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?