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
Apparently PolitiFact simply isn't capable of applying the results of its examination.
A pair of fact check stories published yesterday illustrate the point.
The Obama campaign has hit former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney over his record on job creation in that state. The Romney campaign has replied with numbers that imply Romney performed well in Massachusetts on job creation.
PolitiFact picks up on the context of battling rhetoric:
Both presidential campaigns are using job statistics to attack each other. President Barack Obama and his allies have spent months criticizing Mitt Romney’s job-creation record as governor of Massachusetts. Now, Romney and his surrogates are arguing that job creation in Massachusetts actually improved on Romney’s watch.PolitiFact's wrong, at least if we take its "attack each other" description to apply to this pair of fact checks. The Obama campaign is attacking. The Romney campaign is defending. PolitiFact mischaracterizes the relationship between the two claims and botches at least one of the rulings.
So who’s right?
For this fact-check, we'll follow our usual approach of looking at the claim in two parts: first, are the numbers correct, and second, how much is the change because of Romney's policies?The described approach works well, at least potentially, for the attacking claim from Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod. Axelrod says Massachusetts ranked 47th in job creation under Romney. The claim only makes sense in the campaign if Romney is significantly responsible for the number.
The same approach is wrong for Eric Fehrnstrom's reply because Fehrnstrom is countering Axelrod's attack. Fehrnstrom's argument doesn't require credit to Romney for the rise in rankings. Fehrnstrom's statistic plays its primary role in undercutting Axelrod's argument. Fehrnstrom, in effect, supplies part of the context that Axelrod deliberately neglected.
PolitiFact often bases its rulings on the degree to which a statement ignores context that might shed different light on a claim. Fehrnstrom's head and shoulders over Axelrod in that regard in this case, but PolitiFact misreports Fehrnstrom's role in the argument and laughably gives both statements a "Half True" rating.
Want some partisan spin with your fact checking? PolitiFact's your source.