Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 music faves III

I listened to British pop group "The Contrast" quite a bit this year, though they didn't release an album in 2012. Picture a more muscular REM and you've got an idea of the sound before even starting the video. I featured "I am an Alien" earlier this year, so I'm posting a 2008 video for the song "Caught in a Trap."

2012 music faves II

Surprise favorite Frankie Rose hooked me with her retro girl-group jangly pop sound. The vocals carry extra pop because it sounds almost like, well, the acoustics for a serious church choir. The whole album is solid, and "Night Swim" is suitably representative.

2012 music faves I

I had two main new music favorites over the past year. One was the supergroup "Flying Colors," featuring guitarist Steve Morse (among others).

The song "Kayla" is one of the highlights of their debut album, and the band did a great job with the song on this live version.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Tax Policy Center: Hey, how about some regressive tax reform?

The Tax Policy Center, a think-tank dedicated to tax issues, is linked to the center-left Brookings Institution.  One of its noteworthy accomplishments from the election season came when it criticized Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's tax plan, saying that it would require raising taxes on the middle class.

The news media and the Obama campaign used that talking point mercilessly against Romney.

Now, the Tax Policy Center comes forward with its own tax reform plan.  At first blush, the plan calls for raising revenue and boosting the economy with regressive taxation.

At least that's my initial take.  Here's how the authors introduce their plan:
This paper examines the fiscal outlook and tax reform options in the United States.  The major conclusions include:  the United States faces a substantial fiscal shortfall in the medium- and long-term; both spending cuts and tax increases should contribute to the solution; tax increases need not do significant harm to economic growth; and there are sensible ways to both reform tax structure and raise revenues, including tax expenditure reform, the creation of a value-added tax, the creation of a carbon tax, or an increase in the gasoline tax.
The latter three all appear regressive on the face of it.  I'm not yet clear on what the authors mean by "tax expenditure reform."

It strikes me as a tad ironic that the Tax Policy Center plays a key role in producing one of the election's most notable anti-Romney talking points, a talking point that emphasizes Romney's supposed willingness to raise taxes on the middle class, and then publishes a study that apparently recommends tax reform that deliberately broadens the tax base to include the middle class and perhaps the lower class as well.

Note (after further reading of the tax proposal):

The paper eventually explains "tax expenditure" in a way that makes it resemble the reform of tax deductions Romney described during the campaign.  The authors' recommendation for a value-added tax includes the suggestion of a cash payment to all households to cancel the effect of the tax on necessities--strongly reminiscent of the tax "prebate" featured in the Fair Tax proposal.   Bottom line:  This tax reform plan will result in higher taxes on the middle class.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Kurtz curse

Ordinarily I respect Howard Kurtz's opinion as a media expert.  But his story today on the second presidential debate is a bridge too far.

By attacking moderator Candy Crowley for inserting herself into the middle of that argument, the Romney camp is diverting attention from the fact that an energized Obama often dictated the terms of the argument and frequently put their man on the defensive.
Kurtz is partly right.  Mr. Obama was energized and largely dictated the terms of the argument.

But what about Crowley's role in allowing the president to dictate the terms of the argument?

  1. Crowley interrupted Romney far more often than she did the president
  2. Crowley afforded the president substantially more speaking time than Romney
  3. Crowley chose the questions the town hall participants would ask, which did much to set the stage for placing Romney on the defensive

It's simply the cherry on top of all this that Crowley in addition blurted out a partisan spur-of-the moment fact check in Mr. Obama's favor.

Yes, Mr. Obama marginally outperformed Romney in the debate.  But the way the cards were stacked against Romney has to be part of the story. 

Shame on Howard Kurtz for trying to minimize that part of the story.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thanks to Northeast Musings

I appreciate Cynthia Van Doren recognizing on her Northeast Musings blog my new Zebra Fact Check project as well as the AllSides project for getting past the distortions of media bias.  J.D. and I highlighted AllSides (coincidentally?) at the PolitiFact Bias site.

Thanks, Cynthia!

10/16/2012  Fixed hyperlink/thanks to J.D. for pointing out the problem

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Massive changes

My apologies to regular visitors to Sublime Bloviations for the lack of recent updates.

I've been working for some time on a new project intended to let me do the type of work I do best.  I've started "Zebra Fact Check" from scratch with the aim of competing with the best of the mainstream fact checkers.  Right now that's Annenberg Fact Check, no contest.

Because of this new project most of the subject matter I've emphasized at this site will belong elsewhere.  No more "Grading PolitiFact" or "Piquing PolitiFact."  I'll still engage in those activities, though using a somewhat different approach.

And what of "Sublime Bloviations"?

I don't have a fixed plan for this blog's future.  I've covered quite a bit of ground here, and I'm leaning toward keeping it going as a place to occasionally post about things other than facts and fact checking.  Music and theology/philosophy will probably get the most attention.

I'd be honored if my readers here would check out my new site, Zebra Fact Check.

And feel free to also visit PolitiFact Bias.  I'll also continue working on that site, though probably a bit more behind-the-scenes than previously.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Economist Tim Groseclose explains the Laffer Curve

In this Prager University video, economist Tim Groseclose explains the Laffer curve along with the implications of a recently published study.

Hat tip to Calvin Freiburger.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Grading PolitiFact: Missing context doesn't count against Obama's manufacturing jobs claim

 MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter

The issue:

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

Louis Jacobson:  writer, researcher
Bridget Hall Grumet:  editor


PolitiFact's fact checking on this one is slightly deeper than "President Obama tells the truth, therefore it's true."

PolitiFact doesn't provide much context with this claim.  Real Clear Politics has a transcript, though (bold emphasis added):
We can choose a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs. After a decade that was defined by what we bought and borrowed, we're getting back to basics, and doing what America has always done best:  We're making things again.
I've met workers in Detroit and Toledo who feared they'd never build another American car. And today, they can't build them fast enough, because we reinvented a dying auto industry that's back on top of the world.
I've worked with business leaders who are bringing jobs back to America, not because our workers make less pay, but because we make better products. Because we work harder and smarter than anyone else.
I've signed trade agreements that are helping our companies sell more goods to millions of new customers, goods that are stamped with three proud words: Made in America.
After a decade of decline, this country created over half a million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years. And now you have a choice: we can give more tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, or we can start rewarding companies that open new plants and train new workers and create new jobs here, in the United States of America. We can help big factories and small businesses double their exports, and if we choose this path, we can create a million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years. You can make that happen. You can choose that future.
Mr. Obama made his remarks in drawing a supposed contrast between his leadership, past and future, with that of his Republican opponent in the presidential election ("You can choose that future").  Obama therefore takes credit to some extent for the increase in manufacturing jobs.  PolitiFact, contrary to its supposed policy, does not bother to rate the degree to which the president was responsible.

PolitiFact just grades whether the numbers add up:
The rise in manufacturing jobs that Obama is referring to may be modest compared to the prior decade’s decline, but he has described the numbers carefully. We rate his statement True.
PolitiFact's "True" rating, of course, supposedly means "The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing." 

But significant information was missing from Mr. Obama's claim.  A CNN fact check noted:
(A)s with other statistics cited during the three-day Democratic convention, it's not quite the whole picture. Manufacturing sector employment is still down by about 500,000 since Obama took office and by more than 3.7 million since the start of the recession in December 2007.
"Nothing significant missing"?

There is a real growth in manufacturing owing largely to exports.  But a Brookings Institution report offers scant evidence that the reasons Mr. Obama gives provide the explanation for the increase.  Brookings does credit Mr. Obama's free trade agreements with Panama, Columbia and South Korea for helping to stimulate foreign trade.  But Brookings and the president omit mentioning that the negotiation of the free trade agreements preceded Mr. Obama's presidency and also fail to mention the subsequent delay in finalizing the deals.

The United States and South Korea had originally signed the FTA back in June 2007. The one with Columbia had been signed in November 2006 while the Panama FTA was signed in July 2007.
Maybe if those agreements had passed through the Democrat-controlled Congress in 2008 it might have lessened the effects of the recession and accelerated the recovery of American manufacturing.

PolitiFact's fact check, consisting of eight short paragraphs and a total of three reference sources, doesn't show much effort at reaching the truth.  It acknowledges parts of the story omitted by Mr. Obama yet fails to figure the lack of context in when making its final ruling.  The ruling claims Mr. Obama "describes the numbers carefully" but shows no evidence that the president mentioned the relevant caveats.

It resembles a rubber stamp more than a fact check.

The grades:

Louis Jacobson:  F
Bridget Hall Grumet:  F

No "A" for effort.


Readers might register surprise at what counts as a manufactured export.

(click image for enlarged view)

Update Sept. 10, 2012:

Sometimes the transcript doesn't do justice to the original.  With the live speech, Mr. Obama apparently ad-libbed on the text of his speech.  Rather than the three proud words "Made in America" he said something a bit different:

Hat tip to Power Line.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Grading PolitiFact (Texas): All out of "out of context" where Romney's concerned

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter

The issue:

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

W. Gardner Selby:  writer, researcher
John Bridges:  editor


I've tipped off that the key aspect to this fact check concerns whether Mitt Romney's statement was taken out of context.  Let's track PolitiFact's treatment of that aspect of this fact check.

"Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn’t get it," the San Antonio mayor (Julián Castro) said in his Sept. 4, 2012, keynote at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. "A  few months ago, he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice. ‘Start a business,’ he said. "But how? ‘Borrow money if you have to from your parents.’
That's the Julián Castro version of the context.  Romney was giving the students "a little entrepreneurial advice."

PolitiFact appears to accept the accuracy of Castro's version of the context at face value with its phrasing, in the very next paragraph, of the question of the fact check would answer:
Did Castro accurately recap Romney’s student advice?
PolitiFact might consider a different angle on that question:  Was Romney giving entrepreneurial advice to the students at Ohio's Otterbein University?

With both questions in mind, watch the video.

In context, Romney was talking about the historical climate for American entrepreneurship. He didn't tell the students to borrow money from the parents. He painted a general picture of ways entrepreneurs chase their dreams, and he gave borrowing money from parents as one example. Notably, the line segued to the example of Jimmy John, who founded a nationally popular sandwich chain using startup money borrowed from his father.

Castro gets the words right, but both Castro and PolitiFact get the context wrong. PolitiFact's conclusion doesn't fly as a result:
Castro told his fellow Democrats that Romney urged students at an Ohio university that if they have to, they should borrow money from their parents to start a business. Romney, in fact, said that. Castro’s claim rates True.
By PolitiFact's statement of principles, Castro's claim is "Half True" at best.

The grades:

W. Gardner Selby:  F
John Bridges:  F

PolitiFact stayed on the same page with Castro as he took Romney's statement out of context.  Castro attempted to make Romney seem out of touch and distant with the supposed suggestion of borrowing money to start a business.  But Romney was correct that borrowing money from parents is one way Americans historically chase their entrepreneurial dreams.  Plus the comment served as an apparently deliberate introduction to the Jimmy John anecdote.

Fact checkers should emphasize such contextual elements, not bury them.

Grading PolitiFact (Texas): Burying the underlying argument for Julián Castro

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
 Or not.

The issue:

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

Sue Owen:  writer, researcher
W. Gardner Selby:  writer
John Bridges:  editor


PolitiFact maintains a bad habit of applying its standards inconsistently.  This fact check of a statement by San Antonio mayor Julián Castro serves as an example of one common variety of PolitiFact's inconsistency.  Many raw facts have little significance when considered alone.  But often politicians will use an apparently true fact in constructing a fallacious or questionable argument.  PolitiFact's principles assure us that PolitiFact takes such factors into account (see epigraph above).  In practice, that often isn't the case.

On with the fact check:
Addressing the delegates assembled in Charlotte, N.C., Castro said that San Antonio residents recognize the value of investing in pre-Kindergarten and student college loans. "We're investing in young minds today to be competitive in the global economy tomorow [sic]," Castro said. "And it's paying off. Last year the Milken Institute ranked San Antonio as the nation's top-performing local economy."
PolitiFact Texas does "examine" the context after a fashion.  The quotation of Castro succinctly illustrates his point:  Investing in pre-K and student college loans paid off in that San Antonio's economy leads the nation in the Milken Institute rankings.

That's Castro's obvious point, and PolitiFact does enough fact checking to show that his point is highly suspect:
The San Antonio Express-News credited the city’s rise to reasons "including military base realignment, drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale and the growth of health care" in a Dec. 16, 2011, news story.
But military base realignment, producing shale oil and expanding the health care job sector are pretty much the same as "investing in young minds."  Aren't they?

Texas’ rise in the ranks, the Express-News wrote, came partly because of downturns in other parts of the country. The story quoted research economist James Gaines of Texas A&M University’s Real Estate Center: "Our growth rate and advancement isn't all that wonderful. We've managed to stay flat or have very small positives. But because everybody has so many negatives, we look so much better."
But aren't those downturns in other parts of the country ultimately because of their failure to match San Antonio's investment in pre-K education and student loans?

PolitiFact provides no evidence in support of Castro's claimed cause-and-effect relationship.  Instead, we get a ruling based entirely on the raw claim about San Antonio's ranking which completely ignores Castro's underlying point:
San Antonio hasn’t just been holding steady in the economic downturn; it’s been gaining ground, even compared to other Texas cities. Castro’s statement rates True.
If the rest of the nation wants to keep up with San Antonio then maybe we'd better increase our investment in education.  Hmmm?

PolitiFact editor Bill Adair, from January 2012:
About a year ago, we realized we were ducking the underlying point of blame or credit, which was the crucial message. So we began rating those types of claims as compound statements.
Adair referred to claims associated with an executive's tenure, such as "Since X became governor, crime has decreased 50 percent."  Such claims imply that the executive carries some significant share of responsibility for the change.  In this case, Castro did not explicitly claim personal credit at all, but he did offer an explanation for San Antonio's economic performance--an explanation that jibes with the Democrat Party's prescription for helping the economy.

PolitiFact presented evidence that severely undercut Castro's point, yet gave him an unqualified "True" rating.

That's the kind of thing you get with PolitiFact.  Bias in story focus contributes heavily to the resulting "Truth-O-Meter" ratings.

The grades:

Sue Owen:  F
W. Gardner Selby:  F
John Bridges:  F

Update/Correction June 10, 2015: Replaced wrong fact check URL with the correct URL.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Best. President. Ever?

Via The New York Times:
“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters,” Mr. Obama told Patrick Gaspard, his political director, at the start of the 2008 campaign, according to The New Yorker. “I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m going to think I’m a better political director than my political director.”

Friday, August 31, 2012

PolitiFlub: PolitiFact grades Callista Gingrich by the wrong measure

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?
--Principles of PolitiFact and the "Truth-O-Meter"
It's a testament to PolitiFact's warped self-image that it continues churning out journalistic offal even while enduring a wave of substantive criticism.

Our latest example comes again from the Republican National Convention, where Callista Gingrich claimed that the Obama administration's foreign policy has led to decreased respect for the United States.

A legitimate fact checking enterprise immediately suspects that Gingrich referred to respect from foreign governments in terms of recognizing the U.S. as a power to which deferral yields the most beneficial results.  In other words, other nations fear the United States depending on the degree to which they operate contrary to our policy designs.  Based on that premise, the legitimate fact checker asks Gingrich to clarify the intent and tries to find a verifiable statistic that measures her accuracy.

That's not PolitiFact:
While surveys are currently being undertaken in 20 nations, only 14 of those have been done for long enough to shed light on Callista Gingrich’s claim.

The question asked is, "Please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of ... the United States." While favorability isn’t exactly identical to respect, we think it’s very close and a good approximation.

No doubt PolitiFact used the opinions of foreign policy experts to determine that the Pew data were an appropriate measure.

Or maybe not:

Seriously?  No expert sources?  Not one?

That's not a responsible fact check.  The global standing of the United States does not depend on popular view among the world's peoples.  It comes directly from the way the world's leaders view the United States and whether they believe they can flaunt their power contrary to U.S. interests.

PolitiFact chose the wrong measure.

Why does anyone take PolitiFact seriously?

Democratic candidate Lois Frankel being frank

Here's yet another campaign email statement from Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives Lois Frankel for PolitiFact Florida to ignore:
If you want to take away a woman's right to choose, make our seniors pay $6,000 more a year for their health care, and give tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy at the expense of working families, then Adam Hasner and his shady Super PAC allies are for you.
No, wait.  Just focus on the GOP convention, PolitiFact.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

PolitiFlub: PolitiFact Wisconsin, the Obama promise and the Janesville GM plant (Updated)

PolitiFact has earned its status as the least-dependable of the stable of left-leaning fact check organizations.  PolitiFact Wisconsin gives us one more sparkling example supporting that judgment with a fact check of Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

Ryan said President Obama broke a campaign promise to keep the Janesville (Wisc.) plant open.   PolitiFact Wisconsin detected no such promise from Mr. Obama.

 Here's what then-candidate Obama said in February 2008 (bold emphasis added) during a speech in Janesville:
This can be America’s future. I know that General Motors received some bad news yesterday, and I know how hard your Governor has fought to keep jobs in this plant. But I also know how much progress you’ve made – how many hybrids and fuel-efficient vehicles you’re churning out. And I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years. The question is not whether a clean energy economy is in our future, it’s where it will thrive. I want it to thrive right here in the United States of America; right here in Wisconsin; and that’s the future I’ll fight for as your President.
Importantly, Obama opened his speech with references to the plant.  He then sketched his vision of America before mentioning how the Janesville plant could stay open if the government provides support.  In that context, Obama pledged to provide that support.  Does Mr. Obama use the specific term "promise" in his statement?  No, certainly not.  Does he guarantee the plant will remain open?  Again, no.  However, there is little doubt  that every person in Janesville listening to his speech took it as a pledge from the president to work to enact policies to keep the plant open. Mr. Obama did, in fact, pledge to do just that.

PolitiFact Wisconsin located no such pledge.

But it gets worse.  Much worse. PolitiFact builds its conclusion primarily on its claim that the Janesville plant closed before Mr. Obama took office (bold emphasis added):
Ryan said Obama broke his promise to keep a Wisconsin GM plant from closing. But we don't see evidence he explicitly made such a promise -- and more importantly, the Janesville plant shut down before he took office.

We rate Ryan's statement False.
GM announced the likely permanent closure of the Janesville plant in June of 2008, less than four months after Mr. Obama pledged to work toward an agenda that would keep the plant open for "another hundred years."

So, when is the plant closed?  When it closes for the last time?  When it produces its last GM vehicle?  When the company announces its permanent closure on a particular date?

When President Bush left office, he had provided Chrysler and GM loans to keep them going until the automakers could present restructuring plans to the Obama administration in April.

GM announced the final closing of the Janesville plant in April of 2008, and the final Chevy Tahoe came off the line in December 2008, before Obama took office as president.  On the other hand, the plant stayed open so that GM could build trucks for Isuzu:
The company stopped building SUVs at the plant just before Christmas.

That decision left about 1,200 workers unemployed.At the time GM said a crew would remain to complete an order for Isuzu.
But by June of 2009, while the Obama administration was still negotiating GM's fate and after completing the work for Isuzu, Janesville continued to maintain hope that its plant might reopen:
JANESVILLE (WKOW) -- There is a lot of optimism in Janesville today, after receiving word GM could reopen one of its idle plants to produce new fuel efficient cars, according to the Wisconsin Department of Workforce development.
If the GM restructuring deal brokered by the Obama administration resulted in continued production at GM's plant in Janesville, is there any doubt at all that Obama would receive credit for delivering on a promise?  Especially if the work involved hybrid vehicles?  The opportunity was there for the taking.

Why is so much of this information missing from a fact check?

Update 8/30/2012, 4:15 p.m.:

NPR fills in some of the missing information PolitiFact omitted.

Correction 8/31/2012:  Original version had wrong date for Obama's Janesville speech on first reference:  "Here's what President-elect Obama said in December 2008 (bold emphasis added) during a speech in Janesville:"  That sentence has been made accurate.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sheldon Whitehouse and PolitiFact's PolitiMath

For quite some time I've collected examples of the way numerical inaccuracies affect PolitiFact's application of its "Truth-O-Meter" ratings.  Given enough examples we may construct a PolitiMath theorem of numerical accuracy.

Rhode Island Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse helps give us the latest clear example of a rating based on the accuracy of a number.  PolitiFact's conclusion makes clear that PolitiFact allowed the degree of error to determine the rating (to whatever extent the ratings are not subjective, of course):
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, "For Social Security, which is projected to remain solvent through 2033, Whitehouse has cosponsored [a bill that] . . . would extend the life of the program by an additional 75 years."

In fact, removing the income cap for collecting tax money to pay for the program would extend the viability of Social Security for 75 years from now, not from 2033.

Whitehouse's office quickly acknowledged the error.

In this case, we're talking about a difference of 21 years, between 2087 and 2108.

We rate his statement Mostly True.

Whitehouse received a "Mostly True" rating for a figure inflated by about 27 percent.

If PolitiFact cuts Whitehouse a break for misspeaking then it ought to mention that.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The perplexing ways of PolitiFact

Yesterday PolitiFact published new version of one of its recent fact checks, changing its "Truth-O-Meter" rating from "Mostly True" to "Half True."

PolitiFact's action solidifies the charge that it rules arbitrarily and subjectively.

The original ruling on a description by the Obama campaign of Paul Ryan's plan for Medicare probably already downplayed a key misleading aspect of the original ad.  How does one make an accurate charge about "the" Ryan plan while talking about a version of his plan that has been updated?  If the relevant features of the plan changed (they did), then the statement misleads in the absence of qualifying language.  And it misleads in a way that may give the audience a picture that is the opposite of the accurate picture--that's approximately how PolitiFact defines its "Half True" rating.

PolitiFact does usually follow a good policy when it revises a story:  It keeps an archived version of the old story.  Since I have researched PolitiFact's process of justifying its "False" and "Pants on Fire" ratings, I was curious as to how PolitiFact changed the wording of its concluding paragraph to support the altered ruling.

The original version:
The Obama ad would have been more accurate if it had specified that it was referring to a previous Ryan plan for Medicare rather than the current one. We simply don’t have enough details to know how much extra money seniors might have to pay under the current Ryan plan. Still, the Obama campaign gave itself some wiggle room by saying that the plan "could" raise out-of-pocket costs by more than $6,000. On balance, we rate the statement Mostly True.
The revised version:
The Obama ad would have been more accurate if it had specified that it was referring to a previous Ryan plan for Medicare rather than the current one. We simply don’t have enough details to know how much extra money seniors might have to pay under the current Ryan plan. Still, the Obama campaign gave itself some wiggle room by saying that the plan "could" raise out-of-pocket costs by more than $6,000. On balance, we rate the statement Half True.
The summaries differ by one word.  "Mostly True" changes to "Half True" for the updated version of the story.

For the sake of clarity, is there any part of the story that provides a better opportunity to explain the precise justification for a "Truth-O-Meter" ruling than the summary portion of the story?

It's features like this that make PolitiFact's "Star Chamber" decisions look and smell exactly like subjective opinion.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"College Insurrection"

William A. Jacobson of Cornell University and the fine Legal Insurrection blog today launched a new blog promoting conservative/libertarian student activism:  College Insurrection.
Because most campuses are dominated by liberal adminstrators, faculty, and student activists, conservative/libertarian students often feel isolated and alone, and up against seemingly insurmountable forces which wield power over their lives.

For many students, the risk/reward ratio says to shut up and just go along so as not to be singled out and targeted
I have some firsthand knowledge with that experience, though I would emphasize that my liberal instructors almost without exception showed respect for my conservative views--which were assuredly expressed, where appropriate, in class and in my assignments.

I encourage conservative or libertarian students to make use of the support system Jacobson has established.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

New York Times taking sweet time with "napalm girl" correction

Via W. Joseph Cambell's Media Myth Alert (hat tip to Power Line):
The New York Times has ignored written requests by two senior former Associated Press journalists seeking the correction of an unambiguous error published in a Times obituary three months ago.
I can relate, after pointing out a good number of significant problems with PolitiFact stories that have resulted in neither written response nor an appropriate change to the story in question.

In an obituary published in May about Horst Faas — an award-winning AP photographer and editor who helped make sure Ut’s photograph moved across the agency’s wires — the Times described the image as “the aftermath of one of the thousands of bombings in the countryside by American planes: a group of terror-stricken children fleeing the scene, a girl in the middle of the group screaming and naked, her clothes incinerated by burning napalm.”

But as I pointed out in an email sent to the Times soon after the obituary was published, the aircraft that dropped the napalm wasn’t American; it was South Vietnamese.
Visit the Media Myth Alert for all the details.  It's well worth reading, from the additional facts on the case through the Times' ridiculous excuse for not making any change.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Grading PolitiFact: Stephanie Cutter and the case of the missing fact check

It gets a little tiresome seeing PolitiFact repeatedly engage in partial reporting on its stories.  The following may represent the supreme example.

The issue:

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

Angie Drobnic Holan:  writer, researcher
Bill Adair:  editor


PolitiFact sets the stage:
The Republican response to attacks on the Ryan plan has been to attack back, saying President Barack Obama has cut "$700 billion" out of Medicare. And the Democratic response to that: Well, Paul Ryan cuts that amount, too!
PolitiFact selects the claim to check:
"You know, I heard Mitt Romney deride the $700 billion cuts in Medicare that the president achieved through health care reform," Cutter said. "You know what those cuts are? It’s taking subsidies away from insurance companies, taking rebates away from prescription drug company. Is that what Mitt Romney wants to protect? And interestingly enough Paul Ryan protected those cuts in his budget."
PolitiFact avows that it will focus on "whether Cutter is correct that Ryan relies on those same reductions in his budget."

PolitiFact uses the next nine grafs to outline the nature of the $700 billion reduction in Medicare expenditures projected by the CBO.

PolitiFact's source, a CBO report, communicates the nature of the reduction a bit more clearly than does PolitiFact (yellow highlights added):
Changes to Payment Rates in Medicare
In February 2011, CBO estimated that the permanent reductions in the annual updates to Medicare’s payment rates for most services in the fee-for-service sector (other than physicians’ services) and the new mechanism for setting payment rates in the Medicare Advantage program will reduce Medicare outlays by $507 billion during the 2012–2021 period. That figure excludes interactions between those provisions and others—namely, the effects of the changes in the fee-for-service portion of Medicare on payments to Medicare Advantage plans and the effects of changes in both the fee-for-service portion of the program and in the Medicare Advantage program on collections of premiums for Part B (Supplementary Medical Insurance).
The bulk of the reduction, then, occurs as the result of the two reductions the CBO identifies.  Therefore, we should expect to see both of those features in the Ryan budget plan at minimum to rate Cutter's statement true.

Having more-or-less identified the nature of the projected Medicare savings, PolitiFact proceeds to the next phase of its fact check:
Now onto [sic] our second question: Does Ryan’s budget keep the reductions in Medicare spending? The short answer is yes.

Here’s what Ryan said in an interview with George Stephanopolous of ABC News in June, before his selection as Romney’s running mate:

Stephanopoulos: "You know, several independent fact-checkers have taken a look at that claim, the $500 billion in Medicare cuts, and said that it's misleading. And in fact, by that accounting, your budget, your own budget, which Gov. Romney has endorsed, would also have $500 billion in Medicare cuts.

Ryan: "Well, our budget keeps that money for Medicare to extend its solvency. What Obamacare does is it takes that money from Medicare to spend on Obamacare. ..." (Read the full exchange.)
Do we know from that exchange that the cost reductions come from the same source?  I don't see how, and I invite any reader who sees it to explain it with a comment below.

Slate's Dave Weigel claimed that Ryan uses the same cap on Medicare spending as Obama.  But his explanation does not appear to help PolitiFact's argument.

Weigel (bold emphasis added):
Remember, Obamacare is supposed to save $700 billion by capping the rise in Medicare spending from GDP growth plus 0.5 percent. The Ryan budgets in 2012 and 2013 don’t alter Medicare for anyone entering it before 2022—a buffer that lets current retirees breathe easy. After 2022, it turns all of Medicare into a premium support plan like Medicare Advantage. At that point, “an annual competitive bidding process” is supposed to push providers to provide lower rates. “The per capita cost of this reformed program for seniors reaching eligibility after 2023,” explains Ryan in his budget guide, “could not exceed nominal GDP growth plus 0.5 percent.” So, if it works, it’s got the exact same Medicare cap as the Obama plan.
Weigel is talking about two different means of obtaining the same future rate of growth on Medicare spending.

As for PolitiFact, it's sticking with Paul Ryan's supposed confession:
So Ryan has confirmed his budget includes the Medicare savings.
"The" Medicare savings?  The same exact ones from the ACA and not just the future rate of growth pegged at the same percentage?  How do we know that?  Where is the fact check?

Still, Ryan himself said his plan did include the reductions in future spending that were part of the federal health care law.
Sorry, but that's not a fact check and it's very misleading.  PolitiFact is seizing on an ambiguity from Ryan and insisting that it perfectly dovetails with Cutter's claim.  A real fact check would verify from the text of Ryan's budget that the savings have the same origin as those projected by the CBO for the health care reform law.  This fact check doesn't do that at all.  Ryan's budget is neither listed among the sources on the sidebar nor linked in the text of the story.

Another of PolitiFact's sources helps confirm that PolitiFact simply blew this fact check. The CBO did attempt to score Ryan's budget proposal. The CBO did a baseline scenario using the assumption that the health care reform bill would remain in effect:
The baseline scenario incorporates policies restraining Medicare spending that are embedded in current law. Such policies include the sustainable growth rate mechanism, which determines the payment rates for physicians; payments to other providers in the fee-for-service portion of Medicare that would grow more slowly over roughly the next two decades than the cost of their inputs; and the  Independent Payment Advisory Board (established by the Affordable Care Act), which is required to make changes to the Medicare program to reduce spending if the growth in such spending is projected to exceed certain targets.
And the CBO created an alternate scenario where Medicare savings were much less:

The alternative fiscal scenario incorporates less restraint on Medicare spending.  Specifically, payments for physicians would not be reduced as they would be under the sustainable growth rate mechanism, and payments to other providers  would grow more rapidly than under the baseline scenario after roughly the next decade. The remaining restraints on Medicare spending could also have the potential consequences noted for the baseline scenario, but presumably to a much lesser extent because the restraints would be much less tight.
If the cost reductions are "protected" in the Ryan budget, then why does the CBO run an alternative scenario where the supposed protected cost reductions do not occur?

By all appearances, the PolitiFact team mailed it in on this fact check.  The evidence strongly suggests that the Ryan budget plan only relies on savings through ObamaCare to the extent that the CBO assumes that existing law will remain in effect--its standard procedure--while projecting the effects of Ryan's budget.

Cutter gets a "True" for that?

The grades:

Angie Drobnic Holan:  F
Bill Adair:  F

Seriously:  Where's the fact check?


Here's one of those statements from the CBO that seems to have a tough time finding its way into PolitiFact's fact checks (bold emphasis added):
CBO’s cost estimate for the legislation noted that it will put into effect a number of policies that might be difficult to sustain over a long period of time. The combination of those policies, prior law regarding payment rates for physicians’ services in Medicare, and other information has led CBO to project that the growth rate of Medicare spending (per beneficiary, adjusted for overall inflation) will drop from about 4 percent per year, which it has averaged for the past two decades, to about 2 percent per year on average for the next two decades. It is unclear whether such a reduction can be achieved through greater efficiencies in the delivery of health care or will instead reduce access to care or the quality of care (relative to the situation under prior law). Also, the legislation includes a provision that makes it likely that exchange subsidies will grow at a slower rate after 2018, so the shares of income that enrollees have to pay will increase more rapidly at that point, and the shares of the premiums that the subsidies cover will decline.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Turning up the heat on mainstream fact checkers

Dustin Siggins' post at the conservative blog "Hot Air" serves notice that I'm not alone in pointing out the failure of mainstream fact checkers in testing claims about effective tax rates.

The Obama campaign is running an ad claiming that Mitt Romney pays a lower tax rate than that of the average American.  Following the ad’s release, PolitiFact published an article rating it as “Half-True.”  From the article:
There are two main ways to make this calculation, and they lead to opposite conclusions. While we believe that including payroll taxes in the calculation offers a more accurate picture of what the American public pays the IRS, it’s also true that the Obama ad didn’t specify which measurement it was using, and in fact used a figure for Romney — 14 percent — that was based on income taxes alone. On balance, then, we rate the claim Half True.
Unfortunately for PolitiFact, their analysis completely misses the boat.
Siggins links to an analysis from "Just Facts," a not-for-profit independent fact checker:
Specifically, CBO found that households in the middle 20% of the U.S. income distribution paid an effective federal tax rate of 11.1% in 2009. Using CBO’s new estimate for allocating the burden of corporate income taxes, Just Facts and Ceterus calculate that Romney’s federal tax rate was 23.3% in 2010, which is twice the middle-income tax rate in 2009.
Just Facts published the above the same day I published my critique of Farley's fact check (Aug.7).  Their fact check goes much deeper than mine--I simply noted that Farley had short shrifted an entire body of evidence indicating that Romney almost certainly paid a higher effective tax rate than the average American. 

I criticized PolitiFact along the same lines on Aug. 10, but Siggins takes note of something I missed:
(T)he PolitiFact analysis ignores data cited by its own resource.  The article cites the Tax Policy Center to look at what tax levels are at for all income quintiles.  However, PolitiFact fails to note that the Center’s chart (the same one cited in the article) shows that the top 1% (which Romney definitely falls into) pay 7.7% of their income into the corporate tax structure.
So the PolitiFact researcher, Louis Jacobson, had the information staring him in the face and missed it or ignored it.  That's on top of somehow missing the CBO studies on effective tax rates.

Not good.

Correction Aug. 15, 2012:  Apologies to Dustin Siggins for consistently finding ways to put the vowel "a" in his name where it doesn't belong.

Full speed ahead: PolitiFact continues to ignore selection bias problems

Apparently PolitiFact's "report cards" for candidates serve as a popular feature.

Why else would PolitiFact ignore its founding editor's inability to explain how PolitiFact avoids selection bias in its rankings and continue to push the report cards on its readers?

(clipped from PolitiFact's Facebook page)

Extolling the value of these report cards serves as just one more area where PolitiFact slips over the line from objective news reporting into opinion journalism.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Lois Frankel still not particularly concerned with PolitiFact

Democratic congressional candidate from Florida Lois Frankel apparently didn't get the memo:  PolitiFact helps us find the truth in Politics.

Frankel apparently thinks she can send out fundraising emails like the one excerpted below without PolitiFact Florida rating her distortions on the "Truth-O-Meter."

(click image for enlarged view)

Frankel may have a point.

Friday, August 10, 2012

PolitiFlub: PolitiFact again ignores data on effective federal tax rates

PolitiFact's latest fact check involving federal taxation sticks with its persistent pattern of ignoring and/or minimizing data on effective federal tax rates, including a study by the otherwise esteemed Congressional Budget Office.
A new ad from President Barack Obama’s campaign continues the drumbeat that Mitt Romney is a privileged rich guy who isn't paying his fair share of taxes.

"You work hard, stretch every penny," a narrator says. "But chances are, you pay a higher tax rate than him: Mitt Romney made $20 million in 2010, but paid only 14 percent in taxes — probably less than you."
Huh.  The Obama campaign didn't specify federal income taxes.  No worries.  Obama isn't Michele Bachmann, so PolitiFact can overlook the campaign's oversight.

PolitiFact then:
Bachmann would have been right if she’d said, "the top 1 percent of income earners pay about 40 percent of all income taxes into the federal government." But she didn’t say that -- and even if she had, her decision to focus on income taxes, rather than looking at the whole federal tax picture, would have presented the numbers in such a way that wealthier Americans would look more heavily taxed than they are.
So we want "the whole federal tax picture"?  Not so.  PolitiFact wants the tax picture minus the effects of corporate and excise taxes.  The thread is consistent and continues through today.

If you just look at income taxes, Obama is incorrect.
Bummer.  But since Obama didn't specify "(federal) income taxes" PolitiFact can consider payroll taxes while continuing to ignore corporate and excise taxes.  Or something like that.

So what happens when you add payroll taxes to income taxes? Obama's ad is accurate. Here's the breakdown when you include income taxes and both sides of the payroll tax (the parts paid for by employee and employer):

Bottom fifth of earners: 1 percent
Second-to-bottom fifth:  7.8 percent
Middle fifth: 15.5 percent
Second-highest fifth: 18.7 percent
Highest fifth: 24.3 percent

Once again, we can’t know exactly what percentage of Americans paid a higher effective tax rate than Romney's 14 percent, but the top two ranges, plus a significant share of the middle group, most likely did. So probably more than half exceeded Romney’s rate, making the Obama ad accurate.

Yippee!  Obama's ad is accurate!  Average out the true and the false, give the president a "Half True" and nobody really needs to know about that messy corporate and excise tax stuff.

Speaking of that messy corporate and excise tax stuff:

(click image for enlarged view)

The chart comes directly from the CBO report mentioned up above.  There are two important things to note.  First, excise taxes fall more heavily on those in the lower income quintiles.  That's a minor point.  Second, the burden of corporate taxes falls heavily on those with higher incomes.  And the higher you go with income, the higher the corporate tax burden.  That likely means that persons like Romney pay higher portions of the corporate tax burden as a percentage of their federal taxes.

Using "the whole federal tax picture" that PolitiFact once cited as its ideal standard, the middle quintile pays less than half the average federal tax burden of a person in the top 1 percent in 2006 (14.2 percent compared to 31.2 percent).  That means that it is very probably false that most people pay less in federal taxes than Romney.

Luckily for the president, PolitiFact can make it look otherwise by cherry picking.

That's PolitiFact for you.


See also the review of a similar story from Annenberg Fact Check.

After Afters:

Just a little review of what PolitiFact wrote while rating Bachmann "False":
[Bachmann's] decision to focus on income taxes, rather than looking at the whole federal tax picture, would have presented the numbers in such a way that wealthier Americans would look more heavily taxed than they are.
PolitiFact's hypocrisy is pretty overwhelming, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Travis Larson Band: "Dreamcatcher"

I haven't forgotten about the artist of the month feature, lately a non-feature.  I'm just not satisfied with the currently available set of embeds.  Until improvements occur on that front, I will intermittently feature a video or something that gives us something to look at while pleasing the ear.

The Dixie Dregs' instrumental tune "Hereafter" stands as a long-time favorite of mine.  San Luis Obispo's Travis Larson Band has a song with a parallel vibe, even if it lacks the scorching and wonderful Steve Morse outtro guitar solo.  Without further ado, "Dreamcatcher":

I should add that I love Larson's solos on the song.  I distinguish his soloing from Morse's because the "Hereafter" solo is somewhat aggressive for a relatively mellow tune--and because it's also one of my favorite guitar solos of all time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

PolitiFact leaves misleading fact check of Gerard Robinson mostly intact

Updating a past Grading PolitiFact post, PolitiFact Florida made minor changes to its fact check of Florida's ex-education commissioner, Gerard Robinson.

The major errors inexplicably remain.

What changed

PolitiFact Florida altered its quotation of Robinson, adding a pair of ellipses.  The original version drew quotations from three separate paragraphs and, using no ellipses, stuck three of Robinson's sentences together to give the appearance of a single paragraph.

Here's how the new version reads (bold emphasis added):
Robinson penned a June 15 response, which included these comments: "The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. ... These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. ... It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."
The changes still do not, so far as I can tell, conform to AP style for quotations.  Statements from separate paragraphs should show as separate paragraphs.

More importantly, what are we missing?

What didn't change

I spoke to PolitiFact editor Aaron Sharockman by phone last week.  I pointed out to him that Robinson had an entire paragraph dedicated to answering the charge that students spend too much time preparing for the FCAT. 

Here's that paragraph (bold emphasis added):
Florida's Next Generation Sunshine State Standards are the foundation for what we expect our students to learn. Subjects covered by Florida standards include English language arts, math, science, social studies, physical and health education, world languages, and fine arts along with other content areas specific to colleges and careers. Contrary to the claim of the FSBA resolution, the FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. In fact, at the middle school level, student enrollment in courses such as dance, drama, and world languages has increased more than student enrollment in the subject areas assessed on the FCAT. At the high school level, enrollment in dance, world languages and the humanities has outpaced the growth in student enrollment.
Robinson obviously stresses the point that it is appropriate for students to spend a great deal of time preparing for the FCAT since the FCAT measures "what we expect our students to learn."

PolitiFact omitted Robinson's point from its story.  No quotation.  No paraphrase.  Nothing.

I spoke to Sharockman again today.  I said I received the impression that he agreed with me that Robinson had stressed that it was appropriate to spend a great deal of time preparing for the FCAT.  I asked whether I had received a false impression.  Sharockman said that he did not recall agreeing about Robinson's point and said he thought I had received a false impression.

How does one miss Robinson's point in the above paragraph and then omit it in a fact check story about that same subject?

How does one miss it even after a critical review?

Beyond incompetence?

The update notice provided with the story after the ellipses were added doesn't quite ring true:
Update: During the editing process, ellipses were inadvertently left out of Robinson's comments of June 15. The ellipses are now included.
I alerted the writer and editor by email about the problem with the quotation before 1 p.m. the day after the story published.  The story published on July 30 at 11:53 a.m.  By Friday, Aug. 3, the problem still stems from an inadvertent omission during the editing process?

Something's broken at PolitiFact.

Former PolitiFact writer Robert Farley still spreading misinformation at

Writer Robert Farley worked at PolitiFact before catching on with the more respectable Annenberg Fact Check (

I've hoped that Farley would step up his game.  But the folks at Annenberg are, after all, liberally biased, so it's no surprise that Farley continues to fact check in a style similar to that he used at PolitiFact.

Our case in point:
A new ad from the Obama campaign claims that Mitt Romney “paid only 14 percent in taxes—probably less than you.” That depends. Romney paid a federal income tax rate that is higher than the income tax rate paid by 97 percent of tax filers. But if you include a combination of income taxes and payroll taxes — which make up the bulk of federal taxes for most taxpayers — the ad is accurate.
Liberal fact checkers tend to ignore a key evidence while fact checking claims about comparative income tax rates:  a report from the Congressional Budget Office that estimates effective tax rates while factoring in the effects of corporate taxes.  The tendency to ignore the CBO's report occurs despite the fact that fact checkers tend to believe the CBO almost without reservation, the classic example coming from the CBO's static analyses of the Affordable Care Act.

Google "effective tax rates" and the CBO report is right there (now on the second page of hits after a long time on the first page).  The report reveals that very high income earners pay much higher federal tax rates than liberal fact checkers claim.  Farley actually hints at the truth, perhaps without fully realizing it.

Farley (bold emphasis added):
There are all sorts of ways to slice tax data. According to the administration’s Economic Report of the President, the median effective tax rate for the middle 20 percent of U.S. taxpayers in 2012 is 13.3 percent when you include income, payroll and corporate taxes (Table 3-1). That also puts the ad’s claim in the right ballpark. But in order to get there, you have to compare Romney’s income tax only to the rates others pay in combined income, payroll and corporate taxes.
The second of the two sentences in bold makes false the claim that many people pay a greater effective rate of federal income tax (payroll taxes included) with corporate income taxes included in the mix.  Farley buries the key sentence with the lead-in "That also puts the ad's claim in the right ballpark."  The story ends up with one sentence that strongly upsets the argument about Romney's supposed low income tax rate, set in an arrangement that camouflages it sufficiently so that few are likely to recognize its meaning. 

Take a gander at Table 3-1:

click image for enlarged view
The bottom line across from "Top 1 percent" represents something of a bell curve showing the effective tax rates for the top 1 percent of earners.  It's likely that Romney pays a rate somewhere near the middle, though apparently he also gives a great deal of money to charity, which decreases his tax bill because of the charitable deduction.  One has to hunt on the chart to find effective tax rates higher than the median rate for the top 1 percent (29.6 percent). 

Yet here's the kicker quote/paraphrase Farley uses to wrap up:
No matter how you slice it, Toder said, Romney’s tax rate is very low for someone with his level of income. The average income tax rate for the top 0.1 percent (which is where Romney falls) is 23.6 percent.
Slice us up some of that horse hockey, Farley.

Fact checking is in a sad state.  But a least Annenberg Fact Check is still better than PolitiFact.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Grading PolitiFact (Florida): Gerard Robinson and the FCAT (Updated x2)

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 issue:

(clipped from
Readers should already find themselves wondering whether "FCAT tests" represents the time spent taking the test itself or the time spent preparing for the test.  PolitiFact uses ambiguous wording.  Yet why would we expect the test itself to take more than 1 percent of a year's instructional time?

The fact checkers:

Amy Sherman:  writer, researcher
Angie Drobnic Holan:  editor


Put bluntly, this item isn't fact checking.  It is a disservice to Gerard Robinson and PolitiFact's readers.

Reflecting a backlash against testing, more than a dozen individual school boards in the state, including Broward and Palm Beach, have passed a resolution against the FCAT. The Florida School Boards Association passed its own version of a resolution criticizing the FCAT in June.

Robinson penned a June 15 response, which included these comments: "The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."
If PolitiFact follows AP style for quotations, the above represents a breach of style guidelines.  Here's how the quotation would look according to AP style:
"The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. 

. . . These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year.

. . . It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."
There are a few interesting claims in Robinson’s statement, but the one that caught our eye was that tiny figure: The FCAT accounts for "less than 1 percent of instructional time." Heck, we wonder if lunch or recess could add up to more than 1 percent. So we decided to research whether Robinson’s 1 percent claim was correct.
PolitiFact reports that Robinson's office backed up his claim with numbers showing that the amount of time spent taking the test amounts to .26 to .90 of the state-mandated minimum of 900 hours of instructional time.

So Robinson's claim was true?  PolitiFact doesn't see it that way:
But Robinson used the phrase "instructional time" in his claim, which could fairly be interpreted to mean classroom time spent preparing for the test.
Yes, Robinson used the phrase "instructional time" in his claim, but it isn't fair to interpret it to mean classroom time spent preparing for the test.

"Instructional time" has a particular meaning in education.  It means the time students spending doing learning activities under a teacher's direction. 

Robinson addressed three specific points with his press release.  The FCAT program is allegedly too expensive, dominates the curriculum and hinders student success.

Robinson addresses the first point by framing FCAT expense in terms of its percentage of state and local investment in the schools.  He deals with the second point in the next paragraph:
Florida's Next Generation Sunshine State Standards are the foundation for what we expect our students to learn. Subjects covered by Florida standards include English language arts, math, science, social studies, physical and health education, world languages, and fine arts along with other content areas specific to colleges and careers. Contrary to the claim of the FSBA resolution, the FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. In fact, at the middle school level, student enrollment in courses such as dance, drama, and world languages has increased more than student enrollment in the subject areas assessed on the FCAT. At the high school level, enrollment in dance, world languages and the humanities has outpaced the growth in student enrollment.
PolitiFact ignores this context and tries to make it look like Robinson is saying that the schools spend very little time trying to prepare students for the FCAT.  The above paragraph from Robinson unequivocally puts the lie to the journalists' frame.  He addressed the issue by saying that the test measures things that students ought to spend much of their time learning.

Obviously, then, Robinson was not trying to say that students spend less than 1 percent of their instructional time preparing for the FCAT.  That would argue against his preceding paragraph. 

PolitiFact just ignored the context.

In fact, Robinson's 1 percent figure is more accurate the more time students spend preparing for the FCAT, if one insists on suggesting that he used "instructional time" to refer to test preparation.  For review (bold emphasis added):  "These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year."  If students spend as little as half of their instructional time on the FCAT then the estimate for time spent on the assessments rises to a range between .52 and 1.8 percent--still in the neighborhood of 1 percent if we willfully ignore Robinson's clear explanation.

PolitiFact appears to conflate the "assessments" with the "instructional time" somehow.  As one is used as a percentage of the other, that path leads to a spectacularly failed fact check.

PolitiFact devotes considerable space to quotations complaining about the FCAT, but none of it addresses Robinson's claim.  We can skip on to the wondrous conclusion consisting of four short paragraphs plus a "False" rating.

Robinson said that the FCAT tests "account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year." This was a prepared statement, based on research done by his staff, in response to FCAT critics who say that schools devote too much time to the tests.
Right, but Robinson addressed the critics' point in his preceding paragraph.

Readers could assume that by "instructional time" Robinson was including regular lesson time in the classroom preparing for the FCAT. He wasn’t. His office says that referred to the number of minutes taking the test out of the total minutes of instruction per year. But he didn’t provide that explanation in his statement.
Robinson may have assumed that those reading his statement have the ability to read.  PolitiFact doesn't explain why people would be seriously misled if they believed taking the FCAT test constituted less than 1 percent of the preparation time.  The smaller the percentage the greater the preparation time by proportion.

It is doubtful PolitiFact could make a coherent case that Robinson was minimizing the preparation time for the test, assuming it would even make the attempt.

In reality, there is no clear way to quantify how much time teachers spend preparing students for the test. Some teachers say they spend practically all their time on the FCAT.
If all of the teachers spend all of their time on the FCAT then Robinson's statement is perfectly accurate and students spend less than 1 percent of their instructional time taking the assessment.  There's nothing here to use against Robinson's accuracy or veracity.

Robinson’s goal was to deflect criticism that too much time is spent "teaching to the test." He is suggesting that the FCAT eats up only a smidgen of a school year. But for students, parents and teachers who spend months preparing for those tests, Robinson’s words are misleading.
PolitiFact completely missed Robinson's point by ignoring the context.  The fact check doesn't make a lick of sense.  Robinson's words are misleading if one ignores context, grammar, syntax and logic.

The grades:

Amy Sherman:  F
Angie Drobnic Holan:  F

This case perhaps makes up PolitiFact's penultimate train-wreck to date.  PolitiFact owes Robinson an apology and a front page correction notice.

Update Aug. 1, 2012:

 Gerard Robinson responds to PolitiFact Florida:

In this article, PolitiFact agreed that evidence provided to them by the Department of Education verified the accuracy of my statement when taken in this context.  However, PolitiFact claims my statement was made to deflect criticism that too much time is spent “teaching to the test.”  If this were true, I would agree with PolitiFact’s conclusion.  However, since PolitiFact misrepresents the context of my statement, I rate their finding as False.

Update 2, August 3, 2012:

A Band-Aid for the severed head:  PolitiFact modifies the quotation with the insertion of two ellipses--and no correction notice (at least as of now).
Robinson penned a June 15 response, which included these comments: "The FCAT neither drives the curriculum nor narrows the educational experience of Florida students. ... These assessments average two to three per student per school year and account for less than 1 percent of the instructional time provided during the year. ... It is worth noting that local school boards require students to take many more assessments than those required by the state."
The correction is not quite compliant with AP style by my reading, as the AP Stylebook's example shows a line of space between the sentences prior to the insertion of the ellipse when one pulls sentences from different paragraphs..

That's a minor point, of course.  The story remains incoherent.  The head is still severed and the body is bleeding out through the neck.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lois Frankel concerned for seniors, not about PolitiFact

Lois Frankel wants people to vote for her instead of (doubtlessly evil) Republican Adam Hasner.  She sent me an important email message:
I won't let Republicans destroy Medicare as we know it, and make health care unaffordable for the Greatest Generation.
Luckily, Frankel can keep her promise without having to serve in Congress.  The Ryan plan does not change Medicare for persons already over 55 years of age.  That covers "the Greatest Generation."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Grading PolitiFact: Characterizing Mitt Romney's characterization of Obama

PolitiFact's attempt to use an "In Context" item to soften the negative effects of President Obama's "you didn't build that" moment didn't work out so well.

More was needed to help the president.

The issue.

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

Louis Jacobson:  writer, researcher
Bill Adair:  editor


Watch how many times PolitiFact uses partial quotations to protect its Obama from having his statement taken out of context.  We have two already in the graphic up above ("is the result of government" "hard-working people").

On with the fact check.

PolitiFact tells us that the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign have been wrangling over whether the latter insulted entrepreneurs.  That issue is somewhat settled when entrepreneurs perceive an insult.  Romney wins that point.  PolitiFact wants to let us know that Obama did not mean to insult entrepreneurs.  And maybe attacking Romney in relation to this issue is the ticket.

Romney, in comments at public events and in several ads, has argued that the remarks show a general disdain for business. The Republican National Committee and the National Federation of Independent Business are among the groups have [sic] released their own videos and statements echoing Romney that the president is out of touch.
The above summary is fair but potentially misleading.  We'll watch for those effects as the story progresses.

In one fundraising e-mail [sic], Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager, decried Obama’s "naïve view that government, and not the hard work, talent, and initiative of people, is the center of society and the economy."
The email from Rhoades helps make it plain that PolitiFact distorts the Romney campaign's argument.  The argument is that Obama credits the government too much, not that he doesn't credit entrepreneurs at all. Yet the latter is what PolitiFact suggests in its graphic.

In another campaign e-mail [sic], Amanda Henneberg, a Romney spokeswoman, said Obama had "denigrated Americans who built their own businesses."
Henneberg's statement dovetails with the Romney campaign message that Obama overemphasizes the role of government, but PolitiFact can potentially make it look like she is saying that Obama gives entrepreneurs no credit.

The issue has become so big that the Obama campaign felt the need to address the issue head-on in a Web video titled "Tampered" that quoted media accounts saying the quote had been taken out of context.
The current size of the issue could mean that the Romney campaign is right that that Obama is out of touch.  But it would help Obama if it appeared that people were simply misled by Romney about what Obama said.  PolitiFact did the Obama campaign a favor, by the way, by overlooking for the sake of this story the Obama campaign video suggesting Obama did not say what Romney quotes him to say.

Not only was Obama taken out of context, he didn't even say it in the first place.

Or something like that.

PolitiFact settles on the latest Romney campaign video for purposes of its fact check, focusing in particular on the Romney campaign's preface to the video:
President Obama recently said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Clearly, this President doesn't understand how our economy works.

Mitt Romney understands that we have to celebrate people who start enterprises and employ other people rather than devalue them. Success is not the result of government, it is the result of hard-working people who take risks, create dreams, and build lives for themselves and for their families.
In this item, we’ll rate the claim that Obama was saying success "is the result of government," not "hard-working people," when he said, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
PolitiFact distorts Romney's claim by taking his comments out of context.  Ironic, no?

PolitiFact tries to set the stage by asserting that Romney's quote of Obama distorts the meaning of Obama's claim.  In effect, PolitiFact suggests this is obvious if one reads Obama's statement in context.  But doesn't the entire context of Obama's statement emphasize the role of the government in business creation at the expense of the entrepreneur?  How does PolitiFact miss the obvious?

We believe, as do our friends at and the Washington Post Fact Checker, that Romney has seriously distorted Obama’s comments.
PolitiFact is checking this fact by proclaiming it obvious that the context of Obama's statement puts the lie to Romney's claim.  Other fact checkers supposedly agree.  Hopefully one or both of them actually bothered to check some facts.

There's really nothing like that in this fact check.  It consists of PolitiFact insisting that Obama was taken out of context, and Romney's statements taken out of context make up the bulk of the case against Romney.

PolitiFact's conclusion, part one
In speeches and videos, the Romney campaign has repeatedly distorted Obama's words. By plucking two sentences out of context, Romney twists the president's remarks and ignores their real meaning.

The preceding sentences make clear that Obama was talking about the importance of government-provided infrastructure and education to the success of private businesses.
PolitiFact is partly right.  Obama was extolling the importance of the government role in allowing business to prosper.  He did so in the context of beneficiary businesses "giving back" as if it wasn't the taxes of businesses that helped pay for the infrastructure in the first place.  And the words he used diminish the role of individual effort ("Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there").

Why does PolitiFact simply ignore the material in Obama's speech that diminishes the importance of the entrepreneur?

PolitiFact's conclusion, part two:
Romney also conveniently ignores Obama's clear summary of his message, that "the point is ... that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

By leaving out the "individual initiative" reference, Romney and his supporters have misled viewers and given a false impression. For that, we rate the claim False.
Romney ignores Obama's "clear summary" because the summary is ambiguous.  The summary provides no justification for successful businesses "giving back."  That concept comes out as Obama essentially tells entrepreneurs that they were lucky (others worked just as hard) and owe a big honkin' portion of their success to Our Glorious Government.  And the government, Obama says, is ready to take its rightful cut.

By leaving out the reference to increasing taxes on entrepreneurs, PolitiFact misleads its readers and gives a false impression.

PolitiFact creates what Mr. Obama likes to call a "false choice."  It isn't whether the government gets all the credit or the entrepreneur gets all the credit.  It's which one has the lead role in the economy (bold emphasis added):
Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager, decried Obama’s "naïve view that government, and not the hard work, talent, and initiative of people, is the center of society and the economy."
By neglecting the importance of that context, PolitiFact again misleads readers and gives a false impression.

The grades:

Louis Jacobson:  F
Bill Adair:  F

Once again, the subject of the fact check was arguably more accurate than his would-be fact checkers.


The fact checks by Annenberg Fact Check and the Washington Post Fact Checker essentially leap to the same conclusions PolitiFact achieved with its leaps of logic.  But both of the other fact check services did a superior job to PolitiFact in providing context for the issue.

Aug. 4, 2012:  Fixed a handful of minor typos/grammatical errors