Friday, September 07, 2012

Grading PolitiFact (Texas): All out of "out of context" where Romney's concerned

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter

The issue:

(clipped from

The fact checkers:

W. Gardner Selby:  writer, researcher
John Bridges:  editor


I've tipped off that the key aspect to this fact check concerns whether Mitt Romney's statement was taken out of context.  Let's track PolitiFact's treatment of that aspect of this fact check.

"Mitt Romney, quite simply, doesn’t get it," the San Antonio mayor (Julián Castro) said in his Sept. 4, 2012, keynote at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. "A  few months ago, he visited a university in Ohio and gave the students there a little entrepreneurial advice. ‘Start a business,’ he said. "But how? ‘Borrow money if you have to from your parents.’
That's the Julián Castro version of the context.  Romney was giving the students "a little entrepreneurial advice."

PolitiFact appears to accept the accuracy of Castro's version of the context at face value with its phrasing, in the very next paragraph, of the question of the fact check would answer:
Did Castro accurately recap Romney’s student advice?
PolitiFact might consider a different angle on that question:  Was Romney giving entrepreneurial advice to the students at Ohio's Otterbein University?

With both questions in mind, watch the video.

In context, Romney was talking about the historical climate for American entrepreneurship. He didn't tell the students to borrow money from the parents. He painted a general picture of ways entrepreneurs chase their dreams, and he gave borrowing money from parents as one example. Notably, the line segued to the example of Jimmy John, who founded a nationally popular sandwich chain using startup money borrowed from his father.

Castro gets the words right, but both Castro and PolitiFact get the context wrong. PolitiFact's conclusion doesn't fly as a result:
Castro told his fellow Democrats that Romney urged students at an Ohio university that if they have to, they should borrow money from their parents to start a business. Romney, in fact, said that. Castro’s claim rates True.
By PolitiFact's statement of principles, Castro's claim is "Half True" at best.

The grades:

W. Gardner Selby:  F
John Bridges:  F

PolitiFact stayed on the same page with Castro as he took Romney's statement out of context.  Castro attempted to make Romney seem out of touch and distant with the supposed suggestion of borrowing money to start a business.  But Romney was correct that borrowing money from parents is one way Americans historically chase their entrepreneurial dreams.  Plus the comment served as an apparently deliberate introduction to the Jimmy John anecdote.

Fact checkers should emphasize such contextual elements, not bury them.

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