Words matter -- We pay close attention to the specific wording of a claim. Is it a precise statement? Does it contain mitigating words or phrases?
--Bill Adair, PolitiFact
Context matters -- We examine the claim in the full context, the comments made before and after it, the question that prompted it, and the point the person was trying to make.
--Bill Adair, PolitiFact
The fact checkers:
Dave Umhoefer: writer, researcher
Greg Borowski: editor
PolitiFact's presentation of this fact check raises an immediate red flag for those who agree with Bill Adair that words matter. The quotation of Gov. Scott Walker includes a parenthetical portion provided by PolitiFact. Those editorial embellishments are customarily intended to assist the reader in understanding the context of the statement. But reporters and editors sometimes fail to accurately convey the context with such interpolations.
PolitiFact examines two associated statements from Walker. In each, we get an accurate idea of Walker's exact words:
A reporter asked if the move to limit union power was payback for pro-union moves made by Democrats in the past.2)
"It’s not a tit for tat," Walker responded. "The simple matter is I campaigned on this all throughout the election. Anybody who says they are shocked on this has been asleep for the past two years."
Asked if he was "ramming through" the budget-repair bill, Walker said:And, for review, the PolitiFact paraphrase of Walker's position based on the two quotations above:
"We introduced a measure last week, a measure I ran on during the campaign, a measure I talked about in November during the transition, a measure I talked about in December when we fought off the employee contracts, an idea I talked about in the inauguration, an idea I talked about in the state of the state. If anyone doesn't know what's coming, they've been asleep for the past two years."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he campaigned on his budget repair plan, including curtailing collective bargaining.PolitiFact described/justified the above framing in the story like so:
There is no dispute that Walker campaigned on getting concessions on health and pension benefits from state employees. And, to be sure, that is an important part of the measure.The key premise in PolitiFact's argument occurs at the start of the second paragraph just above: "(F)or Walker to be right, he has to be correct on the entirety of the plan." That key premise is based, in turn, on PolitiFact's interpretation of Walker's words at two press conferences, one on Feb. 17 and the other on Feb. 21.
But for Walker to be right, he has to be correct on the entirety of the plan. So we’ll look more deeply at the collective bargaining side of the equation, which has caused the ongoing firestorm in Madison.
Given the critical nature of the respective interpretations, we examine each in turn.
Find a video of Walker's Feb. 21 press conference here. Find the relevant portion near the one minute mark of part II.
Yellow highlights indicate the portion quoted by PolitiFact. Blue highlights indicate where the context of Walker's statement indicates that he was talking about increasing employee contributions to pensions and health insurance. Of those, PolitiFact said there was no dispute that Walker campaigned on them. PolitiFact offered no evidence in support of its key assertion that Walker had to be talking about all aspects of the budget repair bill in order for his statement to ring true. Worse, PolitiFact omitted evidence in the near context indicating the reverse.Scott Walker:One thing I'll correct. It's not a tit-for-tat. The simple matter is, we--I campaigned on this throughout the election. Anybody who says they're shocked on this has been asleep for the last two years. I talked about this, I talked about the 5 and 7 percent--heck, for the past eight years prior to me being governor, I've pushed for this in Milwaukee County because I knew it was a much better alternative to have changes in pension and health care contributions than to lay off hundreds at the local level and, in my case, now thousands at the state level.
Since PolitiFact grades Walker on the Feb. 21 statement, this information completely undercuts PolitiFact's ruling. But let's travel to the land of "What if?" and see if PolitiFact could reasonably find Walker false on the statement from the "even more emphatic" claim from the Feb. 17 press conference.
Quite a bit of the context is relevant, but picking up at about the 7:30 mark of the video is sufficient to sketch the picture around Walker's statement (transcript mine):
On average in the past decade, the average length of time for a negotiated settlement of our contract has taken 15 months. We don't have 15 months to balance the budget. We've got to balance it now. Um, and for those unions who say they want to negotiate, I think it's pretty disingenuous. In December they tried to ram through a bill after the election, when they were hoping people weren't paying attention, ram it through after the election (in) December but before I came to office and before the new majorities came in. They had no interest in negotiating with us then. I think it's a red herring right now in hopes that would weaken the resolve to move forward and respond to the taxpayers.
In the end. we have a budget to balance, it's better to balance it giving the tools to state and local governments to balance it without forcing massive layoffs.
You don't think this is a bill you're trying to ram through?
No. If you look at ...
Seven days from the time you announce it you want to vote on it?
Thank you for the editorial. The comment, the fact of the matter is that, two years ago the state, the governor before me, pushed through a budget adjustment bill in 24 hours that would raise taxes on the taxpayers by $1 billion. We introduced a measure last week, a measure that I ran on during the campaign, a measure I talked about in November in the transition, a measure I talked about in December when we fought off the uh, employee contracts, an idea I talked about in (the) inauguration, an idea I talked about in the state of the state. if anyone doesn't know what's coming they've been asleep for the past two years.
Now the bottom line is we talked about it, I was elected to get this state working again, I was elected to show that we could do things to make the business climate better, to create more jobs in the state, and ultimately to get this state working again by balancing the budget. That's exactly what we are doing. No more. No less. It's about balancing the budget.The yellow highlights indicate the portion quoted by PolitiFact. Note that the broad context consists of Walker's contrast between a budget adjustment bill he says was pushed through in 24 hours and his bill that was heavily foreshadowed well in advance. The line immediately preceding the portion PolitiFact used emphasizes that contrast and PolitiFact left it out. Walker was not emphasizing that every particular item in the bill was discussed during the campaign. There is no evidence of that notion in Walker's statement. It is apparently the invention of the imaginative PolitiFact team.
Dave Umhoefer: F
Greg Borowski: F
Journalists reporting badly. Journalists making a liar of Bill Adair.