The title, "As facts slid, so did Clinton" provides a preview of Adair's main idea. But Adair does not stop with the attempt to demonstrate a correlation between Clinton's veracity and her poll numbers. The tenor of the story suggests that the correlation is significant, that correlation in this case was enough to reasonably infer causation. From Adair's concluding paragraph:
Clinton's fall from presumed nominee to also-ran is likely to be debated for years to come. But there's no question that her decline in poll numbers was matched by (or caused by) her drop in truthfulness. It might be worth reminding other politicians: If you're going to throw the kitchen sink, make sure you've got your facts right.Adair operates under the assumption that the press did a good job of measuring the relative truthfulness of the respective candidates. For example, Clinton's "drop in truthfulness" as measured by PolitiFact or other media sources is taken as an objective data point. But candidate fact checks are spot checks subject to editorial judgment, and it is not fair to Clinton to judge her on that scale without adequate backing data that is not subject to the vagaries of editorial judgment. Fairness is one of the criteria that Pulitzer juries are to use as a hallmark of journalism's highest standards.
Adair's facts, in truth, lend themselves to an interpretation that lets Clinton off the hook almost entirely. Consider Adair's assertion that Clinton had the best record for truth-telling prior to her supposed "drop":
When we launched PolitiFact last summer, Clinton was on top of the world. Leading in polls, potent in fundraising, she seemed to be unbeatable. Back then, she stood alone among all the candidates, Republican and Democratic, for her disciplined adherence to the facts. When PolitiFact checked her claims, we found she was nearly always right.Obama, in contrast, was among the candidates who carried a spotty record for truth-telling throughout the campaign. Logically, it follows that Clinton should have maintained her lead in the public perception of her truthfulness unless she became significantly less truthful than her competitors. That is, if her slide was a direct result of a perception that she was not as honest as her rivals.
Adair offers no evidence that he even considers an alternative angle. Clinton may have been held to a higher standard because she is not personally as likable as Obama. Or the fact-check ratings may even have tended to favor the Democratic front-runner. I won't try to make the latter case, since Obama continued to offend PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" throughout the race. But counting up the "Pants on Fire!" and "Mostly True" rating for comparison is a wholly inadequate method of judging unless we presuppose a uniform method of rating candidates' claims. It matters which claims get rated, and beyond that it matters how the standards of judgment get applied.
The most obvious explanation for Clinton's drop in popularity should have been sensitivity to attack ads. Adair's story even hints at it, though he ignores the elephant in the room. When Clinton was perceived as throwing the "kitchen sink" at Obama while Obama avoided giving the impression that he was attacking Clinton in turn, Clinton's numbers fell. That in conjunction with an increasing perception that Obama would be the Democratic candidate for president.
For its logical failures and its unfair treatment of Clinton, this PolitiFact story rates a 4 on a 0-10 scale where "10" represents the highest standards of journalism and a "6" counts neither for nor against Pulitzer worthiness.