Sunday, March 11, 2012

PolitiFlub: Fact checkers use grading criteria selectively on Gerry Connolly rating

Let's see ... how long ago was it that Louis Jacobson proclaimed in a PolitiFact National story that PolitiFact "consistently ruled in the past that the economy is too complex to assign full blame (or credit) for job gains or losses to a president or a governor"?

Not long ago, as it turns out.

Fortunately the ups and downs of the Dow Jones industrial average pose no such problems of complexity.  Consideration of cause and effect was apparently pitched out the window when PolitiFact Virginia rated a claim by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.):
"We’ve doubled the stock market from where we started when he was sworn into office -- Bush had gotten it down to 6,500. It’s double that today," Connolly said.
Connolly's wording certainly seems to push the cause-and-effect angle, but the fact check contains no hint at all that PolitiFact Virginia docked Connolly for taking credit on behalf of the Democratic Party and the Obama administration.  At least Connolly was generous enough to share with President Bush the credit for dropping the Dow to 6,500 while modestly withholding credit to a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party during the precipitous decline.

In the end PolitiFact rated Connolly "Mostly False" based on cherry picking a time frame inconsistent with the one he specified.  One sentence in PolitiFact's summary takes note of the claimed cause and effect relationship, but without the assumption that Connolly's "exaggeration" refers to the credit offered to Democrats rather than his fudging of the numbers it looks like Connolly isn't docked for offering dubious credit:
The Dow rose 55.5 percent from Inauguration Day to the day of Connolly’s statement. Two broad indexes tell a similar story: the S&P 500 went up 59.1 percent and the Wilshire 5000 increased by 66.1 percent. It’s debatable how much of the improvement can be pinpointed to the president’s policies.

So Connolly’s claim has a foundation that is cracked by the weight of exaggeration and cherry-picked data. We rate it Mostly False.
With Connolly's cherry-picking justification set aside, his claim was off by almost 45 percent--typically the stuff of a "False" rating using PolitiMath.

If one claims to consistently rule with cause-and-effect relationships taken into account then one ought to do so consistently.  It seems likely that PolitiFact Virginia did not penalize Connolly for his claim of causation; if Connolly was penalized then the story failed to clearly communicate it.

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