Friday, June 26, 2009

Grading PolitiFact: President Obama and TARP profits

The dilemma over grading the literal statement and the underlying argument breaks President Obama's way. Again.

Fact-checking the fact checkers

The issue:

The fact checkers:

Robert Farley: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor


The key to this piece of PolitiFact perfidy forms a paradox: If you look closely enough at an issue you can miss something. Writer Robert Farley takes casual notice of some of the evidence that something's amiss, but assures the public that the picture is legit once the focus is drawn sufficiently tight.

By analogy, picture a convenience store. The store is stocked with beer and cigarettes, primarily the former. The cigarettes sold out, but the beer isn't moving. The store owner announces a "profit" on the cigarettes, even though the store is still in the red to the tune of the cost of its beer inventory minus the cigarette profits.

This is yet another statement that is technically true as uttered but easily misleading. The Times' paraphrase adroitly illustrates this: "Obama says government has so far turned a profit on money used to stabilize banks."

There's nothing like having the mainstream media take the misleading aspect of one's technically true statement, then put it on the deck of a fact check piece and finally place a graphic next to it pronouncing it "True."

Thanks, PolitiFact!

The grades:

Robert Farley: F
Bill Adair: F

The statement was technically true but slightly misleading. PolitiFact amplified the misleading nature of the statement, making the situation worse.

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