The fact checkers:
Meghan Ashford-Grooms: writer, researcher
W. Gardner Selby: researcher
Brenda Bell: editor
"The Catalog of Fantastic Things" contains an entry for a bicycle called the "Wild Tripper." The Wild Tripper features two seats and two sets of handlebars, each facing one another. The caption reads "Pedal faster and faster until you crash into yourself. Collect double damages!" This PolitiFact story reminds me a little of the Wild Tripper.
PolitiFact takes the Republican group "Raging Elephants" to task over an online statement that "Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican! (exclamation point in the original)"
The claim is apparently based on the statement of Dr. Alveda King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece. The former King is a confirmed Republican. During a pro-life/anti-abortion video Alveda King states that Martin Luther King, Jr. "was a Republican during his lifetime."
PolitiFact adopts the stance of skepticism for the purposes of its fact check:
We weren't aware that the late civil rights leader ever expressed a partisan affiliation.Briefly, the fact check piece locates a couple of partisans who claim King was a Republican. And it quotes expert sources to the effect that King was politically non-partisan while pursuing civil rights and leaning toward socialism. And then it concludes that the claim that King was a Republican is false.
That, my friends, is a Bizarro-World approach to fact checking.
It is improper to look at the facts supporting a claim, find the support wanting and then conclude the claim is false. Doing so serves as an example of the fallacy of argumentum ad ignorantiam--the so-called appeal to ignorance. PolitiFact's hand was tipped in that direction from the start: "We weren't aware ..."
The weakness of the evidence leads only to the conclusion that the truth of the claim is not established, or possibly that its truth is unlikely.
In the case of Martin Luther King Jr.'s political alignment, it is plausible on its face that King was registered as a Republican. His father was a Republican, not that anyone would say that the younger King followed in his father's footsteps to any appreciable degree (both were Baptist ministers). As a relatively well-to-do family, the Kings would have something of a tradition going with respect to party allegiance.
This argument comes with a bundle of caveats, of course. The American political scene was far less polarized during the Civil Rights era, oddly enough. Civil Rights legislation was passed by a coalition of Republicans and northern Democrats. President Truman desegregated the United States armed forces. President Eisenhower pushed for voting rights for blacks and eventually signed a weak set of civil rights measures (weakened by Congressional Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson). Senator John F. Kennedy's support for Martin Luther King, Jr. helped continue the trend of increasing black support for the Democratic Party, capped off by the civil rights acts passed under President Johnson.
So by the 1960s, if not before, a majority of blacks supported Democrats, at least where Democrats were supporting civil rights initiatives and the like. But prior to Johnson's landmark legislation a considerable bloc of blacks remained loyal to the GOP--the party of Lincoln.
The bottom line is that the story produces no definitive evidence establishing whether or not Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican for some significant portion of his lifetime.
Now, think about how this type of reasoning works directly against PolitiFact with respect to its "Truth-O-Meter" ruling.
PolitiFact found a statement false essentially because the evidence in favor was weak and counterbalanced by similarly weak contrary evidence. That results in a conclusion ("We rate the statement False") that is flawed in essentially the same respect as the original claim. Using PolitiFact's methods to rate the PolitiFact rating, we would be obliged to rate as "False" PolitiFact's claim that the statement was false.
And that's ridiculous.
Meghan Ashford-Grooms: F
W. Gardner Selby: F
Brenda Bell: F
Probably the PolitiFact Texas staff is trapped by the flawed PolitiFact official rules for fact checking, so it's tempting to cut them a break. On the other hand, it seems pretty well established that Martin Luther King Jr. voted for Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and somehow that receives no mention at all in the story.
Though PolitiFact did little to separate them, there were actually two claims represented concerning King. One was the claim from Raging Elephants that King "was a Republican!" That claim may easily be taken as referring to King's career generally, and is misleading in light of King's socialist sympathies. The other more plausible claim, via Alveda King, was that he was a Republican "during his lifetime," a very plausible claim given the circumstances described above. PolitiFact lumped the latter claim in with the other, in effect.
It may or may not be true that the Martin Luther King Jr. was meaningfully Republican at some point during his adult life. PolitiFact did nothing to truly settle the issue. Reputable fact checkers ought to eschew the use of logical fallacies, and PolitiFact failed in that by reaching a conclusion based chiefly on a lack of evidence.