Two more problems with PolitiFact’s fact-checking of the State of the Union

in Uncategorized by

I’ve already beaten to death how PolitiFact crewed up a ruling on the State of the Union on Tuesday night. As Ben Kirby noted, so egregious was their error, they have been forced to walk back their ruling.

Apparently that ruling isn’t the only questionable one from PolitiFact’s coverage of the State of the Union.  Jonathan Bernstein pokes holes in two more PolitiFact rulings, while calling into question the very nature of PolitiFact:

Politifact went after “Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years” on the same basis, giving it a “Mostly True.” Here’s how that one went. First, they devoted 500 words to showing that the specific words they were examining were, in fact, true. They then conclude:

We think Obama’s phrasing suggests that he thinks the administration’s policies have played a role, saying, for instance, that “over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration.” But we also think he does so cautiously.

Our ruling

Obama was correct when he said that “right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.” We think he may have overstated his administration’s role in achieving that, but not wildly so. We rate the claim Mostly True.

 Huh? Here’s the quote from the president:

Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right – eight years. Not only that – last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years.

There is no claim here to check! Obama simply did not say that his administration caused more oil production. He didn’t say they caused a little of it, a lot of it, or all of it. How can you fact check this non-claim?

Does Politifact believe that politicians should never present absolutely true factual information without disclosing that, in fact, they are not responsible? Mitch Daniels, in his SOTU response, voiced ” admiration for the strong family commitment that he and the First Lady have displayed to a nation sorely needing such examples.” Should Politifact downgrade that one to “Mostly True” because Daniels isn’t actually responsible for the Obamas’ marriage?

Sorry for the length of this, but there’s more! Politifact rated “General Motors is back on top as the world’s No. 1 automaker” as “Half-True.” This one hasn’t been updated, at least not yet, and it’s just as bad. Politifact, again, downgrades the statement because “crediting the bailout with GM’s No. 1 spot is a stretch.” But here, the case is pretty clear; the bailout may not have been sufficient for the recovery of GM, but it certainly was necessary. And once again, Politifact apparently has no problem at all with the specific steps Obama claims his administration took, or the claims he makes about where GM is now. Indeed, they don’t even dispute the claim, which I think it’s fair to say that Obama does make here, that the two are connected. Their only problem, which is enough to downgrade the whole statement, is that an entirely unstated claim that Obama deserves full credit would be wrong.

Oh, Politifact did have one other problem with the GM claim: Apparently industry watchers believe there was luck involved in GM happening to be on top just now. Which they cited, apparently in all seriousness, as a problem with the claim that GM is #1. I suppose I should also never mention the Giants 2010 World Series win without mentioning that the 2010 version of Edgar Renteria wasn’t all that likely to hit two home runs in five games. Yikes!

Read the full text of Bernstein’s article here.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.