find an “average ruling” for each person and for groups of people.
When fact-checked by PolitiFact, Democrats had an average rating of 1.8, which is between “Mostly True” and “Half True.” The average Republican rating was 2.6, which is between “Half-True” and “Mostly False.” We also checked Republicans without President-elect Donald Trump in the mix and found that 0.8 truth gap narrowed to 0.5.
The 2016 election season was particularly curious because PolitiFact rated Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as two of the most honest people among the 20 politicians we included in our data scrape (1.8 and 1.6, respectively) while Trump was rated as the most dishonest (3.2).
Using averages alone, we already start to see some interesting patterns in the data. PolitiFact is much more likely to rate Republicans as their worst of the worst “Pants on Fire” rating, usually only reserved for when they feel a candidate is not only wrong, but aggressively and maliciously lying.
All by himself, Trump has almost half of all the “Pants on Fire” ratings from the articles we scraped. Even outside of Trump, PolitiFact seems to assign this rating particularly unevenly. During the 2012 election season, PolitiFact assigned Mitt Romney 19 “Pants on Fire” ratings. For comparison, for every single Democrat combined from 2007-2016 the “Pants on Fire” rating was only assigned 25 times.
That doesn’t pass the sniff test, no matter which group you call your ideological home. But a sniff test isn’t data, so let’s dig deeper. Read more at TheFederalist.com
Verdict: Politifact is an honest and unbiased fact check service – True or false? PANTS ON FIRE!!!