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.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter
The goal is to help readers judge for themselves whether they agree with the ruling.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter
|image clipped from PolitiFact.com|
The fact checkers:
Louis Jacobson: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor
PolitiFact provides another case to slip into the file for claims a person didn't make but PolitiFact wanted to check the claim anyhow.
On the May 12, 2011, edition of the Fox News Channel's’ O’Reilly Factor, host Bill O’Reilly and conservative commentator Laura Ingraham discussed a speech on health care given earlier that day by possible Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.That was the good part of the fact check. Everything's in order so far.
Romney’s speech was designed to draw distinctions between the Massachusetts health care plan passed when he was governor and the national health care law signed in 2010. In a separate item, we analyzed whether Romney was justified in calling the national law a "government takeover."PolitiFact has been harping on the "government takeover" thing for some time. It seems doubtful at this point that they can afford to backtrack from it even to the point of trying to address the many criticisms leveled at their finding. It's true that Romney was drawing distinctions between RomneyCare and the Democratic PPACA. But the reason for that is worth mentioning: PPACA is wildly unpopular with the Republicans Romney needs to court in order to win the Republican nomination.
Here, we’ll look at a comment Ingraham made regarding in-state public opinion about the Massachusetts plan.I haven't left anything out through this point of my analysis. Put the quotations end-to-end and you've got the entire PolitiFact story through the third paragraph quoted just above. We have a hole in this story. It is the hole represented by PolitiFact's stated aim of helping readers judge for themselves whether to agree with the PolitiFact ruling.
"Look, I like Mitt Romney," Ingraham said. "I think he's a really smart guy, and I think he would be a good president. ... On this, I don't get it, though, Bill. I mean, costs have gone up. It's wildly unpopular."
We wondered whether the Massachusetts system was in fact "wildly unpopular" with Bay State residents.
In this case, we don't have enough context to know whether the PolitiFact ruling is correct. But we do have enough evidence to place the ruling in extreme doubt.
PolitiFact leads toward the quotation of Ingraham by saying her statement was "made regarding in-state public opinion" about the plan. But there is absolutely nothing in the context of the quotation that backs up that claim.
PolitiFact repeats the presumptive context in framing the goal of the fact check. Is it true, as Ingraham supposedly said, that RomneyCare is wildly unpopular in Massachusetts?
PolitiFact eventually grades Ingraham "False" on that question.
The broader context argues very strongly against PolitiFact's interpretation of the Ingraham quotation. As noted above, Romney's speech occurs in the context of him entering the race for the Republican nomination for president of the United States. It really doesn't matter in that context whether Massachusetts likes RomneyCare or not. Romney can win the national election without Massachusetts. And Ingraham would be foolish to place any particular importance on Massachusetts public opinion as to that issue.
Ingraham would have an excellent point if she was talking about the unpopularity of RomneyCare among the Republicans who vote in primary elections.
It must be presumed, pending the presentation of conclusive evidence, that PolitiFact has badly blown another fact check. At the very least, this one represents an epic fail with respect to the goal of providing readers the tools with which to reach the truth of the matter. Instead, we get the snap judgment of the worthless "Truth-O-Meter."
I have yet to locate video, audio, or transcript of the relevant portion of the O'Reilly program from May 12. I hope to update this item if the material surfaces, or if I get around to accessing the Lexis-Nexis database PolitiFact used to obtain the Ingraham quotation.
Louis Jacobson: F
Bill Adair: F
Thanks to Jeff Dyberg for noting that I omitted the "ly" from "supposedly." The oversight is hereby rectified.
Accessing the Lexis-Nexis database confirms PolitiFact's error. But it doesn't explain PolitiFact's reluctance to correct the record.
In service to the idea of free speech, I'm reproducing the entire relevant portion of the O'Reilly Factor transcript for May 12 (yellow highlights indicate portion quoted by PolitiFact):
O'REILLY: Mitt Romney made a big speech today in Michigan. You know, and obviously he's going to run for president and he has the health care thing tied around his neck. Go.As I had surmised based on the broad context of the conversation, Ingraham said nothing to indicate she was talking about RomneyCare's popularity in Massachusetts. Likewise, nothing about the conversation with Bill O'Reilly indicates Ingraham was talking about the program's popularity in Massachusetts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), POTENTIAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake. That it was just a bone-headed idea and I should just admit it. It was a mistake and walk away from it. And I presume that a lot of folks would conclude that if did I that that would be good for me politically.
There is only one problem with that. It wouldn't be honest. I, in fact, did what I believed was right for the people of my state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
But, do you admire him for saying, listen, I thought that this was the right thing to do that's why I got behind it. I'm not going to repudiate it now even though it didn't work.
INGRAHAM: Well, I was one of the pundits who told him to just nix the whole Romney care idea in Massachusetts. So I guess I'm one of the people he is talking about.
Look, I like Mitt Romney. I think he's a really smart guy and I think he would be a good president. I think a lot of the people who might be running would be a good president.
On this, I don't get it though Bill. I mean costs have gone up. It's wildly unpopular.
O'REILLY: Well, he's not saying -- he's not saying it turned out well. All he is saying is that he thought it might.
INGRAHAM: I know. But Bill, it's -- right. I know he thought it might. But just say, look, I more than anyone know that this -- going down this road is a disaster. I tried, I tried my best. It didn't work. Ok?
O'REILLY: Yes. That's what I would say.
INGRAHAM: I don't want us going down this road.
O'REILLY: That's what I would say.
INGRAHAM: Yes, I know. He is still trying to finesse it a little bit. I understand why he's doing that. He doesn't want to do a total mea culpa. But I think it makes common sense to do that.
O'REILLY: It's not really a mea culpa. It's -- look, we tried to do our best on it. We thought it might work. It didn't work. I learned my lesson and he is calling for the repeal of Obama care.
INGRAHAM: Yes. Which actually, Bill, good point, that's the most important thing right now.
O'REILLY: Yes, it is. It does leave a lot of conservative Republicans confused about him. That's what it leaves.
INGRAHAM: I just think he can clear cut, it's better. And I get why he is doing it but I think it's still going to dog him, unfairly or fairly.
O'REILLY: All right. Laura, thanks very much.
PolitiFact made it up.
It is not reasonable to assume that Ingraham was talking about RomneyCare's popularity in Massachusetts. In running for the Republican nomination, Romney requires support from Republicans, not from the state of Massachusetts.
And speaking of Republican opinion of RomneyCare:
A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in Massachusetts would like to see the 2006 health care law enacted by then-Gov. Mitt Romney and the state legislature repealed and replaced with something else, according to a new survey by Magellan Strategies for NH Journal.NH Journal