Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lawyer ethics

Is "lawyer ethics" an oxymoron?

One has to wonder at times.

After examining PolitiFact's finding that it is "Mostly True" that shark attacks outnumber cases of voter fraud in Florida, I ran across a voting rights site out of California that had posted without comment a link to the PolitiFact item.

I don't like seeing bad information on the Internet.  I messaged the host of the site via email.
Dear Mr. Hasen,

Sadly, the PolitiFact story comparing the number of shark attacks to the frequency of voter fraud in Florida is just another example showing why we should show a reluctance to rely on PolitiFact on matters of fact.

PolitiFact chose an odd metric for measuring voter fraud in Florida, using the number of cases deemed worthy of investigation by the Florida Department of State.

As an obvious example of the trouble with that type of metric, consider the fact that the PolitiFact-affiliated Miami Herald found that 445 felons voted illegally in the 2000 election.  That's from just 12 Florida counties.  Florida's had far less than 1,000 shark attacks over the entire course of its recorded history.

Literally speaking, the ACLU lawyer featured on the Colbert Report was literally wrong.  And if PolitiFact had bothered to focus on the underlying argument that voter fraud in Florida is not a significant problem then an honest account of the fact is we just don't know the extent of the problem thanks largely to the ease with which we allow voter registration and absentee voting.

Certainly you may have political reasons for wanting to highlight the PolitiFact story.  That's between you and your conscience.  The fact is that voter fraud by a reasonable measure is very probably far more common than shark attacks.

That was from March 5.

As of this writing, the blurb about PolitiFact's finding remains the same, without comment.

Is it certain that Hasen received my message?  No, it is not certain.  It's just likely.

What Hasen reports at his blog is true.  PolitiFact did find it "Mostly True" that shark attacks outnumber cases of voter fraud in Florida.  Since that finding is false, however, an actor like Hasen misleads others by posting the report uncritically.  And if Hasen received my message, recognized its accuracy and nonetheless left the PolitiFact post up on his blog without any caveat then he's a liar.

Does Hasen have a motive to lie?  Could be.

I have no problem with Hasen opposing voter identification laws and the like--so long as he sticks to the facts.  He should either attach a disclaimer to the PolitiFact post or delete it.

March 8, 2012:  Altered final paragraph, as the first sentence initially read "opposing voter rights laws--."  That version misrepresented Hasen's position, and I apologize for the mistake.  The new version better captures his position.

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