Tuesday, June 19, 2012

PolitFlub: Mitt Romney versus firefighters and police

Just another of many examples where PolitiFact administers a "Truth-O-Meter" rating with no noticeable appreciation for its statement of principles.

This time we have PolitiFact Tennessee checking whether the Tennessee Democratic Party accurately reported that Mitt Romney said we don't need "more firemen, more policemen, more teachers."

PolitiFact ends up largely hiding the way the TNDP misuses the quotation.  Here's a portion of the press release PolitiFact linked:
As Mitt Romney made his way to collect money from wealthy special interests in Williamson County yesterday, Rep. Mike Turner, a career firefighter, and Principal Roxie Ross, a lifelong educator, held a press conference call in response to candidate’s claim that we don’t need “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.”

Tennesseans know that firefighters, policemen, and teachers are the backbone of a strong and successful community. Romney’s suggestion that these people aren’t vital to our wellbeing is nothing short of shocking. These are hard-working Americans who want to improve their cities and town, ensuring that every American has a shot at the American Dream and the opportunity to live in a safe, prosperous community.  To say anything otherwise is further proof that Mitt Romney is detached from reality in Tennessee, and indeed across America.
This was apparently the best PolitiFact could do in showing the context:
We note that Romney did not say there should be "fewer" policemen, firemen and teachers, but the full context of the quote makes clear he disagreed with Obama’s stated policy goal of having Congress appropriate more stimulus money to add more of them. The more accurate characterization of Romney’s remarks would have been that "Romney disagrees with President Obama’s goal of adding ‘more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,’ " though we recognize that doesn’t have the same zing as the TNDP’s wording.
No, it doesn't have the same zing at all.

The TNDP used the quoted snipped to suggest that Romney doesn't really think society needs police and firefighters ("Romney’s suggestion that these people aren’t vital to our wellbeing is nothing short of shocking").  In context, Romney was saying that expanding public sector jobs does not serve as a good method for relieving economic malaise.  It was in response to President Obama's claim that since the "private sector is doing fine" therefore the government should address the economy by focusing on adding more public sector jobs to replace those that were lost.

PolitiFact at least ends up in the ballpark with respect to Romney's intent and otherwise gives a free pass to the TNDP's taking the statement blatantly out of context.

We end up with this:
The Tennessee Democratic Party says Mitt Romney has said "we don't need 'more firemen, more policemen, more teachers.' "

That's a slight exaggeration of Romney's remarks -- he was responding to Obama's comments on them, not outlining his own specific policy against them. Still, that's pretty close to what Romney said. We rate the claim Mostly True.
"Mostly True"?  Seriously?

The claim from the TNDC indisputably fails to deliver an accurate picture of the context of Romney's statement.  Based on that abundant truth, the ruling has to match one of the following three options.:
MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
It wasn't an "important detail" that Romney was talking about restoring the economy and not whether police, firefighter and teachers are necessary to a healthy society?  Was the statement taken out of context or not?

Does considering the full context of Romney's statement give a different impression than that presented by the TNDP?

PolitiFact offers no clear guidance as to why "Half True" or "Mostly False" doesn't better fit this case.  Rulings like this one make it appear that things like "needs clarification," "needs ... additional information," "important details," "takes things out of context" and "critical facts" are subjectively determined rather than objective determinations.

PolitiFact head honcho Bill Adair edited the PolitiFact Tennessee story.  We infer that he approves of its content.

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