PolitiFact Georgia will apparently need to go through that process from scratch. But they may be ahead of the game compared to the main operation because they at least acknowledge the existence of hyperbole right out of the chute. By name, no less.
The fact checkers:
Jim Tharpe: writer, researcher
Jim Denery: editor
Tharpe and Denery work for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
They started out so well:
Okay, okay. We here at PolitiFact Georgia know that politicians are occasionally given to hyperbole.Dear reader, you don't know how encouraged I felt with that first line. Fact checkers who understand hyperbole! What a concept!
But it was downhill from there:
From time to time the political class seems driven to test the bounds of rhetorical gravity. And we feel inclined to test what they say.If that sounds like a declaration that Tharpe (and Denery, by extension) doesn't really understand hyperbole as a figure of speech rather than as simple exaggeration then you won't be surprised by the rest of the fact check.
What did Roy Barnes say?
Seriously, does it look like Barnes is suggesting it would be a good idea to scrape the gold off the dome to bring in more cash?The former governor, a Democrat, hammered current leaders for "cheating the next generation" by cutting education.
"If we have to scrape the gold off the gold dome, you make sure that education comes first," Mr. Barnes told the group.(Chattanooga Times Free Press)
Tharpe makes a good move. He asks the Barnes campaign about the comment:
Chris Carpenter, Barnes’ campaign manager, said Barnes made the statement to show how important he considers education. The former governor has also mentioned closing the Governor’s Mansion and the state Capitol – the same one he wants to relieve of its gold top – to raise money for state schools.Carpenter spelled it out. It was H-Y-P-E-R-B-O-L-E. Exaggeration not merely of the facts but rather exaggeration broadly understood by speaker and audience as making a particular point. When the lovestruck suitor declares that he would lift the world for his beloved, he does not expect her to think that he might actually perform the feat, nor even to consider that, relatively speaking, the world is somewhat displaced if he does a push-up. That isn't the point. The point is that he would extend every effort to demonstrate his love.
“He just thinks public education is the No 1 priority,” Carpenter said. “Obviously there is some rhetorical flourish there.”
But apparently the clever staffers at PolitiFact Georgia don't understand that:
Flourish, smourish. We wanted to know how much the state could get if it the gold leaf was actually scraped off the venerable old dome and sold.To repeat the point I've made during numerous other instances where PolitiFact treated exaggeration for emphasis in wooden-literal fashion, I have no problem with fact-checking whether or not the state could make a buck off the dome's gold leaf. Fine. Do that. But acknowledge hyperbole for its actual role in human communication and don't put "Pants on Fire" next to any politician's name based on your own misunderstanding of a common figure of speech! Give the "Pants on Fire" rating and all you're doing is communicating the fact that you don't understand plain English.
Speaking of which, let's skip over the discussion of how scraping the gold off would probably lose money for the state of Georgia and get to PolitiFact's conclusion:
In fact you would lose money, and end up with a naked Capitol dome. And nobody wants that. We give the former governor a Pants On Fire for this one.You give journalists a bad name with this one, PolitiFact Georgia.
Jim Tharpe: F
Jim Denery: F
Yes, I'm a conservative blogger and I freely admit to selection bias in my grading of PolitiFact. Candidate Barnes is a Democrat. What gives?
Yes, I have a selection bias, but my bias is geared primarily toward writing about what interests me. The inability of fact-checkers to properly interpret hyperbole interests me. And I have no problem defending a wronged Democrat when fact-checkers flub their work.
The fact that I defend Barnes no more means I'm not biased than PolitiFact's rating of Barnes indicates a lack of liberal bias. I hope we're all clear on that.