|Slogan||Sorting out the truth in politics|
|Owner||Tampa Bay Times|
|22,542 (April 2014[update])|
PolitiFact.com is a project operated by the Tampa Bay Times, in which reporters and editors from the Times and affiliated media outlets "fact-check statements by members of Congress, the White House, lobbyists and interest groups". They publish original statements and their evaluations on the PolitiFact.com website, and assign each a "Truth-O-Meter" rating. The ratings range from "True" for completely accurate statements to "Pants on Fire" (from the taunt "Liar, liar, pants on fire") for false and ridiculous claims.
The site also includes an "Obameter", tracking President Barack Obama's performance with regard to his campaign promises, and a "GOP Pledge-O-Meter", which tracks promises made by House Republicans in their "Pledge to America". PolitiFact.com's local affiliates keep similar track of statements and figures of regional relevance, as evidenced by PolitiFact Tennessee's "Haslam-O-Meter" tracking Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam's efforts and Wisconsin's "Walk-O-Meter" tracking Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's efforts.
PolitiFact has been both praised and criticized by independent observers, conservatives and liberals alike. Conservative bias and liberal bias have been alleged, and criticisms have been made of attempts to fact-check statements that cannot be truly "fact-checked".
- 1 History
- 2 "Lie of the Year"
- 3 Reception
- 4 Analysis of PolitiFact's ratings
- 4.1 Criticism of specific fact checks
- 4.1.1 Barack Obama's Saturday Night Live campaign promises
- 4.1.2 Success of Recovery Act
- 4.1.3 Halliburton use of tax money
- 4.1.4 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
- 4.1.5 Rachel Maddow and Wisconsin budget
- 4.1.6 Defense Department definitions of al-Qaeda and Taliban
- 4.1.7 Republicans voting to "end Medicare"
- 4.1.8 State of the Union 2012
- 4.1.9 Conservatism in America
- 4.1.10 G.I. Bill as welfare
- 4.1.11 Tennessee tax burden
- 4.1.12 White House security screening of fetuses
- 4.1.13 Jeep manufacturing in China
- 4.1.14 Martina Navratilova's statement on gay rights
- 4.1 Criticism of specific fact checks
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
PolitiFact.com was started in August 2007 by Times Washington Bureau Chief Bill Adair, in conjunction with the Congressional Quarterly. In 2013, Adair was named Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, and stepped down as Bureau Chief at the Times and as editor at PolitiFact.com. The Tampa Bay Times' senior reporter, Alex Leary, succeeded Bill Adair as Bureau Chief on July 1, 2013, and Angie Drobnic Holan was appointed editor of PolitiFact in October, 2013. Adair remains a PolitiFact.com contributing editor.
In January 2010, PolitiFact.com expanded to its second newspaper, the Cox Enterprises-owned Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas; the feature, called PolitiFact Texas, covers issues that are relevant to Texas and the Austin area.
In March 2010, the Times and its partner newspaper, The Miami Herald, launched PolitiFact Florida, which focuses on Florida issues. The Times and the Herald share resources on some stories that relate to Florida.
Since then, PolitiFact.com expanded to other papers, such as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Providence Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Plain Dealer, Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Knoxville News Sentinel and The Oregonian. The Knoxville News Sentinel ended its relationship with PolitiFact.com after 2012. In 2014, the The Plain Dealer ended its partnership with PolitiFact.com after they reduced their news staff and were unwilling to meet "the required several PolitiFact investigations per week".
"Lie of the Year"
Since 2009, PolitiFact.com has declared one political statement from each year to be the "Lie of the Year".
In December 2009, they declared the Lie of the Year to be Sarah Palin's assertion that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2009 would lead to government "death panels" that dictated which types of patients would receive treatment.
In December 2010, PolitiFact.com dubbed the Lie of the Year to be the contention among some opponents of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that it represented a "government takeover of healthcare". PolitiFact.com argued that this was not the case, since all health care and insurance would remain in the hands of private companies.
PolitiFact's Lie of the Year for 2011 was a statement by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) that a 2011 budget proposal by Congressman Paul Ryan, entitled The Path to Prosperity and voted for overwhelmingly by Republicans in the House and Senate, meant that "Republicans voted to end Medicare". PolitiFact determined that, though the Republican plan would make significant changes to Medicare, it would not end it. PolitiFact had originally labeled nine similar statements as "false" or "pants on fire" since April 2011.
For 2012, PolitiFact chose the claim made by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that President Obama "sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China" at the cost of American jobs. (The "Italians" in the quote was a reference to Fiat, who had purchased a majority share of Chrysler in 2011 after a U.S. government bailout of Chrysler.) PolitiFact had rated the claim "Pants on Fire" in October. PolitiFact's assessment quoted a Chrysler spokesman who had said, "Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China."
The 2013 Lie of the Year was President Barack Obama's promise that "If you like your health care plan, you can keep it". As evidence, PolitiFact cited 4 million cancellation letters sent to American health insurance consumers. PolitiFact also noted that in an online poll, readers overwhelmingly agreed with the selection.
PolitiFact's 2014 Lie of the Year was "Exaggerations about Ebola", referring to 16 separate statements made by various commentators and politicians about the Ebola virus being "easy to catch, that illegal immigrants may be carrying the virus across the southern border, that it was all part of a government or corporate conspiracy". These claims were made in the midst of the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa when four cases were diagnosed in the United States in travelers from West Africa and nurses who treated them. PolitiFact wrote, "The claims -- all wrong -- distorted the debate about a serious public health issue."
PolitiFact.com was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting in 2009 for "its fact-checking initiative during the 2008 presidential campaign that used probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters".
PolitiFact.com has faced criticisms and assertions of bias from political commentators across the political spectrum, despite evenly balancing the load.
A Wall Street Journal editorial in December 2010 called PolitiFact "part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and 'facts,' rather than differences of world view or principles".
Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard criticized all fact-checking projects by news organizations, including PolitiFact, the Associated Press and the Washington Post, writing that they "aren’t about checking facts so much as they are about a rearguard action to keep inconvenient truths out of the conversation".
In December 2011, Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy wrote in the Huffington Post that the problem with fact-checking projects was "there are only a finite number of statements that can be subjected to thumbs-up/thumbs-down fact-checking".
Matt Welch, in the February 2013 issue of Reason magazine, criticized PolitiFact and other media fact-checkers for focusing much more on statements by politicians about their opponents, rather than statements by politicians and government officials about their own policies, thus serving as "a check on the exercise of rhetoric" but not "a check on the exercise of power".
Analysis of PolitiFact's ratings
University of Minnesota political science professor Eric Ostermeier did an analysis of 511 selected PolitiFact stories issued from January 2010 through January 2011. He said "PolitiFact has generally devoted an equal amount of time analyzing Republicans (191 statements, 50.4 percent) as they have Democrats (179 stories, 47.2 percent)..." Republican officeholders were considered by Politifact to have made substantially more "false" or "pants on fire" statements than their Democratic counterparts. Of 98 statements PolitiFact judged "false" or "pants on fire" from partisan political figures, 74 came from Republicans (76 percent) compared to 22 from Democrats (22 percent) during the selected period reviewed. Ostermeier concluded "By levying 23 Pants on Fire ratings to Republicans over the past year compared to just 4 to Democrats, it appears the sport of choice is game hunting - and the game is elephants." The study was criticized by PolitiFact editor Bill Adair and the MinnPost, with Adair responding, "Eric Ostermeier's study is particularly timely because we've heard a lot of charges this week that we are biased — from liberals ... So we're accustomed to hearing strong reactions from people on both ends of the political spectrum. We are a news organization and we choose which facts to check based on news judgment. A writer with the left-leaning magazine The Nation argued that findings like this are a reflection of "fact-checkers simply doing their job... Republicans today just happen to be more egregiously wrong...." A writer with the right-leaning Human Events claimed that after looking at Politifact's work on a case by case basis a pattern emerged whereby Politifact critiqued straw man claims; that is, "dismissed the speaker’s claim, made up a different claim and checked that instead." The conservative magazine noted Politifact's use of language such as "[although the speaker] used [a specific] phrase... in his claim, [it] could fairly be interpreted to mean [something more general that is false]..." Human Events cited Bryan White's PolitiFactBias blog to state that "from the end of that partnership [with the Congressional Quarterly] to the end of 2011, the national PolitiFact operation has issued 119 Pants on Fire ratings for Republican or conservative claims, and only 13 for liberal or Democratic claims".
Criticism of specific fact checks
Barack Obama's Saturday Night Live campaign promises
In October 2009, PolitiFact.com fact-checked a skit on the sketch comedy television show Saturday Night Live that showed President Obama stating that he had not accomplished anything thus far; PolitiFact's appraisal was then reported on CNN. Wall Street Journal writer James Taranto called the fact-checking "a bizarre exercise", and added, "PolitiFact does not appear to have done the same for past "SNL" sketches spoofing Republican politicians ... It's as if CNN and the St. Petersburg Times are trying to reinforce the impression that they are in the tank for Obama."
Success of Recovery Act
In February 2010, PolitiFact.com rated President Obama's statement that the Recovery Act had saved or created 2 million jobs in the United States as "half true", stating that the real figure was 1 million according to several independent studies. Economist Brian Riedl of the conservative Heritage Foundation responded that such a statement "belongs in an opinion editorial – not a fact check", since "there is no way to determine how the economy would have performed without a stimulus."
Halliburton use of tax money
In July 2010, Huffington Post blogger Ayo Adeyeye criticized them for labelling a statement by Arianna Huffington that the company Halliburton was "defraud[ing] the American taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars" as half-true, instead of fully true.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also referred to as the ACA and "Obamacare", has been a frequent subject of PolitiFact's rulings both before and after it was passed into law in 2010. Statements about it have constituted three of PolitiFact's "lie of the year" awards, in 2009, 2010 and 2013.
Taranto of the Wall Street Journal said PolitiFact was "less seeker of truth than servant of power", after it ranked as "Lie of the Year" Sarah Palin's claim that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would lead to "death panels". Taranto wrote that the act "necessarily expands the power of federal bureaucrats to make [life and death] decisions, and it creates enormous fiscal pressures to err on the side of death."
After PolitiFact ruled the claim that the act represented a "government takeover of healthcare" to be its "lie of the year" in 2010, a Wall Street Journal editorial criticized the ruling, saying that the legislation would "convert insurers into government contractors in the business of fulfilling political demands... All citizens will be required to pay into this system, regardless of their individual needs or preferences. Sounds like a government takeover to us."
After PolitiFact called President Obama's often-repeated promise that, under the act, "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it" as its "lie of the year" in 2013, critics noted that PolitiFact had earlier ruled differently on the same claim. PolitiFact had rated the statement as true in 2008, stating that "Obama is accurately describing his health care plan here." In 2009 and again in 2012, Politifact rated the statement half true. PolitiFact's announcement drew criticism from political commentators on both sides of the political spectrum, including progressives Joan McCarter and the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Conservatives including Washington Examiner commentator Sean Higgins and commentator Avik Roy noted the discrepancy, with Roy stating that PolitiFact should stop evaluating predictions about the future, including campaign promises, as facts. PolitiFact editor Angie Holan noted in her lie of the year column that PolitiFact had previously ruled the claim half-true, saying that "we noted that while the law took pains to leave some parts of the insurance market alone, people were not guaranteed to keep insurance through thick and thin. It was likely that some private insurers would continue to force people to switch plans, and that trend might even accelerate." Holan explained PolitiFact's rulings, saying that while "the original statement is partly accurate," when the President clarified it this year with the excuse, "you could keep it, if it hasn't changed since the law passed," that got the pants on fire rating.
Rachel Maddow and Wisconsin budget
In February 2011, Rachel Maddow criticized PolitiFact, saying that they incorrectly stated that she denied that there was a budget shortfall in Wisconsin, providing a clip of herself explicitly stating that "there is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall" on her own show. However, Politifact responded by pointing that Maddow edited the clip and did not include the full context, as she had originally stated "There is in fact a $137 million budget shortfall. Republican Gov. Scott Walker, coincidentally, has given away $140 million worth of business tax breaks since he came into office. Hey, wait. That's about exactly the size of the shortfall." Maddow also claimed earlier in the broadcast that "despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year."
Defense Department definitions of al-Qaeda and Taliban
After Republican Ron Paul stated that in the U.S. Department of Defense "budget, they have changed the wording on the definition of al-Qaeda and Taliban. It's (now) anybody associated with (those) organizations, which means almost anybody can be loosely associated – so that makes all Americans vulnerable. And now we know that American citizens are vulnerable to assassination", PolitiFact concluded that Paul's statements were "mostly false". Author, blogger and civil rights litigator Glenn Greenwald, in the politically progressive Salon.com, criticized PolitiFact's determination: "It undermines its own credibility when it purports to resolve subjective disputes of political opinion under the guise of objective expertise", he wrote, saying that the sources it cited in this particular analysis were "highly biased, ideologically rigid establishment advocates" and presented "as some kind of neutral expert-arbiters of fact."
Republicans voting to "end Medicare"
In 2011, PolitiFact concluded that a statement by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) that a budget proposal by Congressman Paul Ryan passed by Republicans in the House and Senate meant that "Republicans voted to end Medicare and charge seniors $12,000" was "pants on fire" false. This conclusion was criticized at the time by Talking Points Memo and left-wing blogs including the Daily Kos and Firedoglake. After it was named the Lie of the Year, the choice was criticized by both liberal and conservative commentators including Paul Krugman, who wrote that the DCCC statement was true and was chosen only because PolitiFact, having criticized conservatives in the two previous years, had "bent over backwards to appear 'balanced'"; Steve Benen, who called the decision "credibility-killing"; Jonathan Chait, who called PolitiFact a "shoddy, not-very-smart group"; and David Weigel. Taranto and Ramesh Ponnuru called the DCCC statement incorrect but a matter of opinion, not a lie. PolitiFact noted that reader responses to their selection of this statement as the 2011 Lie of the Year were almost entirely negative, saying, "Of roughly 1,500 e-mails we received, nearly all criticized our choice." PolitiFact responded to the flood of comments, saying "We've read the critiques and see nothing that changes our findings. We stand by our story and our conclusion that the claim was the most significant falsehood of 2011. We made no judgments on the merits of the Ryan plan; we just said that the characterization by the Democrats was false", and noted that competitors Factcheck.org and FactChecker came to similar conclusions.
State of the Union 2012
In January 2012, commentators such as Maddow and Daily Kos criticized PolitiFact for rating a statement in President Obama's State of the Union Address about private sector job growth as "Half True" despite acknowledging that the statement was factually correct. PolitiFact initially rated it this way because his statement appeared to imply that his policies were responsible for the job growth, but after further review, PolitiFact upgraded the rating to "Mostly True" after concluding that Obama wasn't crediting his own policies as strongly as first thought. The "Mostly True" rating was criticized as still being inaccurate. In the same speech, Obama stated that consumption of imported liquid fuel had dropped below fifty percent; PolitiFact called this "Half True", since, despite its accuracy, it implied that this had happened solely due to Obama's actions, when other factors were also responsible. Maddow criticized this rating as well.
Conservatism in America
On February 14, 2012, PolitiFact rated a statement by Senator Marco Rubio that the majority of Americans are conservative as "Mostly True", despite acknowledging that only 40% of Americans, not a majority, were conservative, according to a recent poll. Maddow criticized this rating, saying that PolitiFact was "a disaster" and should shut down its operations. Adair responded to this criticism by saying that 40% "wasn't quite a majority, but was close", and still represented a plurality. Politico and the Daily Kos both criticized this rebuttal, with the former saying that Adair had actually confirmed Maddow's point and the latter noting that in the past PolitiFact had made a clear distinction between plurality and majority when rating a similar statement by Congressman Ron Paul as "False". On February 24, PolitFact revised their rating of Rubio's statement to "Half True".
G.I. Bill as welfare
That month, PolitiFact also rated a statement by MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, that critics of the G.I. Bill had "called it welfare", as "Mostly False", because they found no evidence that the word "welfare" had ever been used. Mediaite commentator Tommy Christopher criticized this, saying that "criticism of the bill was unquestionably in the spirit of modern welfare politics, and then some." Christopher also noted that PolitiFact reviewed only a limited sample of the contemporary criticism of the G.I. Bill, and said that what they did review "not only supports the spirit of O’Donnell’s claim, it renders it an understatement."
Tennessee tax burden
On March 16, 2012, Nashville Bureau Chief Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel wrote an article for PolitiFact Tennessee that gave a beer excise tax map graphic posted by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation a "False" rating for statements about Tennessee's tax burden on beer the graphic never claimed. The same day, the Tax Foundation's Joseph Henchman countered in a blog post on the organization's website that PolitiFact should have rated the statement a "True but not comprehensive" and claiming "their author doesn't understand the difference between excise taxes and other taxes, or that our map looks at just one tax and is not a comprehensive look at the entire tax system of a state". PolitiFact Tennessee published a revised ruling on March 20 rating the map "Half True", taking exception with the source of data used.
White House security screening of fetuses
On May 8, 2012, PolitiFact rated a claim by the anti-abortion National Right to Life Committee that the White House Visitors Office does security screening of the unborn babies of pregnant women visitors as "Mostly False". PolitiFact noted that the NRLC inaccurately described the policy, which was designed to accommodate babies expected to be born after registration but before the date of the White House tour. Rachel Maddow criticized PolitiFact for rating the claim "Mostly False" instead of "False" after PolitiFact agreed that the claim "wildly misconstrued" White House policy. Maddow remarked, "You can get something, quote, wildly wrong, and still only be mostly wrong about it? What does it take to get a false rating on PolitiFact? False, as in you got it wrong." She had previously criticized PolitiFact in recent months for what she alleged were its errors in fact-checking, and predicted the death of the organization as a credible resource. PolitiFact editor Bill Adair responded to Maddow with a letter from John Kane, a self-described Maddow fan, who defended PolitiFact's ruling, noting that although the claim indeed "wildly misconstrued" the policy, "It simply cannot be argued, Ms. Maddow, that the White House does not recognize unborn children: by asking potential visitors whether they are pregnant, so as to account for a possible additional attendee in the future, the White House IS ACKNOWLEDGING unborn children at that moment. There is no getting around this; it is pure logic. But, as Politifact then argues, the White House does not recognize the unborn children as the NRLC implies; the NRLC's suggestion is indeed 'wildly misconstrued.'"
Jeep manufacturing in China
In January 2013, writer Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard criticized PolitiFact's ruling, writing that Romney's claim had turned out to be true. Hemingway cited the fact that Chrysler had announced that they would expand manufacturing of their low-end Jeep model, the Jeep Patriot, into China. In response, a Politifact editorial posted by Bill Adair responded that "No, it doesn’t." and pointed out that the Politifact judgement was in response to Romney's claim "that jobs in the United States were being moved to China, or perhaps that Jeep was moving its entire operations to China" and that Chrysler's announcement in 2013 still did not support this assertion since no jobs in America were being lost, and the "entire operation" as claimed by Romney was still not being moved to China.
On May 5, 2013, PolitFact rated a statement by retired tennis star and gay rights activist Martina Navratilova that there are 29 states in the United States in which a person can be fired for being gay as "Half True". On May 7, Rachel Maddow sharply criticized this rating, noting that PolitiFact's own assessment found that there were in fact 29 states that do not prohibit such discrimination by employers. She dismissed PolitiFact's arguments that some cities within those 29 states offer protection to gay employees and that some employers voluntarily do not discriminate against homosexuals as immaterial to what Navratilova actually said. The Daily Kos expressed similar objections, while also reiterating their criticism of some of PolitiFact's previous assessments.
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