Friday, January 14, 2011

Grading PolitiFact: Michelle Malkin and the White House brand

While we continue to wait for the fact check of  "Giffords' blood is on Sarah Palin's hands," we can tackle PolitiFact's latest foray into Giffords-connected political claims.

The issue:

So far two would-be quotations of Malkin consisting of one word.  That puts us on red alert for examination of a paraphrased version of Malkin's statement.

The fact checkers:

Robert Farley:  writer, researcher
Bill Adair:  editor


The University of Arizona memorial service for the victims of the Tucson, Ariz. shootings was called "Together We Thrive." But Michele Malkin claimed the slogan was cooked up by the White House(.)
Did she?

In an opinion piece about the Jan. 12, 2011, memorial event, Malkin, a conservative pundit, accused the White House of "branding" the memorial service with the slogan, complete with its own logo.
She did?

Malkin noted that all 13,000 people who attended the "Together We Thrive" event were given blue and white T-shirts with the logo.
Yes, Malkin did that.  But is that the same as claiming the slogan was cooked up by the White House or accusing the White House of "branding" the memorial service with the slogan?

We get better evidence than this, right?

 "Can't the Democrat political stage managers give it a break just once?" Malkin wrote in her column.
Yes, Malkin wrote that in her column.  But is asking rhetorically whether Democrat political stage managers can give it a break the same as claiming the slogan was cooked up by the White House or accusing the White House of "branding" the memorial service with the slogan?

We get better evidence than this, right?  Or does the White House have a monopoly on Democrat political stage managers?

After these attempts to create the impression that Malkin was accusing the White House of dressing up the Arizona event, much of the remainder of the story focuses on assurances from the White House and University of Arizona officials (neutral parties all) that the whole nine yards was local initiative.

That's nice, but did Malkin make the claim attributed to her by PolitiFact?  Perhaps the best evidence that Malkin made the claim comes from an update to her post (noted in the PolitiFact story):
Update: As noted above, the University of Arizona announced the Together We Thrive event — and a few readers write in to say that the campus initiated the logo/campaign. Given U of A president Robert Shelton’s embarrassing, thinly-veiled partisan cheerleading for Obama tonight, it may indeed be a 100 percent-campus-initiated campaign. Given the Obama White House’s meticulous attention to stage prop details, however, I would say the odds of involvement by Axelrod/Plouffe & Co. are high.
But even noting that readers wrote to emphasize that the university was responsible for putting the event together falls well short of admitting to having pinned responsibility on the White House, even if Malkin goes on to assign it a high probability.  To wit:  the statement that the event "may indeed be a 100 percent-campus-initiated campaign" contradicts nothing that Malkin had written above in her post.  And that simply couldn't be the case if Malkin had actually made the claim that PolitiFact says she made.

Maybe fact checkers who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Welcome to the grand conclusion (to paraphrase Styx):
The burden of proof is on Malkin and she has failed to prove any White House involvement. She may believe she sees the handiwork of the White House at play, but there's no evidence to back that up. Certainly not enough to justify her claim the White House used the shooting tragedy as an opportunity to orchestrate a "branded" political event. We rate Malkin's claim False.
"The burden of proof."  Hah!  The burden of proof rests on any person who makes a claim that is expected to be taken as true.  PolitiFact presented no reasonable evidence that Malkin expected readers to take it as true that the White House was behind the memorial event.  The best evidence for that was Malkin's opinion that White House input was likely, and that's close to no evidence at all.  PolitiFact obviously expects its readers to accept as true that Malkin claimed the White House was responsible.  But PolitiFact failed to bear its burden of proof.

It's bad journalism, it smacks of agenda journalism, and it's hypocritical.

It's journalists reporting badly.

The grades:

Robert Farley:  F
Bill Adair:  F

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