Sunday, March 11, 2012

Piquing PolitiFact: No correction on lottery claim?

Does PolitiFact care if it misreports the truth?  It's hard to tell.  No, really.  It's hard to tell.

Last year PolitiFact published one of its "Pants on Fire" hit pieces on Newt Gingrich, focusing on two of his claims about the lack of restrictions on food stamp benefits.

Gingrich stated, in part, that millionaires may qualify for food stamps.  Here's how PolitiFact ruled:
Each of Gingrich’s claims about food stamps is so ridiculous -- especially for a self-styled policy wonk -- that we wondered whether he was really intending to be serious. (By publication time, we did not receive answers to several queries made to his press staff.) But the transcript makes it sound like he wasn’t joking, so we’ll assume he wasn’t. For being so ridiculously wrong in so many ways, we rate his statement Pants on Fire.

Update: After we published this item we heard back from USDA spokesman Aaron Lavallee. Lavallee said there was one case in which an unemployed Michigan man who won $2 million in the lottery was deemed eligible for food stamps by the state. He was later removed from the program. Given the isolated nature of the incident and the fact that he was removed from the program, our ruling remains Pants on Fire.
In the comments on PolitiFact's Facebook page I questioned whether the writer, Louis Jacobson, had confirmed any change in Michigan's policy.  Point being, if the policy isn't different then millionaires can qualify for food stamps and the rating is a sham.

As usual there was no perceptible attempt by PolitiFact to address the hole in the story.

Then last week a news report appeared about another Michigan lottery winner--albeit a winner of less than $1 million--who was receiving benefits through the food stamp program.  In other words, it appears that Michigan (not to mention other states) has not changed its policy and a millionaire with no income or a lottery winner may qualify for food stamp benefits.

As I love writing useless messages to PolitiFact writers and editors, I sent the following via email:
Dear Louis Jacobson,
cc Martha Hamilton,

I thought I had sent a message asking for confirmation that Michigan had altered its policy by the time the "Pants on Fire" rating was published for Mr. Gingrich late last year.  I apologize for apparently neglecting that duty, for it might have resulted in an earlier correction/completion of the record.

Of course you have the option of completely ignoring this story's impact on the Gingrich rating.  I doubt the vast majority of your readers will notice.
As is typical of the PolitiFact staff, I have received no response.  And the Gingrich story?  No change or update as I write.

How many millionaires will have to receive food stamp benefits before PolitiFact revises its rating of Gingrich and admits that millionaires can qualify?

One should have been enough to avoid the "Pants on Fire" rating, in truth.

Note:  An earlier version of this post included a paragraph that did not belong in this story.  I'll shortly publish the story that now (properly) includes that paragraph.

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