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
|(clipped from PolitiFact.com)|
The fact checkers:
Louis Jacobson: writer, researcher
Bill Adair: editor
This fact check reminds me of the job the same PolitiFact team (Jacobson, Adair) did on conservative pundit Laura Ingraham on the same day.
Sometimes it doesn't matter what you say. It just matters what fact PolitiFact wants to check.
Here we go again:
On the May 15, 2011, edition of NBC’s Meet the Press, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich defended his earlier characterization of President Barack Obama as "the most successful food stamp president in American history."As with the Ingraham fact check, the beginning's not half bad. And the similarity persists with the subsequent decline:
Host David Gregory first showed a clip of Gingrich’s earlier comment, made at a Georgia Republican Party dinner.
"You want to be a country that creates food stamps, in which case frankly Obama's is an enormous success," Gingrich said in the recorded excerpt. "The most successful food stamp president in American history. Or do you want to be a country that creates paychecks?"Gregory went on to ask Gingrich if his statement had "racist overtones." Journalists are great.
Gingrich waved off that question.
Gregory responded, "What did you mean? What was the point?"From there, PolitiFact zeroed in the the 47 million figure and went about its fact check. This time they remembered to check the underlying point, which they identified as Gingrich blaming Obama for the record number of people receiving food stamps.
Gingrich replied, "That's, that's bizarre. That -- this kind of automatic reference to racism, this is the president of the United States. The president of the United States has to be held accountable. Now, the idea that -- and what I said is factually true. Forty-seven million Americans are on food stamps. One out of every six Americans is on food stamps."
I wish I was kidding.
PolitiFact's approach to the fact check is profoundly wrongheaded. Note the exchange between Gregory and Gingrich immediately subsequent to the portion PolitiFact used:
If PolitiFact paid attention to "the full context, the comments made before and after it, the question that prompted it, and the point the person was trying to make," it's certainly difficult to tell from the finished work. The PolitiFact story offers no hint of Gingrich's full answer to Gregory's repeat of the question.MR. GREGORY: Well, what did you mean?
REP. GINGRICH: Well, it's very simple. He has policies--and I used a very direct analogy. He follows the same destructive political model that destroyed the city of Detroit. I follow the model that Rick Perry and others have used to create more jobs in Texas. You know, Texas two out of the last four years created more jobs than the other 49 states combined. I'm suggesting we know how to create jobs. Ronald Reagan did it. I was part of that. We know how to create jobs. We did it when I was speaker. And, and the way you create jobs is you have lower taxes, you have less regulation, you have litigation reform. When the New York Stock Exchange puts its headquarters at Amsterdam, Holland and, by the way, follows 40 other companies in the last year; when General Electric pays zero in taxes; there's something fundamentally wrong with the current system. The Obama system of the National Labor Relations Board basically breaking the law to try to punish Boeing and to threaten every right-to-work state. The Environmental Protection Agency trying to control the entire American economy by bureaucratic fiat. The Obama system's going to lead us down the path to Detroit and destruction. I think we need a brand-new path. It's a path of job creation. And one of the central themes of this campaign is going to be paychecks vs. food stamps.msnbc transcript
We're not going to address the racial implications but decided to check Gingrich's main comment. We see two points to investigate. First, are Gingrich’s numbers accurate? And second, is it fair to blame Obama for today's high use of food stamps?PolitiFact does not address the racial implications. I'm speechless.
It's fair to check Gingrich's figure of 47 million on food stamps. But Gingrich does not blame Obama for the number of people on food stamps. Rather, he used food stamps as an "analogy" (metaphor's more like it) to Obama's approach of relying on government action rather than private initiative. It isn't that Obama gave out food stamps, it's that he did not pursue successful job-creating policies. PolitiFact somehow must have missed Gingrich's explanation while hastening to figure out if Obama is to blame for the number of food stamp recipients.
As it turns out, the SNAP program has 44.2 million beneficiaries, so Gingrich was a bit high with his number. Gingrich likely conflated food stamps with poverty, since the numbers he used match the numbers used in news reports for the latter. Be that as it may, the number of recipients Gingrich mentioned represents an inflation of 6.3 percent and PolitiFact makes no big deal of that degree of inaccuracy.
PolitiFact's subsequent foray into the blame game misses the point, as noted above, so we'll skip to the end to see how it turns out:
Gingrich was close on the numbers of Americans receiving SNAP benefits. In addition, the number of beneficiaries is at a record level, and it has risen every month of the Obama presidency. On the other hand, Gingrich oversimplifies when he suggests that Obama should be considered "the most successful food stamp president in American history," because much -- though probably not all -- of the reason for the increase was a combination of the economic problems Obama inherited and a longstanding upward trend from policy changes. On balance, we rate Gingrich’s statement Half True.One cannot rightly rate something "on balance" when the evaluation itself is unbalanced.
Gingrich's analogy does not even require record-setting numbers of food-stamp recipients. His point, as he stated, was the nature of Obama's approach to job creation.
|(chart clipped from data.bls.gov)|
With the unemployment rate high along with the number of food stamp recipients, it's hard to argue with Gingrich's point. Calling it "racist" might be the most effective defense.
Louis Jacobson: F
Bill Adair: F
If this PolitiFact team could miss the obvious context of Gingrich's statement, I have even more confidence that they succeeded in similarly botching the Ingraham fact check. In the latter case I have yet to locate the missing context.
May 18, 2011: Went with "Gingrich waved off that question" rather than "Gingrich waved off that comment" and altered tense in a number of places. Restored the gone-missing quote of the final paragraph from the PolitiFact story and added a hotlink to my review of the Ingraham story.