I’ve been saying (and proving) for years that the mainstream media’s “Fact Check” industry is a bald-faced left-wing propaganda operation.
Circumstantial evidence? Politifact has different answers for the same statement, depending on who says it:
I’ve been saying (and proving) for years that the mainstream media’s “Fact Check” industry is a bald-faced left-wing propaganda operation.
Circumstantial evidence? Politifact has different answers for the same statement, depending on who says it:
First we ignore people who consider Politifact unbiased and authoritative.
Then we mock people who consider Politifact unbiased and authoritative.
Then we win.
Gandhi was wrong. There is no “attack” phase needed.
People – mostly Democrats – have considered “Snopes” the unimpeachable source of truth.
And when you read this, it’s also worth noting they also consider Jon Stewart, NPR, Steven Colbert, Ed Schultz and Huffington Post to be news sources, too.
…is that so many of them think “declaring what the facts are” is a substitute for “knowing what the facts are”.
Last week, I lit up MPR’s “Poligraph” feature for checking the “accuracy” of an utterly subjective bit of political smack-talk by GOP Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson.
Last Friday? Poligraph used subjectivity to “fact-check” GOP 8th CD candidate Stewart Mills.
To be fair, Catherine Richert did smack down one of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee’s more risible claims, that Mills opposes Obamacare because he is floating on a raft of insurance industry money:
To support part of its claim, the DCCC points to information collected by OpenSecrets.com, a website that tracks campaign money. The website shows Mills has taken $7,100 from the insurance industry. But that’s the entire insurance industry, not just health insurance companies.
According to Mills’ campaign finance records, he’s gotten $1,000 from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association PAC, and that’s it.
OK. So far so good.
But this next part?
Popularity!: I suspect that if you passed a law that compelled the government to send out a $10,000 check to every citizen at Christmastime, it’d be “Popular”. (Or perhaps a law allowing people from small radio stations to take their pick of equipment at public radio stations).
But would “popularity” make it a good idea? More to the point – would opposing it be wrong because it’s “popular?”
We return to Richert’s piece; as we read it, look for any objective evidence that Mills’ position is wrong:
The DCCC also claims that Mills wants to scrap popular parts of the Affordable Care Act, including a provision that prevents insurance companies from rejecting patients with pre-existing conditions and another provision that allows children to stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 26.
Here, the DCCC is on stronger footing.
Campaign spokeswoman Chloe Rockow says Mills isn’t opposed to making sure young adults and those with pre-existing conditions have access to health insurance – he just thinks there are better ways of doing it.
For instance, Mills wants to strengthen privacy rules for people with pre-existing conditions and to reinstate the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, which is a special health insurance program for people with pre-existing conditions who can’t get insurance elsewhere. That program is being phased out, because those people are now get insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
Richert’s conclusion (with emphasis added)?:
… the group is correct that Mills isn’t keen on Obamacare, including two provisions that are relatively popular with the public.
Let’s be clear, here: Richert is checking the DCCC’s statement. She finds half of it questionable (the insurance money), and half of it accurate (like every single Republican I can think of, Mills opposes Obamacare and thinks we can do the same job much more efficiently by tweaking existing programs).
In other words, the DCCC says that Mills supports GOP policy?
That’s not even dog bites man. That’s “dog sniffs dog”.
Which is fine, if journalistically a little pointless.
But Richert points out in several places that the programs that Mills would scrap are “popular”.
What earthly journalistic difference do the programs’ “popularity” have?
While Richert is correct in pointing out that the DCCC’s money claims are wrong, she’s essentially pointing out in her second point that the DCCC is, indeed, pointing out correctly that Mills is campaigning as a Republican, with what looks like a little gratuitous reassurance to MPR’s DFL-leaning audience thrown in for good measure.
So I give this episode of “Poligraph” a grade of “Huh?”
With all due respect to MPR’s News department (and, stereotypes aside, I’ve tried to pay it where it’s been due, as with the exception of everything Keri Miller touches it often has been), it seems that “Poligraph” is explaining the obvious.
UPDATE: Gary Gross at Let Freedom Ring also covered this bit earlier in the week, and has unsurprisingly similar conclusions.
The Claim: Every weekend for the past forty years, Garrison Keillor has closed his “News from Lake Wobegone” segment by claiming all the men are strong, all the women are good-looking, and all the children are above-average”.
But we wanted to know – is it true?
The Evidence: In Keillor’s favor, we note that not only is his claim – like Jeff Johnson’s statement that Governor Dayton is “in trouble” – subjective, but it is in fact dramatic license, a tag line to a series of fictional essays.
However, the winner of the 2014 World’s Strongest Man competition is Žydrūnas Savickas, of Lithuania.
The world’s foremost empirical test of female beauty is the Miss Universe pageant – and the most recent winner, in 2013, was María Gabriela de Jesús Isler Morales of Venezuela.
And since Minnesota stopped requiring graduation testing in 2013, it’s impossible to empirically say what “average” is, or whether Lake Wobegone’s children – fictional though they may be – are above it.
The Verdict – So since neither the world’s strongest man nor most beautiful woman resides in Lake Wobegone, and there is no means to measure the children, we give this claim a rating of “Misleading”.
That a man’s reach exceed his grasp, etc, etc.
“The Alliance for a Better Minnesota – which, as most MPR listeners are unaware, is essentially a political PR firm funded by wealthy Democrats, government employee unions, and Governor Dayton’s ex-wife Alita Messinger, has been running a well-funded advertising and social-media campaign for the past few electoral cycles labeling their Republican opposition, jointly and severally, as “Wrong for Minnesota”
“What does this mean? And is the claim accurate?”
“The Evidence: While one can expect any politician and their supporters to reflexively label their opposition as “wrong” – moreso in today’s polarized climate than ever – the terms “right” and “wrong” are themselves terms with deeply subjective meanings. The meanings of the terms are, in fact, more tied to philosophy than politics”
“Poligraph consulted leading philosophers from all major worldviews – from structuralists to neo-Dadaists, and even a few with tendencies toward nihilism – and while there was no agreement on an absolute definition of “right” or “wrong”, much less one applicable to Minnesota, and Minnesota politics specifically, the general consensus was that the term “wrong” is intrinsically tied to the perception of both the “speaker” and the “listener” or consumer of the statement.”
“However, ‘the idea that one speaker could judge something ‘wrong’ for an entire state of 5.5 million independent agents, just on their say-so, is just plain bizarre”, according to a consensus statement signed by every single philosopher we consulted.”
“The Verdict: The Alliance for a Better Minnesota’s claim that any individual politician is “Wrong for Minnesota” is Misleading. ”
“It’s also deeply pretentious, illogical, philosophically vacant, and to some points of view just a little bit morally repugnant.”
Mark Twain once observed that there are three types of media “fact-check” efforts: Democrat PR puff-pieces, Bald-Faced Democrat PR puff-pieces, and legit ones.
A good fact-checker will note that Twain said no such thing. My first paragraph was really a bit of hyperbole.
As such, it wasn’t intended to be a “factual” statement, per se, as one intended to express a subjective opinion and win people over to my side of an argument (or at least mock those who oppose me). It’s a form of rhetoric; using language to try to persuade and convince.
So while it’s not strictly “factual”, it is two things:
Hyperbole is but one tool the rhetorician uses to state his case.
OK. I have a question: Of the three choices I gave in the first graf, what is the latest edition of MPR’s “Poligraph” – a DFL PR Effort, a Bald-Faced PR effort, or legit?
Read reporter Catherine Richert’s latest effort, and you be the judge.
If you read this blog, you know that “Politifact”, the WaPo’s “Fact-Check” column, accepted as the sine qua non of political fact-checking by many in the industry (and more of the less-informed outside it).
Those people might not know that “Politifact” has been carrying President Obama’s water on the key claims about the Democrat’s flagship Obamcare legislation since the beginning. What they might not know is that : “Politifact” and its editor, Angie Drobnic Holan, have not only completely flip-flopped on the story, but are burying the fact that what they called the “Lie of the Year” in 2013, they called “True” with a side order of “you are an ignorant redneck for even asking” in 2008:
The highlight of Holan’s 2013 “Lie of the Year” article was that it completely ignored Holan’s own “True” rating of the “keep your plan” claim back in 2008. A sidebar to the article listed as “related rulings” Holan’s 2013 articles about Jarrett and Obama, and Jacobson’s 2012 article rating the claim as “Half True.” The text of the article cites also the 2009 “Half True” report. But nowhere does the “Lie of the Year” piece even acknowledge that its author once gave Obama’s promise its 100 percent “True” seal of approval.
Now, if you’re a conservative, you know “Politifact” is a Democrat propaganda machine.
The only real question is; do the media – especially those that call themselves “no rant, no slant” objective journalists – know?
To: Eric Black, MinnPost
From: Mitch Berg, Peasant
Re: The New JournoList?
You built your reputation as a reporter. And for that, I give you all due respect.
I was a reporter, too. Not much of one; a couple of radio stations, some free-lance print work. Nothing big, and certainly nothing to build a career out of – but I did learn one thing, and practice it; a reporter is supposed to ask questions.
And while I apply only the broadest possible definition of “journalist” to myself, I do ask questions. I’m told I’m not bad at it, at least on the radio; even a reporter on your side of the aisle commented on it (I’ll direct you to paragraph 16). So it’s not a foreign concept to me.
Now, far be it from me to gainsay one of the deans of Minnesota political writing, but I’ve got a question here.
Last week, you wrote about Dr. Carl Bogus’ assertion from fifteen years ago that the Second Amendment was written to protect slavery. Now, my friend and frequent commenter Joe Doakes – who actually is a lawyer – pointed out that Bogus’ theory is given no weight by the legal academy, because it’s been pretty soundly debunked and, more signally, ignored by legal scholars; Bogus’ theory is only kept alive by anti-gunners who like, as Doakes put it, to “borrow his degree to lend them legitimacy”.
So here’s what I’m curious about.
Bogus published his theory fifteen years ago. It was roundly shredded in short order. It was substantially ignored (beyond a few trivial references to incidental research) in the SCOTUS’ debates that led to the Heller and McDonald decisions, which respectively adopted the “individual right” definition of the 2nd Amendment and incorporated that definition onto the states.
And yet somehow last week Bogus’ theory was pulled from legal history’s scrap heap and restored to glorious prominence by the gun-grabber left.
So I got to checking. The first I heard about it was a comment on my blog on 1/17, which pointed to your article in MinnPost the same day; around that time, I started seeing a lot of lefties on Twitter chanting more or less the same thing. Danny Glover and Roger Ebert had spoken or written about it, stating the “slavery” theory as settled fact, around the same time. And the story was churning around the leftyblog fever swamp, as these things do, once the likes of Kos and Crooks and Liars repeated the meme (which meant every bobbleheaded leftyblog carried it like it was the revealed truth).
Now, a concerted Googling (and a reading of your piece) seems to show that the “writing” about the subject links back to last Tuesday, when lefty talk show host Thom Hartmann – who is sort of the Dennis Prager of the left, only without the intelligence or credentials – wrote a piece on the lefty überblogs TruthOut and Smirking Chimp , lavishly citing Bogus’ theory.
And I thought the dynamics of the story were interesting; in two days, the “story” of Bogus’ “theory”, which had laid mostly dormant since being shredded in the court of academic and public opinion half a generation ago, suddenly was on the lips and minds and blogs of, it seemed, every lefty, from the fever swamp to Hollywood (pardon the redundancy) to, well, MinnPost and a half a million chuckleheaded leftybots on Twitter.
I’ve been writing online for a long time, Mr. Black. I’ve seen memes come and go. The “come” side usually takes a while; someone writes something, it gains traction, it holds sway, it rolls away like the tide. It usually takes a little while.
But the Bogus theory went, metaphorically, from zero to sixty in four seconds flat.
Didja notice that?
Anyway, those are the facts; Bogus’ theory came, was shredded, went away for fifteen years, and suddenly re-germinated across the broad swathe of lefty opinion over the course of two measly days. Now, leaving aside the fact that the theory is, well, bogus (as noted last week) – wouldn’t it have been a useful fact for the reader to know that Bogus’ theory has been languishing in academic obscurity for 15 years for a reason? I know, that would have been a statement against your interest and, I suspect, the MinnPost’s, but it’s kinda significant, no?
But here’s my question: aren’t you the least bit curious as to the, er, pace at which this meme swept the left? From “forgotten” to “conventional wisdom” in two days?
It almost seems as if there’s some sort of back-channel communication – one might even call it a list of journalists, absurd as that sounds – a, for lack of a better term, “Journo List” that syncs the leftymedia up on the major chanting points.
No, I know – that’s just crazy talk. I know.
Anyway – did that strike you as odd in any way? If not, why?
That is all.
PS: Well, no. It’s not. Because while the theory that the Second Amendment was “about protecting slavery” is pretty much a fringe, fever-swamp conceit, it is a matter of settled historical fact and Constitutional Law that the roots of the gun control movement are intensely racist.
More at noon today.
To: Everyone in the media and alt media that lionizes “PolitiFact”
From: Mitch Berg, person who actually cares about the truth
Re: Suck It.
Politifact’s “Lie Of The Year” was in fact true.
Please go reassess the tragedy that is your life and career.
That is all.
(Via Bill C)
Sean Higgins at the WashEx finds yet another case of a major-media “fact-checker” burying inconvenient facts to slander gun owners.
Washington Post Fact Check columnist Glenn Kessler gives Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, “three pinocchios” for claiming, as he did yesterday on Fox News Sunday, that so-called right-to-carry laws reduce crime. So, that’s settled then? There’s no evidence that the laws do that? Err, no … as Kessler’s own column indicates.
“When right-to-carry laws had a surge in popularity in the 1990s, a common liberal argument against them was that this would lead to an increase in gun violence. Stands to reason, right? More guns means more gun crime.”
“Except it didn’t happen. Gun violence overall has declined, horrible incidents like Friday’s notwithstanding. Economist John Lott has argued in his book, More Guns, Less Crime (written with David Mustard) that the concealed carry laws actually reduce crime. It was his work that Gohmert was presumably referencing.”
Well, among others.
Read the whole thing. Sean Higgins at the WashEx shows where the WaPo left the whole “fact” thing behind. It seems they find facts that conflict with a tidy narrative to be just too confusing.
Y’know, as the mainstream media slowly dies off, you’d think one of them might figure out that a feature that checks the facts of the MSM’s legions of biased, narrative-driven “fact-checkers” would be good business.
Unless the media, like the Democrats they support, are banking their entire future on the “low-information consumer”.
I heard this last week on “Poligraph”, MPR’s self-styled “Politifact” homage.
“Poligraph” reporter Catherine Richert was “fact-checking” statements from the GOP and DFL about the state budget. She quoted Governor
You know,[the wealthiest] were paying the higher rates during the 1990s when President Clinton was in office, and we enjoyed boom years in the states. We had the highest real per capita family income in 1999 than we’ve had in our history. Since then, we’ve dropped almost 9 percent from that high in the aftermath of the Minnesota tax cuts in 1999 and 2000, and also the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003.” – Gov. Mark Dayton”
You don’t have to be a economist, or even a conservative, to understand where this is wrong. You merely have to be somewhat curious, and care a little bit about history.
Dayton made this statement in response to a question about Republican concerns that a state tax increase on the wealthiest to close the budget gap, which has been a priority for Dayton, and the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts on the federal level would hurt the state’s economy.
Dayton was arguing that their logic is flawed because tax cuts don’t always correspond with a strong economy.
Well, no. Governor
Messinger Dayton was correlating prosperity with a causation, higher taxes and a Democrat president.
Now, I’ll give Catherine Richert the benefit of the doubt; as a self-styled “fact-checker”, she’s hobbled by needing to refer to other “Fact-checkers”, the WaPo and the woefully-misnamed “Politifact”, whose institutional bias in these matters is itself a fact:
It’s true that the wealthiest paid more in federal income taxes during the Clinton years. Clinton raised the top marginal rate from 31 percent to nearly 40 percent. It also happened to be a time of strong economic growth, partly because of Clinton and George H. W. Bush’s broader fiscal policies, which lead to lower interest rates and lots of activity on Wall Street, as reported by the Washington Post and PolitiFact.
Well, if the WaPo and Politifact say so. The paragraph itself shows the extent to which MPR’s reporting on the subject is based on the major media’s narrative; those “broader fiscal policies” involved a very pro-business climate, tax hikes notwithstanding.
Richert, the WaPo, Politifact, and Governor
Messinger Dayton glossed over – or didn’t know – the larger historical causation for the correlation:
As stated, it was a strawman; of course tax cuts don’t always bring prosperity, not by themselves. And tax hikes don’t always gut the economy – provided the other fundamentals are working. In the nineties, the other fundamentals of the economy – energy, capital, investment climate, relative levels of regulation, fairly conservative legislative branch, world markets – were humming right along.
That is just not the case today.
Correlation does not equal causation. It’s a maxim of logic.
But not of “fact-checking”:
George W. Bush slashed those tax rates; Minnesota lowered its tax rates around this time, too.
Assuming Dayton is talking about the national decline in real household income – real per capita family income doesn’t exist – it’s true that it took a 9 percent nosedive after 1999, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
But not as a result of the tax cuts.
Which was what Dayton’s statement – intended as red meat for the low-information voter that is Dayton’s main constituency – insinuates.
I’ll give Richert’s “fact-check” a grade of “Obtuse”…
…for taking dubious “Facts” from discredited and biased “fact-checkers” to
reinforce studiously avoid assailing an illogical and factually and historically void narrative by Governor Dayton.
BONUS: John Gilmore at Minnesota Conservatives also tags Richert for some fairly incurious reporting on the Campaign Finance Board.
Joe Doakes writes:
Pioneer Press On-Line forwarded article from NationalJournal “fact-checking” the debate, that included this bit:
Romney on assault weapons ban:
Responding to a question about assault weapons, Romney said, “We, of course, don’t want automatic weapons, which is already illegal in this country.” Actually, the federal ban on assault weapons — first enacted in 1994 under former President Clinton — expired in September 2004, during the George W. Bush administration.
Um, kids, Clinton’s assault weapons ban did not affect fully-automatic weapons, which is what Romney was specifically talking about. He knows the difference that you evidently do not. The “fact-check” sounds like it was written by one of our old friends.
Attention, media “fact checkers”; we covered this the other day. Read it and learn something.
Obama guts the Clinton-era “Work for Welfare” requirements.
Romney calls Obama on it.
Clinton lies about it from the podium at the DNC.
And America’s “fact-check” industry lines up behind Obama, no matter how they need to forcibly bugger “fact” to do it:
PolitiFact did link to [welfare expert and former Clinton staffer Robert Rector, who was one of the co-authors of Clinton’s original bipartisan welfare reform law]’s blog post—but only to dismiss him. “Robert Rector, a welfare expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said it could ultimately allow ‘state bureaucrats’ to count activities that aren’t really work. We should point out that those concerns are at odds with the policy’s stated goal of encouraging employment.” In other words, PolitiFact said his concerns should be dismissed for no other reason than they are at odds with the Obama administration’s spin. PolitiFact didn’t even address the fact that Rector—who’s quoted in Romney’s ad—was the source of the charge the Obama administration is gutting welfare reform or that he helped write the welfare reform law. (They did reference an article Rector wrote for National Review Online and concluded that he made “a noteworthy point” when he argued that the Obama administration doesn’t have the legal authority to waive the work requirements.)
Rather than engage in any critical discussion about the issue, PolitiFact regurgitated the HHS memo for the sole purpose of making the waivers sound benign.
And yet again, reality imitates my hyperbolic fiction; Berg’s Fourteenth Law (“The more strenuously a media organization identifies itself as “fact-checkers”, the more completely their “fact checking” will actually be checking statement for congruency with liberal conventional wisdom”) has come vividly to life.
I said “vividly”:
Let’s take that last example of accommodating workers with disabilities—please. It’s a classic bit of bureaucratic misdirection intended to make exemptions that undercut welfare work requirements sound reasonable. “There’s no one on TANF that’s disabled. If you’re disabled, you’re on another program called Supplemental Security Income,” Rector tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. “In TANF, you should be able to work—but what the left likes to do is to create a nebulous category of TANF recipients who are disabled with these very cloudy, fuzzy definitions, and then the state can chunk essentially an unlimited part of its [welfare] population into an exempt category. That has twofold consequences—now the state doesn’t have to do anything [to steer the exempted recipients into the workforce], but it can still maintain it has a high participation rate [in workfare programs]. If you have a 30 percent participation rate, and you exempt half the caseload, all of a sudden you can make it look like your participation rate went up.”
Read the whole thing.
And if you’re in the mainstream media, imagine how much less revulsion the general public would feel for you if you actually checked facts, rather than ran to the local Democrat spin doctor for further instructions.
Yesterday, the Star Tribune “Minnesota Poll” also delivered its mid-cycle tally of support for the Voter ID Amendment.
And coming barely a week after the generally-accurate Survey USA poll showing Voter ID passing by a 2:1 margin, the Strib would have you believe…:
Slightly more than half of likely voters polled — 52 percent — want the changes built around a photo ID requirement, while 44 percent oppose them and 4 percent are undecided.
That is a far cry from the 80 percent support for photo ID in a May 2011 Minnesota Poll, when the issue was debated as a change in state law. Support among Democrats has cratered during a year marked by court battles, all-night legislative debates and charges that the GOP is attempting to suppress Democratic votes.
Republicans and independents continue to strongly back the proposal, which passed the Legislature this year without a single DFL vote.
Wow. Sounds close!
Sort of; if you accept the validity of the numbers (and unless the DFL is headed for a blowout win, you must never accept the validity of the “Minnesota Poll’s” numbers), and every single undecided voter today voted “no”, the measure would pass in a squeaker.
But are the numbers valid? And by “valid”, I don’t mean “did they do the math right”, I mean “did they poll a representative sample of Minnesotans?”
To find that out, you have to do something that almost nobody in the Strib’s reading audience does; look at the partisan breakdown of the survey’s respondents. Which is in a link buried in the middle of a sidebar, between the main article and the cloud of ads and clutter to the right of the page, far-removed from the headline and the lede graf. Which takes you to a page that notes (with emphasis added):
• The self-identified party affiliation of the random sample is: 41 percent Democrat, 28 percent Republican and 31 percent independent or other.
That’s right – as with the Marriage Amendment numbers we looked at this morning (it’s the same survey), the Strib wants you to believe…
…well, no. I’m not sure they “want” anyone to believe anything. I’m sure they want people to read the headling and the “almost tied!” lede, and not dig too far into the numbers.
It’s part of the Democrat’s “Low-Information Voters” campaign; focus on voters who don’t dig for facts, who accept what the media tells them, who vote based on the last chanting point they heard.
Fearless prediction: On November 4, the Strib will release a “Minnesota Poll” that shows the Voter ID Amendment slightly behind, using a partisan breakdown with an absurdly high number of DFLers. It’ll be done as a sort of positive bandwagon effect – to make DFLers feel there’s a point to come out and vote against the Voter ID Amendment (and for Obama, Klobuchar, and the rest of the DFL slate, natch).
And it will be a complete lie. Voter ID will pass by 20 points, and this cycle of polling will disappear down the media memory hole like all the rest of them.
Question: Given that its entire purpose seems to be to build DFL bandwagons and discourage conservative voters, when do we start calling the “Minnesota Poll” what it seems to be – a form of vote suppression?
The grandfather – great-grandfather? – of the “Fact-Check” industry, “60 Minutes whitewashes for Obama:
Tonight, CBS aired a 60 Minutes interview with President Obama. But curiously enough, the news magazine show did not air a clip of Obama admitting to interviewer Steve Kroft that some of his campaign ads contain mistakes and that some even “go overboard.”
Anyone remember when “60 Minutes” was the “gold standard of journalism?”
I know – that never really meant anything.
But anyone who doubts that “60 Minutes” is anything but a geriatric propaganda mill for the left has been asleep for half a generation.
Call me a cynic, but for me, the prototype of all of the “fact-checking” columns in today’s mainstream media was in this piece here:
With the world breathing a collective sigh of relief following the violence-free passage into the year 2000, an international coalition of terrorists issued a reminder Monday that the new millennium does not actually begin until Jan. 1, 2001. “Technically speaking, we are now in the last year of the 20th century,” said Mahmoud al-Habib, a spokesperson for the terrorist organization Hamas. “Since there was no year zero, next New Year’s Eve is the real time to detonate bombs in Times Square and blow commercial airliners out of the sky.” Speaking from a secret bunker in the Kashmir hills, Osama bin Laden agreed. “We were all set to blow up the Eiffel Tower,” bin Laden said, “when one of my suicide bombers pointed out that it should actually be done next Jan. 1, not this one. I suppose we’ll just have to wait.”
Why, of course it’s the Onion. But it spells out the model for so many “fact-checkers” in the industry; a relentless focus on the finding “gotchas”.
The piece spells out a key pitfall in the whole idea of “Fact-Checking” the news; it’s entirely possible to be right about “facts” and still miss, or even detract from, the truth. In the example above? It was, perhaps, a fact that the millennium didn’t begin until 2001, but that missed the point for the fictional terrorists (check the date-stamp on that piece), for whose purposes “crowds on the street” were more the issue than “having the right date”.
And that’s even when the “fact-checker” isn’t being cynical and exploiting the “fact-check” system to serve as a political editorial.
Takeaway: It’s possible for facts to be true and still divert the audience from a larger, more important truth.
Takeaway Question: If a fact (“The Millennium begins in 2001!”) diverts the user from a larger truth (2000 is when all those crowds were out on the street, tempting the terrorists of the day), does it advance or divert from the story?
The answer, of course, is a question; “Is your story about Calendar Trivia, or Terrorism?”
Last week, Jon Cassidy at Human Events wrote as clear an indictment of the “Fact-Checking” system, or at least of as I’ve seen.
And that indictment ran down not only the top-line biases built into “Politifact”, the national über-fact-check organization…
In 2007 [when Politifact was still affiliated with Congressional Quarterly], PolitiFact was checking numbers thrown around in debates, such as whether 300,000 babies annually are born deformed (False: it’s 40,000), or whether Social Security “is solid through about 2040 without any changes whatsoever” (True, in PolitiFact’s view: the system’s not going broke until 2041).
By 2010, PolitiFact was giving False ratings to statements that were true, such as U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky saying that federal workers make an average of $120,000, compared to a private sector average of $60,000. Paul used total compensation figures, which PolitiFact found misleading. The arbiters arbitrarily decided that salary alone is the valid figure, which would be news to the Internal Revenue Service.
By 2012, it was “fact-checking” extremely general statements of personal experience like this one by Paul’s father, Ron Paul, the Texas congressman and GOP presidential candidate: “I had the privilege of practicing medicine in the early ’60s before we had any government” involvement in health care. “It worked rather well, and there was nobody out in the street suffering with no medical care. But Medicare and Medicaid came in and it just expanded.”
Fact-checker Louis Jacobson tried to disprove Ron Paul’s statement, but eventually admitted his limits. It’s the only example we’ve seen of PolitiFact admitting that the truth was too complex or beyond the scope of the Truth-O-Meter treatment.
…as well as the absurdities of its performance once you get into the weeds with specific stories:
If a conservative advocacy group runs an ad saying Obamacare could cost “up to $2 trillion,” an honest fact-checker would look up the government’s own estimate and see that, indeed, the Congressional Budget Office puts the cost at $1.76 trillion for just the first few years…
…The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Obamacare “represents a gross cost to the federal government of $1,762 billion,” or $1.76 trillion, over the next decade, and that the costs will grow over time. Yet PolitiFact still managed to dismiss that bedrock number as something to be dismissed. In critiquing an advertisement that attacked the program’s costs, PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan wrote that “the $1.76 trillion number itself is extreme cherry-picking. It doesn’t account for the law’s tax increases, spending cuts or other cost-saving measures.” On paper, the Obama administration projects that new taxes and Medicare cuts will offset the new program’s costs for a while. But that doesn’t change the cost of “up to $2 trillion.” That would make the statement True, of course. Incidentally, the CBO’s 10-year cost figures will be closer to $3 trillion in a few years, if current forecasts prove accurate.
Read the whole article. And remember it next time someone waves “Politifact” in your face.
Takeaway: Journalists – really, journalism itself – depend on having some sort of trust from their consumers. It starts with the little things – did they get the who, what, when, where, why and how correct – and in the bigger things, like “not slanting their coverage to suit some other agenda”. See Dan Rather.
Meanwhile, Here At Home
I’ve always had a fair amount of regard for MPR News, which is perhaps counterintuitive for a Minnesota Conservative. While a very close, and admittedly very partisan, listen reveals the odd bit of bias among the reporters and their editorial process, I think it’s fair to say that MPR News makes a game effort at playing the news straight (that is, of course, as distinct from MPR’s and “American Public Media’s” non-news programming, which is designed to afflict the comfortable and comfort the upper-middle-class liberal).
But I have had some questions about MPR News’ “Poligraph” feature this past week (and, let’s be honest, for years). While I think Catherine Richert does a broadly acceptable job of balancing her “fact-checking”, I’ve taken a closer look at some of her pieces this week. And I wrote her to ask some quesitons, which led to an interesting interchange between her and her boss, Mike Mulcahy and I.
Richert (as she herself noted in the comment section yesterday) responded, pointing out “Polograph’s” “about” section (which I also posted yesterday), and adding:
As you’ve probably noticed, we check one Democrat and one Republican every week, and occasionally a member of the IP. Once in a while, we switch the schedule up and check two members of the same party in one week. When that happens, we check two members of the other party the following week.
That was good to learn, actually.
Both the Hernandez and Klobuchar claims from last week meet several of our criteria. Both were “checkable” statements, both were made in debates, which are significant news events, and both are central to major campaign issues.
And that was even better to learn.
And next, we get to the beef:
Hernandez is adamantly opposed to the bank bailout, which highlights the GOP’s broader campaign theme that government has become too intrusive.
That’s correct. We talked about this on Tuesday. I called the fact-check “Obtuse” because while Tony wasn’t literally to-a-point accurate (the bailout didn’t cause unemployment all by itself), he spoke to a larger point that even Richert’s sources agreed with – that government intervention is fouling up the economy.
Question: As in the “Millennium” example: does analyzing Hernandez’ ad-lib as an absolutely literal statement (“did the bailout literally cause our unemployment rate?”) rather than a general statement of economic principle (“did bailouts harm or help the economy”) or political princple (“are bailouts the right thing to do?”) bring us closer to, or farther from, the larger truth? That the results of Obama’s (and Bush’s) interventions in the economy are, even if you’re completely non-partisan, mixed at best?
And Klobuchar has made bipartisanship a cornerstone of her political persona; her claim about how many bills she has sponsored with Republicans underscores that part of her campaign message.
And as I pointed out on Wednesday, that’s true in and of itself; it showed Klobuchar’s “bipartisanship” – according to one measure, at least. It proved that the numbers gave to support her own assertion were in fact correct. So if your question was “does Amy Klobuchar give out correct numbers to prove her assertions”, she passed with flying colors!
But if your question was “Is Klobuchar really bipartisan?”, there was much more to it; her voting record is 94% Democrat (as Richert noted), and in the leftmost third of the Democrat caucus; put another way, she’s the 17th most-liberal Senator out of 100.
Question: Which is the more important question, if the goal of ones’ fact-checking is to inform people about the upcoming election: “Does Amy give out valid numbers?”, or “Is Amy’s contention that she’s bi-partisan accurate?”
I’d maintain that while the latter question’s answers are dependent to some extent on one’s political perspective, that that question is the real story.
As I noted yesterday, my most important question – after learning and noting their “ping-pong” format of hitting a statement by both major parties every week, more or less – is “how does a statement get picked for analysis?” I noted a couple of Betty McCollum statements – one on her views of the Ryan budget, one on the funding for the Stillwater bridge project. Let’s stick to the former for right now. It’d seem this fits Richert’s description of Poligraph’s criteria; it’s “checkable” (I checked it!), it took place at a significant news event (the same debate that Hernandez’ statements came from), and it’s a central part of her campaign (raise taxes, oppose the Ryan budget).
So I asked – why did MPR pick, as the “Democrat” question in the weeks’ ping-pong of statements from both parties, Klobuchar’s self-serving but accurate statement about her bipartisanship, as opposed to McCollum’s completely fact-free statement about the Ryan Budget?
Because that speaks to my second question, way up above – about how a “fact-checker” whose integrity isn’t trusted is just barking in the wind.
Now, it’s entirely possible that MPR News’ management doesn’t see the incongruity; I’ll cop to the fact that my perspective is one that it finely tuned to find bias, and that fine-tuning sometimes warps the perspective. All that’s a given.
But I thought it was a legitimate question: for the single, sole, weekly “fact-check” of a Democrat, by what rationale was a self-serving innocuity like Klobuchar’s statement selected (and a very tightly-focused validation given)) over an out-and-out untruth like McCollum’s?
Question: Did Poligraph’s stories about Hernandez or Klobuchar bring the news consumer closer to the real story – the candidates’ views on the economy and their “bipartisanship”? Or did they answer the questions by asking the wrong questions, thus missing the forest for the trees? Or did they, like the “Terrorists” “fact-checking” at the top of the post, obscure rather than clarify the issue for someone seeking the truth?
Folllow-up question: Does MPR’s choice of “facts’ to “check” make you trust their judgment and perspective on covering political news more, or less?
What Obama Said:
“Sometimes they just make things up. But they’ve got a bunch of folks who can write $10 million checks, and they’ll just keep on running them,” he said. “I mean, somebody was challenging one of their ads — they made it up — about work and welfare. And every outlet said this is just not true. And they were asked about it and they said — one of their campaign people said, ‘We won’t have the fact-checkers dictate our campaign. We will not let the truth get in the way.’”
Mr. Obama was referring, as many other critics of the Romney campaign have, to a comment that its pollster, Neil Newhouse, made to reporters at the Republican convention on Tuesday, dismissive of those faulting the campaign’s television ads. What Mr. Newhouse actually said was, “These fact-checkers come to those ads with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs. We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”
Mr. Newhouse did not say, “We will not let the truth get in the way.”
No, but you can bet your life that hundreds of leftybloggers and leftytweeps will say he did up until the election, and all the way through the 2016 campaign.
Further evidence that the Obama campaign is pinning its hopes on the “low-information” voter – those who vote according to slogans, prejudice, and the last thing they heard.
For years, now, I’ve had questions about how politicians’ statements get selected for MPR’s “Poligraph”.
If you Google the feature, one might be forgiven for thinking the feature should be named “MPR’s Michele Bachmann Bureau”. That’d be unfair; Poligraph reporter Catherine Richert does spread some of the fact-checking love around among parties.
But I do seriously wonder what a pol has to do to get a statement picked up by Poligraph.
Huge Gaping Factual Hole, Ready For Occupancy
For example, I’ve wondered for years why Richert’s crew have never once checked up on Heather Martens, who has yet to speak her first significant truthful thing about the gun control issue. This blog has spent years shredding everything Martens has ever said on the public stage.
It’s a big issue to me, naturally. If I were a real cynic, I’d say it’s because MPR has invested some of its own credibility in Martens, airing an op-ed of hers in which every single one of her fifteen factual assertions – every one – was untrue.
But Martens isn’t an elected official? Okie-Dokey – Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom is an elected official, and every single word he wrote about last years’ “Stand Your Ground” bill over the past four years was a lie. Every single word. And he’s elected, ya? And both of them had Governor Dayton’s ear last session, when he vetoed the “Stand Your Ground” bill, which had passed with a bipartisan majority in the legislature.
Is it because MPR’s target demo doesn’t care about the issue? I could almost understand it if that were the rationale. But I don’t suspect a news organization would get behind that as an official alibi, do you?
Checking The Facts
So I wrote Richert over the weekend. She emailed me back bright and early Tuesday morning. Since I didn’t specify anything would be on the record (it was late), I’ll paraphrase; she referred me to the “About Poligraph” page, and noted the feature’s ground rules involve picking one statement from each party, each week (or, at times, two from one party one week, and two from the other the next).
The “About” page also notes:
PoliGraph puts the findings into short, clear explanations accompanied with a rating — accurate, misleading, false or inconclusive.
– Accurate: These claims are entirely or mostly true. They include important details and are supported by the facts.
-Misleading: These statements that leave out key information, are exaggerated, or have been taken out of context.
– False: These claims are not true or misleading to the point of being false.
– Inconclusive: This rating typically applies to projections or estimates. While such claims could be true under certain circumstances, more information is needed.
Well, that explains a few things, anyway.
One might hope that this next bit, however…:
If this reminds you of PolitiFact.com, the Pultizer Prize-winning from the St. Petersburg Times, you’d be right. We know good ideas when we see them.
More about the “Fact-checking” industry tomorrow.
Anyway – that brings us to my question from last Tuesday.
Yesterday, we looked briefly at “Poligraph”‘s take on an Amy Klobuchar claim to bipartisanship during her debate with Kurt Bills. While Klobuchar’s statement was accurate as far as it went – the numbers literally supported the exact letter by letter intent of the Senator’s statement – Richert’s “fact check” focused to exclusion on the numbers, while ignoring the larger context Klobuchar’s statement seems to have been meant to hide. This earned “Poligraph” a rating of “Cherry-PIcked”
That was their weekly “Democrat” fact-check.
But today’s installment will go back to this past Tuesday’s installment, in which Poligraph hit its self-imposed weekly “GOP” quota. There, we looked at the “Poligraph” “fact-check” of a Tony Hernandez statement linking the bank bailouts to the unemployment rate. While Tony oversimplified the issue, there is considerable debate about the question, and Richert herself focused excessively on refuting Hernandez’ words and ignored the broader context of the remark. Calling Hernandez’ statement “Misleading” rather than “Oversimplified” earned “Poligraph” a rating of “Obtuse”.
But I wondered: if “Poligraph’s” quota is one article per party per week, why pick the fairly innocuous Klobuchar quote about her record of co-sponsored bills? The claim was almost as innocuous as the Senator herself (although it covered, I maintain, a much more important context).
But let’s go back to another moment from the State Fair debate.
Check out this segment from the Hernandez-McCollum debate:
(Video courtesy MN CD4 Conservatives blog)
Here’s the money quote from Rep. McCollum:
“The Ryan Budget does nothing to move this country forward. It only protected tax cuts for the wealthy…[when presented with a putative Democrat budget proposal]…the Republicans said “No, if we can’t have tax cuts for the upper 1%”, which by the way is borrowed money from China, that we couldn’t have the middle-class tax cuts!”
This is an unvarnished lie. The GOP and Ryan’s plan have been all about tax cuts across the board all along, combined with broadening the tax base so that a broader share of the people are actually paying something. The Democrats want to use “tax cuts” as a class-warfare-baiting wedge, and seek to jack up taxes on the “wealthy”.
This McCollum statement was devoid of fact. It contains an absolute absence of truth. There is no validity to it in any way shape or form.
And yet it passed, while Richert spent a solid day or two vetting Hernandez’ off the cuff oversimplification about the bailout, and giving Amy Klobuchar’s blandishment about her “bipartisanship” a pass.
Why was that?
So I’ll give Poligraph a “Huh?”.
Here’s another one: :
She says there’s lots of “Federal Highway Money” involved in the new St. Croix bridge project. But there’s actually fairly little direct federal funding involved; it’s a lot more complex than that.
Now – the standard set with Tony’s oversimplification we looked at Tuesday was that, according to “Poligraph”, “too complex to put exactly that way” is “Misleading”.
So what is this?
We give Poligraph a rating of “Double Standard” for this one.
The question is, why does “Poligraph” pick the statements they pick?
Yesterday, I suggested that it might be a good idea for Minnesota Public Radio’s “Poligraph” feature (for whom Cathy Richert is listed as the “lead reporter”) might do well to add an “Oversimplified” rating to its rather cut-and-dried set of verdicts.
I suggested it because at first blush, it might be used to cover Richert’s own “fact-checking” – for example, the sole “fact-check” she did of Amy Klobuchar during the debate with Kurt Bills.
During the MPR debate at the Minnesota State Fair last week, A-Klo claimed that 2/3 of the bills she authored were ‘bipartisan”. Richert dutifully confirmed that Klobuchar did, in fact, have Republican co-sponsors for 2/3 or so of the bills she wrote (while factually noting that Klobuchar votes with Harry Reid’s line in the caucus a very liberal 94% of the time).
On hearing this odd little juxtaposition – a “bipartisan” record of sponsoring bills versus a very partisan voting record – the curious reader and listener might have a question or two.
So What Did Klobuchar Sponsor?
Richert assures us that once fripperies like Senate Resolutions – which are usually non-controversial – are stripped from the data set, two-thirds of Klobuchar’s bills are, indeed, co-sponsored by Republicans.
And what assortment of bills are these? I include them all below the jump. And they are indeed some bipartisan profiles in courage; suspension of duties on plastic children’s wallets, bamboo kitchen utensils and inflatable swimming pools and the like. Read the list at your leisure; you’ll need it. There are 75 of ’em. And right around 50 have a Republican co-sponsor. And they are, pretty much to a T, innocuous.
The only two bills that Klobuchar has actually had signed by the President? Neither the “Appeal Time Clarification Act“, co-sponsored by Jeff Sessions, and the St. Croix Bridge legislation, cosponsored by Franken and Wisconsin’s Senators Kohl (D) and Johnson (R), are especially controversial.
But there’s nothing wrong with having an innocuous record, really – is there?
Of course not. Not everyone is a leader and a trail blazer, a la Paul Ryan. It’s perfectly fine to claim innocuity as a virtue.
But what if there’s more to it?
Why Pick Such An Odd Figure To Wave Around In A Debate?
Klobuchar has, in fact, been running on the fact that she’s a pleasant enough person who is not averse to “bipartisanship”, but not in a way that risks anything.
But GovTrack shows her well to the left among Senators, with a voting record to the left of Harry Reid and San Francisco überliberal Dianne Feinstein, with only 16 Senators with more left-leaning rap sheets. And it remained to Richert to point out to the reader and listener – days after the actual debate – that Klobuchar’s voting record is actually 94% in line with the Senate’s Democrat majority. That is hardly a “bipartisan” record.
So it’d seem that:
So there are a couple of questions here.
And there’s another question. Given all that was said in those two hour-long debates, why did MPR’s Richert pick this assertion of Klobuchar’s to “fact-check” (and oversimply), as well as Hernandez’ statement that we talked about yesterday?
What, indeed, are MPR’s criteria for submitting a politician’s statement to “Poligraph’s” eagle eye?
More on this tomorrow.
Over the past week, we’ve seen ample, fairly conclusive evidence that the mainstream media’s “Fact Checking” industry is, to a great extent, part of the Obama Administration’s propaganda mill, part of the mainstream media’s major ongoing role as Praetorian Guard for the liberal establishment.
But what about Minnesota Public Radio?
I’ve acknowledged many times in this space that MPR – at least its news department – has made an effort to at least appear, if not be, relatively non-partisan. Its programming department – think Keri Miller and Garrison Keillor – are quite another matter, of course, but that’s to be more or less expected of an organization that depends for the bulk of its funding on the Volvo-driving free-range Alpaca-wearing St. Olaf alum set and the insecurity it seem to feel over its own intellectual and political supremacy.
I’ve also acknowledged that American Public Media is making an effort, in its own way, to recognize that conservatives exist and are people too. That’s all to the good.
But if you’ve followed the news department’s “Poligraph” feature – MPR News’ entrée into the “Fact-Checking” business – you might ask a question or two about their sense of focus or proportion. To say nothing of its story selection.
Case in point: last Tuesday’s debate between CD4 Representative Betty McCollum and GOP endorsed candidate Tony Hernandez. Richert jumped on a statement of Tony’s:
“The reason why unemployment is so high right now is because we bailed out the banks,” Hernandez said during the debate. “The reason why the debt shot up $6 trillion since then is because we bailed out the banks.”
Let’s make sure we have the context straight, here; Tony Hernandez, a private-sector guy in the biggest debate of his life (so far), ad-libbed a remark on the deleterious effect of the bailouts, as (I think it’s fairly accurate to say) the rhetorical tip of an iceberg of data showing that government intervention in the economy under all guises has been a disaster during this past four (indeed, twelve) years.
By the way, I realize that if you ad-lib something that’s wrong, it’s still wrong. Still, I bring it up because what Tony was doing – speaking ad-lib in front of a partly-friendly, partly-hostile crowd – is harder than it looks. Want proof? Just listen whenever MPR people try to do it. It’s rarely pretty, and they know it; if you watch these MPR debates, or any live MPR event, and you’re used to the unscripted scrum of commercial talk or sportstalk radio, it’s amazing to see that they do their intros and outros from scripts.
Anyway, MPR’s Richert has a history of holding off-the-cuff ad-libs – by Republicans, anyway – to a oddly tight, if factually-justified, standard of accuracy, as in this 2010 episode, where Tom Emmer said half of MInnesota’s cities didn’t get Local Government Aid. In fact, it’s half of Minnesota’s people who live in cities that don’t get LGA; Richert called that statement “FALSE“, where it would be more accurately called “a mis-statement caused by transposing a fact from one category to another.
OK, their game, their rules. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
Anyway, Richert gave Hernandez’ statement a flat “Misleading” rating, under the headline “Economists disagree with GOP candidate’s TARP claim”.
She promptly qualifies it, of course:
Indeed, there’s a reasonable argument to be made about whether the bailout was effective. Hernandez pointed to three news articles that underscore how the bank bailout and the auto industry bailout were costly and essentially prolonged a process that could have ended quickly if the government had stayed out of the picture.
For instance, in 2011, Bloomberg News reported that the Federal Reserve loaned the banks an additional $7.7 trillion – that was on top of the money banks received from the bailout.
But here’s the rub: Tony said – in his off-handed remark – that the bailout caused the unemployment. Richert provides a set of economists that, sure enough, deny that the bank bailout was the sole proximate cause of our national malaise, even as none of them deny that it’s an important contributor. In fact, that’s nearly an exact quote:
Michael Franc, vice president of government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation agrees with Calabria, and says that while the bailout may have indirectly been one of the reasons for some unemployment, it’s not the reason.
Indeed, every economist Richert mentioned – and both of the economists I’ve personally spoken with about this episode – all agree that the bailout was not the cause of unemployment, but most said, and none denied, that it was an important contributing factor to the larger national economic malaise. Richert herself notes in rendering her “verdict” that “it’s far more complicated than that”. Economiist Bruce Bartlett notes that the bailout, and some of the instruments of that bailout, like the payment of interest on reserves, have been contributing to the freeze on lending. Alfred Blinder in the WSJ amplifies this.
To sum it up:
In short: while everyone seems to acknowledge that the bailouts were a reason our unemployment rate is high today, Richert labels the statement “Misleading” because it’s not the whole reason.
Perhaps in the interest of accuracy and honesty MPR needs to add a category to its rankings – “Oversimplified”.
And for that reason – the selection of sources that pared away all possible context to Hernandez’ quote, in order to give it a more detrimental “grade” than warranted – we give Poligraph a rating of “Obtuse”.
We’ll come back to this tomorrow, when we go over the reasoning behind one of Richert’s other fact-checks. Wednesday we’ll look at one she for whatever reason, opted not to “fact-check”. Thursday? We’ll see.
While the WaPo’s “Politifiact” claims impartiality, they are in fact strongly biased to the left.
No, there’s math and everything.
Is the WaPo’s “Politifact” biased toward the left?
…that the Light Worker’s campaign is aimed at the one group he’s got a shot with: the not very well informed:
This is an ad, as Ed points out, that even left-leaning Politifact has rated “pants on fire”.
As this blog has been noting for quite some time now, the Democrat strategy seems to be to just toss crap in front of the electorate and hope just enough of it sticks to the dim, uninformed, adolescent, solipsistic and over-emotional to eke out a win.
It worked for Mark Dayton.