A recent set of fact checks from PolitiFact helps illustrate how the inconsistent application of standards reinforces the impression of ideological bias.
The first fact check, from April 6, 2011, featured the chairman of the Republican party, Reince Priebus (using a portion PolitiFact's quotation, ellipsis in the original):
"Under this president, he’s promised millions and millions of jobs. We’ve lost 26 million jobs, Meredith, since he’s been president. He promised under an $850 billion stimulus program that we’d be on a path to recovery. We’ll none of that has come true. … I think that pointing out a snail’s pace in the job (growth) numbers is not going to be enough to undo 26 million jobs that are lost, Meredith."PolitiFact ruled Priebus' statement "Pants on Fire," as it was approximately ten times the actual number.
The second fact check, also from April 6, came from House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi:
"In one of the bills before us, 6 million seniors are deprived of meals – homebound seniors are deprived of meals," Pelosi said. "People ask us to find our common ground, the middle ground. Is middle ground 3 million seniors not receiving meals? I don’t think so. We’ve got to take this conversation from a debate about numbers and dollar figures and finding middle ground there, to the higher ground of national values. I don’t think the American people want any one of those 6 million people to lose their meals."PolitiFact ruled Pelosi's claim "Half True" because the number of seniors missing meals would be far smaller than 6 million. Pelosi's office said she misspoke, intending instead to refer to 6 million meals. Since people eat every day and often more than once per day, the number of seniors missing meals certainly may have been overstated by a factor of 10 or greater.
- A claim was repeated twice
- The claim was inflated by approximately a factor of 10
- The claim was made during a speaking engagement
- PolitiFact story written by Louis Jacobson, edited by Martha Hamilton
- Pelosi's office provided an explanation for the misstatement, Priebus' office did not
- Pelosi is a Democrat, Priebus a Republican
- Both Priebus and Pelosi misspoke
Perhaps Priebus simply misspoke, or perhaps he misplaced a decimal point and ended up wrong by a factor of 10.Under the assumption that the political affiliations of the subjects do not matter, it appears that Priebus could have warranted a "True" rating by communicating to PolitiFact that he misspoke and meant to refer to 2.6 million jobs lost rather than 26 million.
PolitiFact's problem may be more the consistent application of a faulty standard rather than inconsistent application of a proper standard. PolitiFact places no emphasis on charitable interpretation, instead favoring a "burden of proof" standard that permits PolitiFact to conclude that a statement is false unless the party making the statement demonstrates otherwise.
Those of you who note that such a policy permits PolitiFact to present ratings as true despite lacking any proof of the finding--granting themselves an exception to the standard applied to others--have a good point.
Reince Priebus, promptly contact PolitiFact and let them know you meant 2.6 million jobs lost.
Then let's see if PolitiFact applies its standards consistently by boosting your rating up to "Half True."