Rachel Maddow is fed up with PolitiFact. She’s not alone. PolitiFact’s galloping case of Broderitis seems to have worsened recently. Perhaps its most infamous foray into useful idiocy was its 2011 “Lie of the Year” award for Democrats who correctly characterized Paul Ryan’s “Coupons4Codgers” plan as the end of Medicare as we know it.
But PolitiFact routinely distorts the facts in ways large and small, as chronicled frequently at this blog and elsewhere. This morning brought a fresh example of PolitiFact’s moldy decay to my attention: It rated Florida Governor Rick Scott’s claim at CPAC that his administration is “poised to get rid of over 1,000 more regulations in 2012” MOSTLY TRUE despite the fact that the numbers simply don’t add up (by PolitiFact’s own account) and that they had to broaden the definition of “the Scott administration” to encompass the entire Florida legislature to even get within striking distance of TRUE.
So who are these PolitiFact people and why do they seem so hell-bent on muddying the waters their mission statement claims they are here to clarify? This came up last week when Mistermix pointed out yet another example of the broken mathematical model PolitiFact uses to separate fact from fiction. Balloon Juice commenter Lex said:
The Tampa Bay (formerly St. Petersburg) Times [sponsor of the PolitiFact project — ed.] is owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies, a journalism think tank and training center. I’ve attended two training sessions there and also have served as a presenter at a third (off-site). To this one-time customer, Poynter appears, with a few exceptions, to be generally a well-run, thoughtful, public-spirited place and, overall, a force for good in U.S. journalism.
Lately, they’ve been kind of screwing the pooch, both with respect to Politifact’s misstatements and inconsistencies and with the way they handled Jim Romenesko.
After the Politifact Medicare “Lie of the Year” debacle, right before Christmas, I wrote Politifact’s Bill Adair, a guy whose work I’d long respected. I cc’d Poynter President Karen Dunlap, whom I’ve also met. And I said, basically, “I love you guys, but you’re violating the first rule of holes and damaging the Poynter brand.” I was hoping that they might hear and respond to someone with ties to Poynter in a way that they might not respond to some anonymous member of the general public. But I never heard a word back from either one of them.
Lex’s assessment squares with my personal experience with The Tampa Bay Times, which is generally a decent paper. The paper competes in the Tampa Bay market with the more conservative Tampa Tribune. I’m sure it’s not immune to the panic and despair that characterize damn near all mainstream news outlets these days as they struggle to survive a wrenching market dislocation occasioned by the rise of the internet, a profusion of ideology-centric cable channels, etc.
Many folks have suggested that PolitiFact is willing to interpret the facts in a wildly inconsistent manner to avoid getting tagged with the “liberal” label, which it believes will hurt business. I’m convinced that this is true. The question is, what can be done about it? Should we just conclude PolitiFact is worse than useless as Maddow suggests and accept that it has zero credibility now and never will?
If it continues to operate as it currently has, I see no other choice. But the idea behind PolitiFact — objective parsing of political speech to reveal what’s true and what’s bullshit — remains an important service in theory and one we can no longer count on news bureaus to perform. And, as Lex points out, the organization behind PolitiFact isn’t some Murdoch propaganda outlet that revels in its ability to squeeze the rubes. So perhaps it is capable of reform.
Maybe a fix is as simple as this: Get rid of the ratings. Just give us the facts that are already contained in each rating entry and let us decide for ourselves where it falls on the truth scale. From what I’ve seen, the facts presented seem mostly accurate and well-sourced; PolitiFact fucks up when they try to assign ratings. So they should stop doing it.
I realize that would take a lot of the fun out of it, both for PolitiFact and its readers. The PANTS ON FIRE thing is cute, gimmicky and an essential attention-getter for marketing purposes. But as PolitiFact has demonstrated in terms that can be mathematically illustrated, they haven’t found a way to apply labels in an unbiased manner.
They’ll need to decide what’s more important: the marketing or the mission. So far, it has been the former. But it doesn’t have to be that way.[X-POSTED at Rumproast]
What if marketing IS the mission?
Democratic Nihilist, Keeper Of Party Purity
And then, when they stop doing the ratings, they will start selectively editing, or just start making up, their own “facts”.
And then we can call them Fox News. Which is what every media outlet wants to be these days. I don’t blame them. That’s the only job security left for reporters nowadays. The non-Fox reporters I know (2 of them) these days are literally a deadline away from starvation.
I appreciate the digging down into these facts, and the organization sounds like it has good intentions. But it is paving the way to hell with them.
If you are going to set yourself up as a judge, you are going to have to take the heat for being honest. And they haven’t been willing to do that. Or else they are just stupid.
Politifact wants to be an Authority. Since the authoritarians, who are primarily conservative goopers, want and need Authorities a lot more than most Dems/lefties do, that’s who they’ll play to. It’s a component of the whole right-wing propaganda creation, distribution, and validation machine.
i’m going stupidity over malice here. purely speculating but i imagine that PF thought that this endeavor would lend itself naturally to high broderism. what they soon found out was that they had to manufacture the high broderism, facts having a librul bias and all. at this point they are stuck with a choice between losing access and credibility on the right or losing credibility only on the left. it was an easy choice for them. pick the one that perpetuates PF’s flaawed business model.
They should be considered a conservative organ and ignored. Move on.
@Martin: Seconded. They are a commercial enterprise and should not be assumed to be neutral in the first place. They should be ignored and/or mocked.
Out of curiosity, when did fact-checking and uncovering truth become a “liberal bias”?
I believe in interpretive dance, not interpretive facts.
What would it take for the Poynter Inst. to at least respond to concerns about Politifact? Maybe we can get Bill Moyers on the case.
Culture of Truth
It’s funny that PolitiFact appears to be relatively honest in its assessment of facts only to veer wildly away in its appraisal of the truth of the presentation of those facts.
It’s very much in keeping with the terrified Beltway media, though.
This. I’m not willing to cut any fucking traditional American media any fucking breaks any more. I quit that shit back in 2003 and there is no going back from it. They screwed the pooch and deserve every bit of the shitstorm that is pounding print media. Even after 2000, I was willing to cut them all a break due to my mother’s life as a print journalist. But they killed any good will I had left with the run-up to the Iraq War. Fuck ’em. I hope they all die. I’ll keep reading the only worthwhile newspaper left online, The Guardian, which, I must point out, is most assuredly NOT American.
Yup. I don’t see much difference between Rasmussen polling and Politifact. They both claim to be neutral, but one has to be pretty naive to believe that.
@Culture of Truth: and @Democratic Nihilist, Keeper Of Party Purity:
They’ve already done some painfully obtuse fact selection, like labeling the ACA ‘job-killing’ by focusing solely on the fact that there were jobs eliminated in the bureaucratic reshuffling. No consideration or even mention of effect on the economy, or jobs created in that same reshuffling. I wanted to beat them with a shovel.
However, if they make you read their facts rather than assign a grade, it is much less of a flim-flam. You can look at the judgment above and say ‘That’s not what anyone means by job-killing’ and move on.
Politifact is to news organizations’ fact-checking function what Foxconn is to Apple’s manufacturing: an outsourcing operation. Its USP* is that it’s a modern Oracle of Truth: it examines the facts, then pronounces the Truth or Falsehood of a statement with a Finality that lies quite outside the gift of mere mortals like you and me. The ratings, phony air of precision and all, are very much a part of the mystique that persuades us rubes, and convinces news organizations to rely on it. Politifact can’t afford to give up the ratings.
The Poynter Institute is doing this not so much for money as for prestige, which (1) accrues to its main activities of thinking deep thoughts about the media, and pontificating to media people; and (2) keeps people’s attention.
(*unique selling point; is this phrase used much in the American dialect of Pointy-Haired Boss?)
Culture of Truth
Thanks. Even so, it’s funny that their Meter is often so obviously add with the facts linked to the rating.
Well, when they did the honest rating thing, there were 3 Republican lies to one Dem lie, so they had to invent new Dem lies to keep up. I heard all this on NPR Talk of the Nation several weeks back, where some conservative shithead kept saying that it couldn’t possibly be true that Republicans lie 3 times more than Dems (callers said it most likely was true). So Politifact is now trying to hide that 3 to 1 ratio.
When one side is so into lying that you have to grade on the curve to look “fair”?
They have to do this to appeal to news organizations with a righty bias. Which is a shame, because other people too can figure out the truth, and when their assessment doesn’t gibe with Politifact’s, that only degrades Politifact’s prestige and brand.
It was first documented by Dr. Steven Colbert, who noted “Facts have a liberal bias” in his speech before the DC Press Club.
I am a 3rd generation Tampan. The St. Pete Times used to be far and away the best paper in the state but they completely sold out a few years ago. They still do good work like exposing the Scientology cult but were knuckled under by Jeb! and is but a shell of its former self. I put the election of Rick Scott squarely on their shoulders. They did NOTHING to expose what a dangerous fraud he was/is.
Really sad and I’d wager the current total domination of the media in the USA by Republicans/reactionaries is unprecedented. When Ted Turner sold CNN, its all been downhill since.
If not for the internet, democracy would be gone for good, imo.
Forget PolitiFact. Forget all the dumb attempts to proclaim a truth that doesn’t exist. Their “facts” have never changed anyone’s mind, as the right wing knows perfectly well, and are a waste of whatever journalistic effort is spent on them. Worse, their perpetrators are not subject to complaints because they are, um, authorities! On everything! I was a reporter and editor on a big daily until recently, and have quickly come to view the political coverage I used to do as worse than useless — though I do miss a lot of wonderful people who are cranking it out. They are just adhering to journalism school principles of witlessness and sanctimony.
PolitiFact is basically paid attention to by a few pundits and a few bloggers. Nobody else on earth pays any damned attention to them. Even if they were right on the money most of the time, which has never been the case, nobody would pay any attention to them. It’s just a gimmick.
I hate to give cred to Glen Greenwald, but … I always give cred where cred is due. This is from Wikipedia:
Civil libertarian Salon.com blogger Glenn Greenwald wrote of PolitiFact that “it undermines its own credibility when it purports to resolve subjective disputes of political opinion under the guise of objective expertise” and that the sources it cites in its analysis tend to be “highly biased, ideologically rigid establishment advocates” presented “as some kind of neutral expert-arbiters of fact.”
The only thing Glen left out is that Politifact starts with no credibility to begin with, but that is just a quibble.
I agree that their assigning ratings provides a scorecard that brings out the worst of their need to concoct Balance no matter the truth, and that they would stick closer to accuracy if they just researched and summarized the data connected to various statements. But there remain a couple of problems:
1) They would stay who they are, high priests at the temple of Broder with a need to engineer equality of outcomes between the two sides. In deciding which statements to investigate, in what facts they reported, and in how they characterized them their judgment would bleed through. If anything, their marshalling of the data might get more slanted.
2) You’ve overlooked the reason they have the ratings: most readers are on the page for seconds, and look only at the ratings. Without the ratings they couldn’t compete for eyeballs. They’re more likely to remove the underlying research than they are the ratings.
The Politifact gimmick is that they are a parasite operation. They gin up bullshit that gets them link placement all over the Web, and then feed on the click throughs. They don’t give a rat’s ass about factual accuracy, they care about being basically as true as a Ouija Board, a parlor game that people think is amusing enough to link to and cluck about. They get click throughs, but nobody really believes their ratings. Mainly because they themselves don’t really believe them either. The ratings are just a click magnet.
I just got PolitiFracked.
JR in WVa
@Mark K: I agree. Also, they’re working on the pesky Internet to fix that, using crooked secret diplomacy, crooked copyright claims, crooked claims about how no one edits the innertubes to be sure only the truth is published, unlike Faux Noise, the Kaplan Post, mostly the NY Times, most recently The AP.
All of these famous news organs never EVER publish a stretched truth, much less an outright lie. Unless you count Judith Miller and the white lies about Iraq and their weapons of mass destruction, etc, etc.
So to protect the ears of the people from falsehood propagation we must muzzle the Internet and allow it to be used for watching TV shows, Circus de Soliel, etc, etc. instead of political fabrications about the Blessed Sanctorum, HolyGingrich, and Mr. Williard “Worked hard for every dollar I ever earned!” Romney.
What a shame for anyone to hear slurs about these fine gentlemen!!! Turn that Dam innertubes thing OFF! NOW!
An organization that cant see its rotten foundation has zero interest or capability to fix what’s wrong. let it die with the rest of the falsely evenhanded establishment media.
I h8 h8rs
Hey, just my take on this, but I am the proprietor of a small and humble fact check site for viral emails. I understand the unhappiness with some of the ratings Politifact has assigned to various disputes. I think most people who don’t keep up on the day to day of politics could care less about Rick Scott and whether or not he got rid of 1000 regulations. Most people don’t know who he is. Where Politifact is very valuable, and where they ALWAYS get it right is in the realm of viral emails. Viral emails are where ridiculous crap becomes fact in people’s minds. There are low information voters who are vulnerable to the constant lying in the viral emails sent to them by their nutty right wing family members. People who are somewhat reasonable and interested in the truth need to be able to easily debunk viral emails, and Politifact is outstanding in that area. There has been a smear campaign going on against snopes, so some people aren’t sure whether to trust snopes. But when snopes, factcheck.org, politifact.com and truthorfiction.com all agree that a viral email is false, it makes a difference in the minds of people who are even marginally reasonable (independents.) Just my two cents. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot over wonky calls that nobody will care about next week. Viral emails are forever.
Rick Scott, on the other hand, is a Douche.
You are absolutely right. Getting rid of the stupidly gimmicky ratings is essential if PolitiFact is to re-establish any semblance of credibility. The whole problem with the “Lie of the Year” was that PolitiFact thought it was a swell idea to designate a “Lie of the Year” in the first place. Fact-checkers should not be in the entertainment business. If being boringly sober and objective doesn’t make them enough money to keep them happy, they should try something else altogether.
I lost my mom in 1985, but I am happy to know her spirit is alive and living in Chicago! I heard that a million times growing up. Yay, mom, happy to see you.
And you have my dad’s sense of humor, always a plus.
The biggest problem with Politifact seems to be the nearly unshakeable desire to NOT issue corrections. They have issued one or two corrections in the past, but it’s been really rare. There’s only one that I actually remember.
EVERY other major news outlet willingly issues corrections on a daily basis. The NYT, WSJ, all the major city papers, Time, Newsweek, etc. Even the TV networks. And many of them not only correct the error, but make a post or short notice about it. Politifact’s reluctance to this has always been troubling to me, since it’s run by a print newspaper.
I have trouble explaining PolitiFact as anything other than incompetent or just lying. Whichever the case is, I’d say just mock them periodically and otherwise ignore them. Broderists are useless at best.
The PolitiFact brand exists for one reason and one reason only: the mainstream media is not doing its job. Fact checking, asking pointed follow-up questions, and getting at the truth should be basic journalism and every reporter’s duty. Stenography and feckless pseudo-objectivity have made too much of what passes for reporting impotent and useless.
The problem with being a brand, with all its Truth-O-Meter, Obameter and GOP-Pledge-O-Meter trademarks, is this: imagine if we had one party that always lies and one party that always tells the truth. Politifact would still have to create “lies” for the truth-telling party to have a “credible” “brand” to sell in a Fox Limbaugh world. The other problem is that it often comes down to one man’s opinion — Bill Adair. Let’s not forget that in their online Lie-of-the-Year poll — even with the padding by Ryan’s flying monkeys — the “lie” that Republicans voted to end Medicare came in third to two flaming Gooper falsehoods.
All that said, looking at their “Pants on Fire” list, the vast, overwhelming majority of these whoppers come from Republicans. And you simply won’t find most of them called out in the mainstrain media.
I’m surprised that it’s only been relatively recently that politifact is getting this sort of scrutiny. Their odd rulings aren’t really a new thing, look at this for example.
@I h8 h8rs: Why does the internet need a Snopes.com with Broderian Fever?
Fuck ’em and take your defense of the indefensible and GTFO
I h8 h8rs
@cynikal: So shut down Politifact because 98% of what they do is spot on and helps illuminate the minds of low information voters. And the 2% you don’t agree with is stuff that nobody except wonky bloggers, people inside the beltway, and pundits give a crap about. That’s a good plan. GTFO? Really? Methinks thou art a little insulated.
Betty, thanks kindly for hoisting my post from the
wretched hive of scum and villainycomments to the front page. It will not surprise you to hear that I still have not heard from Adair or Dunlap.
While I like your suggestion, I fear that if they can’t spin things one way, they’ll spin ’em another. I suspect the notions suggested by @pragmatism at Comment 6 above likely are figuring into their thinking.