Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lois Frankel concerned for seniors, not about PolitiFact

Lois Frankel wants people to vote for her instead of (doubtlessly evil) Republican Adam Hasner.  She sent me an important email message:
I won't let Republicans destroy Medicare as we know it, and make health care unaffordable for the Greatest Generation.
Luckily, Frankel can keep her promise without having to serve in Congress.  The Ryan plan does not change Medicare for persons already over 55 years of age.  That covers "the Greatest Generation."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Grading PolitiFact: Characterizing Mitt Romney's characterization of Obama

PolitiFact's attempt to use an "In Context" item to soften the negative effects of President Obama's "you didn't build that" moment didn't work out so well.

More was needed to help the president.

The issue.

(clipped from PolitiFact.com)

The fact checkers:

Louis Jacobson:  writer, researcher
Bill Adair:  editor


Watch how many times PolitiFact uses partial quotations to protect its Obama from having his statement taken out of context.  We have two already in the graphic up above ("is the result of government" "hard-working people").

On with the fact check.

PolitiFact tells us that the Romney campaign and the Obama campaign have been wrangling over whether the latter insulted entrepreneurs.  That issue is somewhat settled when entrepreneurs perceive an insult.  Romney wins that point.  PolitiFact wants to let us know that Obama did not mean to insult entrepreneurs.  And maybe attacking Romney in relation to this issue is the ticket.

Romney, in comments at public events and in several ads, has argued that the remarks show a general disdain for business. The Republican National Committee and the National Federation of Independent Business are among the groups have [sic] released their own videos and statements echoing Romney that the president is out of touch.
The above summary is fair but potentially misleading.  We'll watch for those effects as the story progresses.

In one fundraising e-mail [sic], Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager, decried Obama’s "naïve view that government, and not the hard work, talent, and initiative of people, is the center of society and the economy."
The email from Rhoades helps make it plain that PolitiFact distorts the Romney campaign's argument.  The argument is that Obama credits the government too much, not that he doesn't credit entrepreneurs at all. Yet the latter is what PolitiFact suggests in its graphic.

In another campaign e-mail [sic], Amanda Henneberg, a Romney spokeswoman, said Obama had "denigrated Americans who built their own businesses."
Henneberg's statement dovetails with the Romney campaign message that Obama overemphasizes the role of government, but PolitiFact can potentially make it look like she is saying that Obama gives entrepreneurs no credit.

The issue has become so big that the Obama campaign felt the need to address the issue head-on in a Web video titled "Tampered" that quoted media accounts saying the quote had been taken out of context.
The current size of the issue could mean that the Romney campaign is right that that Obama is out of touch.  But it would help Obama if it appeared that people were simply misled by Romney about what Obama said.  PolitiFact did the Obama campaign a favor, by the way, by overlooking for the sake of this story the Obama campaign video suggesting Obama did not say what Romney quotes him to say.

Not only was Obama taken out of context, he didn't even say it in the first place.

Or something like that.

PolitiFact settles on the latest Romney campaign video for purposes of its fact check, focusing in particular on the Romney campaign's preface to the video:
President Obama recently said: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."

Clearly, this President doesn't understand how our economy works.

Mitt Romney understands that we have to celebrate people who start enterprises and employ other people rather than devalue them. Success is not the result of government, it is the result of hard-working people who take risks, create dreams, and build lives for themselves and for their families.
In this item, we’ll rate the claim that Obama was saying success "is the result of government," not "hard-working people," when he said, "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
PolitiFact distorts Romney's claim by taking his comments out of context.  Ironic, no?

PolitiFact tries to set the stage by asserting that Romney's quote of Obama distorts the meaning of Obama's claim.  In effect, PolitiFact suggests this is obvious if one reads Obama's statement in context.  But doesn't the entire context of Obama's statement emphasize the role of the government in business creation at the expense of the entrepreneur?  How does PolitiFact miss the obvious?

We believe, as do our friends at FactCheck.org and the Washington Post Fact Checker, that Romney has seriously distorted Obama’s comments.
PolitiFact is checking this fact by proclaiming it obvious that the context of Obama's statement puts the lie to Romney's claim.  Other fact checkers supposedly agree.  Hopefully one or both of them actually bothered to check some facts.

There's really nothing like that in this fact check.  It consists of PolitiFact insisting that Obama was taken out of context, and Romney's statements taken out of context make up the bulk of the case against Romney.

PolitiFact's conclusion, part one
In speeches and videos, the Romney campaign has repeatedly distorted Obama's words. By plucking two sentences out of context, Romney twists the president's remarks and ignores their real meaning.

The preceding sentences make clear that Obama was talking about the importance of government-provided infrastructure and education to the success of private businesses.
PolitiFact is partly right.  Obama was extolling the importance of the government role in allowing business to prosper.  He did so in the context of beneficiary businesses "giving back" as if it wasn't the taxes of businesses that helped pay for the infrastructure in the first place.  And the words he used diminish the role of individual effort ("Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there").

Why does PolitiFact simply ignore the material in Obama's speech that diminishes the importance of the entrepreneur?

PolitiFact's conclusion, part two:
Romney also conveniently ignores Obama's clear summary of his message, that "the point is ... that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

By leaving out the "individual initiative" reference, Romney and his supporters have misled viewers and given a false impression. For that, we rate the claim False.
Romney ignores Obama's "clear summary" because the summary is ambiguous.  The summary provides no justification for successful businesses "giving back."  That concept comes out as Obama essentially tells entrepreneurs that they were lucky (others worked just as hard) and owe a big honkin' portion of their success to Our Glorious Government.  And the government, Obama says, is ready to take its rightful cut.

By leaving out the reference to increasing taxes on entrepreneurs, PolitiFact misleads its readers and gives a false impression.

PolitiFact creates what Mr. Obama likes to call a "false choice."  It isn't whether the government gets all the credit or the entrepreneur gets all the credit.  It's which one has the lead role in the economy (bold emphasis added):
Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager, decried Obama’s "naïve view that government, and not the hard work, talent, and initiative of people, is the center of society and the economy."
By neglecting the importance of that context, PolitiFact again misleads readers and gives a false impression.

The grades:

Louis Jacobson:  F
Bill Adair:  F

Once again, the subject of the fact check was arguably more accurate than his would-be fact checkers.


The fact checks by Annenberg Fact Check and the Washington Post Fact Checker essentially leap to the same conclusions PolitiFact achieved with its leaps of logic.  But both of the other fact check services did a superior job to PolitiFact in providing context for the issue.

Aug. 4, 2012:  Fixed a handful of minor typos/grammatical errors

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grading PolitiFact (Texas): Paul Sadler and the doubled debt?

The issue:

(clipped from PolitiFact.com)

The fact checkers:

Sue Owen:  writer, researcher
W. Gardner Selby:  editor


Speaking for myself, if I fact checked Paul Sadler on a claim that the federal debt doubled during the Bush administration there's little chance I'd have much problem with it.  It's the way PolitiFact does its fact checking that draws my scrutiny.

PolitiFact tracked the origin of Sadler's claim down to a chart published in the New York Times.

According to the chart, the Bush administration began with a $5.8 trillion gross federal debt, which grew by $6.1 trillion to reach $11.9 trillion --  an increase of 105 percent, or slightly more than double. The Times ascribed the increase in debt to "tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, (the) economic downturn in 2001 and recession starting in 2007."

Following a suggestion from Treasury spokesman Matthew Anderson, we found that plugging the fiscal years of Bush’s presidency -- October 2001 through September 2009 -- into the Treasury’s online calculator gives debt figures that tally with the Times graphic. While that period begins nearly nine months into Bush’s presidency, it also aligns with the years over which he held budgetary sway.
With a little luck Bush can get credit for President Obama's FY2009 spending while also losing out on any help at all from the modest budget surplus in 2001.

PolitiFact got help from Robert Sahr, a political scientist at Oregon State University.

Sahr produced a spreadsheet for us with fiscal year-end debt numbers from the federal Office of Management and Budget. Among the results: As with the Treasury calculator, 2001-2009 public debt in non-inflation-adjusted dollars went up 130 percent. Adjusted for inflation (to 2011 dollars), though, the increase was 88 percent.
Lucky Bush!  Using the OMB numbers will, in fact, allow Bush to take advantage of Obama's 2009 spending, in particular the initial phase of the economic stimulus package. Bush also ends up on the hook for the OMB's calculations for bailout spending, most of which was repaid and thus had little lasting effect on the federal debt.

This is a PolitiFact fact check.  This is what you get.

Some news analyses have compared changes in debt using inauguration dates. We checked those with the Treasury calculator, finding that from Bush’s first inauguration, January 20, 2001, to the day President Barack Obama took office, January 20, 2009, gross federal debt in non-inflation-adjusted dollars rose from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion, up 86 percent.
So now PolitiFact is trying to steal credit for stimulus spending from Bush.  But at least he still gets a heap of credit for bailout loans at this stage.  Note that PolitiFact doesn't bother chipping away at the 86 percent figure by adjusting the figures for inflation.  In 2009 dollars the $5.7 trillion from 2001 turns into $6.9 trillion, which drops the increase by 32 percentage points down to 54 percent.  The latter figure doesn't look very good for Sadler, so let's just forget we ever did that calculation.  Thank goodness PolitiFact didn't bother us with such distractions.

Now for some comedy relief from Sadler:
When we checked back in with Sadler, he objected to adjusting the debt changes for inflation, saying by email: "I seriously doubt any holder of the debt or your bank would allow you to adjust your debt for inflation.  The amount owed is the amount owed - you don't get to adjust it for inflation."
It was magnanimous of PolitiFact to refrain from pointing out that Sadler's statement is silly.  Inflation is the borrower's friend.  It is the lender who would like to adjust for inflation and receive an added bonus to the repayment.  Fortunately for the lender, inflation is typically accounted for in the scheduled interest rate.  Lucky Sadler!

PolitiFact Texas concludes:
We see how Sadler reached his conclusion. In raw terms, both the public debt and gross federal debt more than doubled during the fiscal years corresponding to Bush’s presidency. However, adjusting for inflation, gross debt increased 70 percent over those years, while public debt increased 88 percent. That’s not quite doubling.

We rate Sadler’s claim Mostly True.

1)  Evidently none of the figures recognize the temporary nature of the debt resulting from the bailout spending in 2009.  That bailout spending accounted for very roughly $441 billion as of  June 30, 2009 (note that the government accounting is not straightforward--the OMB and CBO use different methods of calculating TARP spending).  The budgeted spending is very probably much less than the amount added to the debt because of loan repayments, and the spending will appear higher in OMB estimates.

2)  Bush gets about $120 billion in ARRA (stimulus) spending credited to his FY2009 account.  ARRA spending and bailouts combined may account for nearly $600 billion in supposed debt.  The story omits all of this context.

3)  Following the above, the inauguration date figures probably provide a better estimate of the debt increase than those from the end of the 2001 and 2009 fiscal years:  That estimate comes to a 54 percent increase on the gross debt after adjusting for inflation.

4)  PolitiFact's figure for the increase in gross debt after adjusting for inflation represents a 63 percent inflation (34 percentage points) over the more realistic 54 percent figure.  PolitiFact proposes grading Sadler "Mostly True" for a figure that, by PolitiFact's accounting, was exaggerated only by as much as 43 percent.  Sadler appears more accurate than PolitiFact.

5)  PolitiFact omits a great deal of information regarding the precipitous climb in spending for 2009, much of it owing to the bailout programs, and apparently never considers the debt as a percentage of GDP, perhaps the method most favored by economists in measuring the growth of debt.

In terms of normal communications, Sadler is in the ballpark even if the debt only increased 54 percent under Bush.  Sadler's mild exaggeration is not nearly as offensive as sham fact checking that pretends to an expertise absent in the finished product.  This fact check looks like it was chosen and executed primarily to aid President Obama in the 2012 election by blaming Bush for a large federal debt.

Contrast this fact check with PolitiFact's consistent treatment of recent Republican claims that ObamaCare taxes make up the largest tax increase ever.  PolitiFact doesn't even pause at adjusting for inflation and proceeds straight to the percentage of GDP.  Lucky Charlotte Bergman!  Lucky Rush Limbaugh!  Lucky Josh Mandel!  All recipients of a "Pants on Fire" rating thanks to PolitiFact's use of the GDP measure.

The grades:

Sue Owen:  F
W. Gardner Selby:  F

I'm okay with a "Mostly True" for hapless Paul Sadler, who apparently has no clue as to how inflation affects lending.  I'm not very sympathetic to fact checking that could pass for deliberate partisan spin.


For the curious (obviously not PolitiFact), gross debt as a percentage of GDP increased from 56.4 percent in 2001 to 83.4 percent in 2009.  That's an increase of 47.9 percent, well short of the 100 percent figure that would mean doubling, and even short of the 50 percent increase that would allow Sadler to do some liberal rounding up.  Lucky.

Correction July 26, 2012:  Originally published including the sentence starting "The latter figure doesn't look very good for Sahr."  Sadler was the name I intended to use.  Apologies to good Mr. Sahr for my error.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Grading PolitiFact: More unprecedented Obama

Words matter -- We pay close attention to the specific wording of a claim. Is it a precise statement? Does it contain mitigating words or phrases?
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter

The issue:

(clipped from PolitiFact.com)

The fact checkers:

Amy Sherman:  writer, researcher
Angie Drobnic Holan:  editor


One would think that persons paying close attention to the specific wording of a claim would accurately note the difference between "outspent" and "out-raised."

PolitiFact give an accurate enough account of the statement from President Obama and its context in a fundraising letter.

Then comes the odd turn:
We researched whether Obama’s team could be outraised by Romney and concluded that there are too many unknowns to determine if his prediction will come true. (Read our extended analysis of the issue.)
It's okay to research whether Mitt Romney would outraise Mr. Obama so long as one maintains the distinction between raising money and spending it.  Certainly it's far easier to outspend an opponent if one has raised more money.

The fact check proceeds to focus on fundraising and concludes that presidential challengers Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole outraised the incumbent in 1980 and 1996 respectively.

The issue of spending gets somehow misplaced along the way and we end up with the following conclusion (bold emphasis added):
Obama was wrong to suggest that there hadn’t been other presidents in modern history to be outraised in their re-elections. Looking at numbers alone, Carter and Clinton fall into that category. But what we are comparing is  primary races then with total fundraising for the general election now.

We think 1980 and 1996 certainly fall under "modern history," but the campaign finance picture has changed dramatically since then, and there are important caveats to those races. Those earlier races involved public financing -- this time Obama and Romney are forgoing those dollars.
PolitiFact rates the statement "Mostly False," defined as "The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."

Yes, the fundraising letter ignores the critical fact that the modern era for incumbent presidents begins this year with Mr. Obama's campaign.  Both campaigns eschewed public financing for this election.  But what was the element of truth in the statement?  It was false that Mr. Obama would be the first incumbent outspent by his rival.

The fact check doesn't tell you what's true about the statement, if anything.

We are left to guess whether Mr. Obama receives credit for the underlying argument, minus the unprecedented second-place fundraising, that the Romney campaign will outspend the President's campaign.  And the fact check never gets around to checking on spending after looking at fundraising.

In the end, we get another example of PolitiFact applying its standards unequally.  PolitiFact checks the wrong fact--fundraising instead of spending--and after that ignores its own "burden of proof" standard that assumes a claim false if PolitiFact does not discover evidence to support the claim.

The grades:

Amy Sherman:  F
Angie Drobnic Holan:  F

The PolitiFact team checked the wrong fact, so readers will not find out from this story whether past incumbent presidents were outspent by their challengers.  The PolitiFact team gave Mr. Obama a "Mostly False" rating without explaining what aspect of the claim it found true.  That rating appears to contradict PolitiFact's statement of principles.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

PolitiFlub: Fact-checking Limbaugh on the Bane/Bain connection

PolitiFact is a joke.

One of PolitiFact's latest fact checks purports to find the truth about Rush Limbaugh's supposed claim that the new Batman movie's villain, "Bane," was chosen by design to damage Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney through the latter's association with Bain Capital.

Setting aside the strong probability that Limbaugh was making a joke, this fact check is complete nonsense.  It's easy to see in PolitiFact's conclusion:
In politics, conspiracies are everywhere if you look hard enough. But Limbaugh’s superpowers of persuasion can’t make this theory stand up. The villainous Bane first appeared in Batman comic books in 1993, long before Romney entered presidential politics. Even the character’s creator called a suggested link "ridiculous." We rate this statement Pants on Fire!
It should be absolutely obvious that it doesn't matter when the Bane character was created.  I could use a cartoon character named "Boosh" from 200 years ago and make a movie out of it today to mock George W. Bush.  It isn't relevant whether the character was created without any knowledge that George W. Bush would serve as president.

If one takes Limbaugh's claim as a serious one, which is doubtful on its face, one fact checks it by looking at those who decided to make Bane the villain in this movie and when that decision was made, for starters.

The fact check is completely illogical, and that tells us something about PolitiFact.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

PolitiFact, promises and pioneers

I write often about PolitiFact's problem with selection bias, but that's just one of the most obvious bias problems for the Poynter Institute's fact-checking baby.

In addition to selecting statements to check, PolitiFact chooses what aspect of the statement to check.  This adds another layer of bias distortion to the statistics resulting from PolitiFact's fact checking.

PolitiFact recently supplied two stories that provide an outstanding example of bias caused by the selection of the story focus.

On July 11 PolitiFact rated an ad by the American Commitment PAC.  On July 13 PolitiFact rated an Obama campaign ad.

American Commitment:
The [health care] bill could cost up to $2 trillion, double what we were promised.
The Obama campaign:
Mitt Romney's companies were pioneers in outsourcing U.S. jobs to low-wage countries.
Let's put the primary clause of each statement in bold.

American Commitment:
The [health care] bill could cost up to $2 trillion, double what we were promised.
The Obama campaign:
Mitt Romney's companies were pioneers in outsourcing U.S. jobs to low-wage countries.
The portions without bold emphasis serve as subordinate clauses.

For the American Commitment ad, PolitiFact places its focus mainly on the subordinate clause.  PolitiFact found the primary clause close though supposedly lacking valuable context:
The ad upgrades that $1,762 billion, or $1.762 trillion to $2 trillion. In this case, we won’t quibble about $240 billion, because the $1.76 trillion number itself is extreme cherry-picking. It doesn’t account for the law’s tax increases, spending cuts or other cost-saving measures.
Note to PolitiFact:  Tax increases don't decrease spending and the spending cuts aren't certain, hence the "up to $2 trillion" phrasing.  Back to the point, the fact check focuses on the claim the amount doubled from what was promised--the subordinate clause--and finds that since the new CBO report does not represent a doubling of the cost compared to the old CBO report therefore the statement is "False." 

Supposedly the new figure isn't double what was promised (see "Afters" section at the bottom of the post). 

So the primary clause was at least somewhat true but since the subordinate clause was supposedly false the entire statement was ruled false.

In contrast to its treatment of the American Commitment ad, PolitiFact placed equal focus on the primary and subordinate clauses in the Obama campaign's ad and for good measure rates whether the adjective "Romney's" serves as a reasonable modifier for "companies" for purposes of blaming Romney for what the companies do.  The logic of the ruling is a tad difficult to unravel because the single rating tries to tackle three issues (bold emphasis added):
We find reasonable grounds for labeling the companies as "Romney’s." He was the founder of Bain and assembled a team that looked to make high returns. One strategy was to invest in companies that played off the trend in outsourcing. We make no judgment on whether outsourcing is good or bad. It was widely seen as profitable, and Bain selected companies that would succeed.

If picking a company makes it yours, then these were Romney’s companies and in a general sense, they did what he expected them to do. The one caveat is there is a gray area of direct accountability, because no one has reported that he was personally involved in managing those firms.

We find little evidence that the particular firms were "pioneers in outsourcing." The Obama campaign took the word from the Washington Post but used it as its own. Outsourcing was well established by the early 1990s, and firms were applying it in a variety of industrial areas. The Bain companies were among that group.

The Obama campaign's statement would have voters believe that Romney played a key role in driving the outsourcing phenomenon. We find that an exaggeration.

We rule the statement to be Half True.
So PolitiFact appears to say it's true that the Bain companies engaged in outsourcing.  And it's somewhat true that Romney is responsible for what the Bain companies do.  How much?  PolitiFact doesn't really say.  Nor does PolitiFact describe what degree of exaggeration occurs when the Obama campaign calls Romney's companies outsourcing pioneers.  Of course, there's not much of an ad without Romney's responsibility and the alleged pioneering.

Somehow PolitiFact concocts a "Half True" rating out of the above despite the fact that the primary clause is essentially false.

For review, PolitiFact held that the American Commitment ad contained a mostly true primary clause and a false subordinate clause.  The American Commitment ad received a "False" rating.

So it matters quite a bit which clause receives PolitiFact's focus.


Is the current CBO estimate of 10 years of the ACA twice the original estimate?

Yes.  But the claim involves a partially unfair comparison.

Obama proposed the health care reform bill based on a $900 billion price tag over the first 10 years.  Because the first few years institute relatively few of the reforms, the first few years do not accurately represent the long-term cost of the bill.  Republicans have criticized the use of that distortion by those selling the plan, since it hides the real cost of the plan when all of its provisions take effect.

Does that make it okay for Republicans to ignore that the estimates cover different 10-year periods?  Perhaps one could cobble together a complicated ethical justification for doing it.  But in terms of fact-checking, both Obama and his critics deserve the same treatment.  Neither told the whole story.

PolitiFact consistently leaves one of those distortions largely intact.

Correction:  Fixed a number of instances in the latter half of the post referring to the American Commitment ad as the "Romney ad."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

PolitiFact's use of experts

I'll keep this PolitiFact criticism short and sweet, using Monday's PolitiFact Florida rating of Sen. Marco Rubio as an example of a recurrent phenomenon.

We wondered where [Rubio] got his $800 billion tax total, as well as the validity of the idea that the law does not "discriminate between rich and poor." So we decided to check it out.
Time for some experts.  PolitiFact:
We consulted several experts, who disagreed on the best way to account for the law’s tax increases.

A couple experts said Rubio’s $800 billion figure is valid, even if it is out of date and does not account for billions in tax credits.
The $800 billion figure is valid according to two experts.  Therefore it makes perfect sense for PolitiFact to rule the statement "False."

PolitiFact arbitrarily dismissed the testimony of two experts.  Now that's fact checking.

What does expert testimony mean if one obtains varying testimony and then picks one view while dismissing the others?  Not much.  It's just another layer of bias--editorial bias--that helps show that PolitiFact can't be trusted.

Blue Lectroids in Jersey?

That's it! These red creatures, they somehow give off the bacteria, we breath it, it swims up our nose... to our cerebral cortex, where it literally talks to our brain cells, tells us to see exactly what they want us to see.
--New Jersey (Jeff Goldblum), "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension"
And these blue creatures--PolitiFact journalists--give off fact checks which literally talk to our brains and make use see exactly what they want us to see.  That is, they purport to fact check statements that the figure in question either did not make or clearly did not intend as interpreted by PolitiFact.

Raymond Bateman, former Republican state senator in New Jersey:  "New Jersey’s North-South political landscape during the Civil War was definitely mixed — remember that Cape May, Cumberland, Salem and part of Atlantic counties are all south of the Mason-Dixon line."

What the Blue Lectroids want you to hear"The Mason-Dixon line crossed into New Jersey."

Republican Senate candidate Joe Kyrillos:  "Here's the thing: our economy is not performing. We are not producing jobs. We created 80,000 jobs last month. We don't talk about the jobs that we lost. The net of it all is that we lost jobs. And so listen, raising taxes now in these times is not going to help with job creation."

What the Blue Lectroids want you to hear"We are not producing jobs."

It's not just PolitiFact New Jersey.  Made-up and sculpted claims occur regularly in the PolitiFact catalog across the states.

Don't trust the Blue Lectroids.

Bateman may have been a bit off with his description of New Jersey's racial history--the northern part of Jersey has a more significant history in the slave trade than the southern portion.  But there's no question at all that the southern part of New Jersey is south of the Mason-Dixon line, even if it is not directly south.

Kyrillos was obviously talking about the big picture, otherwise he doesn't directly contradict himself by flatly saying "We created 80,000 jobs last month."  The explanation from the Kyrillos campaign was coherent and sensible.  The U.S. has failed to recover all the jobs lost from the recession, and the present job recovery is the slowest in the post-WW2 era.  PolitiFact played the part of the pedant on this one.

Don't trust PolitiFact.

Update 7/18/2012:

Blue Lectroids also apparently monitor "Fox & Friends."

Fox News host Steve Doocy:  ""If you make more than $250,000 a year, (President Obama wants to) jack up your taxes about 5 percent.  But when you think about it, at $250,000 you only really take home about $125,000, which in some parts of the country, if you've got a couple of kids in college, is not much money."

What the Blue Lectroids want you to hear:  "Someone earning $250,000 pays half that in taxes."

PolitiFact wants us to forget that "take-home pay" means what you get after things like pension contributions and an employee's share of an insurance premium come out of a check.

Monday, July 16, 2012

PolitiFact exaggerates its reluctance to grade hyperbole

Sometimes PolitiFact just can't bring itself to rate a statement on its cheesy "Truth-O-Meter."  Last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said of Mitt Romney "He not only couldn’t be confirmed as a Cabinet secretary, he couldn’t be confirmed as a dog catcher, because a dog catcher — you’re at least going to want to look at his income tax returns."

PolitiFact couldn't flip the switch on the "Truth-O-Meter."  Sure, PolitiFact published an article stating that Reid was wrong, but no "Truth-O-Meter" rating came with the story.

So what's going on?

We recognize Reid was using hyperbole, so we won't put his claim to the Truth-O-Meter. But we thought it was worthwhile to examine if many government officials and candidates have to file their tax returns to qualify for their jobs.

Our conclusion: Reid was barking up the wrong tree.
PolitiFact has called three different statements from Republicans "hyperbole" just since January, rating each of them "Pants on Fire."  The case involving Reid stands as the only one where PolitiFact explicitly refrained from grading a hyperbolic statement.

Naturally I was confused upon reading the following from PolitiFact at its Facebook page:
Mark FitzSimmons ‎"We recognize Reid was using hyperbole, so we won't put his claim to the Truth-O-Meter. "

What? Wasn't the first pants on fire Biden referring to Bush as brain-dead? How is that not recognized as hyperbole?

PolitiFact Mark, you have a very good memory! It was after that check (and partly because of that check) that we decided on a policy against it.
It was after the Biden "brain-dead" fact check from 2007 that PolitiFact decided on a policy against grading hyperbole.

Here we are in 2012 and PolitiFact has graded about 20 claims it recognized as hyperbole.  All occurred subsequent to the Biden claim.  The most recent occurred on June 29, 2012.

Now I'm stuck trying to figure out a charitable interpretation for "It was after that check (and partly because of that check) that we decided on a policy against it."

Progress is slow.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

PolitiFact and the unimportance of accuracy in fact checking

If you disagree with a ruling, we encourage you to e-mail the writer or editor with your comments about our ruling.
--Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter

We strive to make our work completely accurate. When we think we make a mistake, we correct it if we feel like it and note it on the original item.
--The (annotated) Principles of PolitiFact

Is accuracy important in fact checking?

Most would say it is, I suspect.  My many criticisms of PolitiFact are peppered with the message that using the fact check label raises the necessary journalistic standard.

PolitiFact often seems strangely ambivalent about its standard of accuracy.  I occasionally send a message to the writer and/or editor of a PolitiFact story to point out problems.  Occasionally I get a warm reply.  Somewhat more often I get a defensive reply that does not address the issue.  And most commonly I receive no reply and the problem in the fact check goes unresolved.  Sometimes I post about my attempts to alert PolitiFact about its errors under the tag "Piquing PolitiFact."

And here's the latest example, in response to a PolitiFact story titled "Nancy Pelosi says 'everybody' will get more and pay less under the health care law":
Dear Jon Greenberg,
cc Angie Drobnic Holan

Perhaps my favorite thing about PolitiFact is the way it asks readers to point out problems with its stories while it proceeds to ignore the problems readers point out at an apparently very high rate.

But enough about me.  Let's talk about you.

You wrote:
PolitiFact has looked at Republican allegations that the law is bad because it will drive up premiums for most people and found those statements False.

Are you sure about that?  I found one example (rated "Pants on Fire," which I'd count as false to your benefit).  Perhaps you should include the citations in the sidebar if you're going to write such things.

You also wrote:

But in its study, the CBO number crunchers actually predict that a large number of people will want to buy better insurance. They would opt for a lower deductible, lower co-pays and a wider range of benefits. That personal choice would cause their total premiums to rise some 27 to 30 percent. For a policy covering just one person, the difference would be about $600 a year, before accounting for any of the subsidies the law provides; over half the people in the individual market would qualify for those subsidies.

The above obscures the meaning of the explanation you later quote from  Ed Haislmaier of the Heritage Foundation and runs largely counter to the explanation occurring in the CBO report (note the recurring term "requirement"):

The main elements of the legislation that would affect the amount of coverage purchased are the requirement that all new policies in the nongroup and small group markets cover at least a minimum specified set of benefits; the requirement that such policies have a certain minimum actuarial value; and the design of the federal subsidies, which would encourage many enrollees in the exchanges to join plans with an actuarial value above the required minimum. (The excise tax on high-premium plans would also affect the amount of coverage purchased; the impact of that tax is discussed in a separate section of this analysis.) Those provisions would have a much greater effect on premiums in the nongroup market than in the small group market, and they would have no measurable effect on premiums in the large group market.

Specifically, because of the greater actuarial value and broader scope of benefits that would be covered by new nongroup policies sold under the legislation, the average premium per person for those policies would be an estimated 27 percent to 30 percent higher than the average premium for nongroup policies under current law (with other factors held constant). The increase in actuarial value would push the average premium per person about 18 percent to 21 percent above its level under current law, before the increase in enrollees’ use of medical care resulting from lower cost sharing is considered; that induced increase, along with the greater scope of benefits, would account for the remainder of the overall difference.

The CBO counts two requirements and one personal choice.  You only mention personal choice and obscure the reason for it, that being people's well-understood tendency to spend more if they perceive that they're getting a good deal. The good deal comes primarily from subsidies.

Who cares?

You?  Angie Holan?

We'll see, won't we?

Bryan White
I sent the message on July 8.  Five full days later the Pelosi fact check continues to contain the same two apparent errors.

This type of result, in my experience, is typical of PolitiFact.

Correction 7/14/2012:  Supplied missing text just prior to the quoted email text.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

PolitiFlub: PolitiFact puts a price tag on ObamaCare

In fact, the CBO has said that overall the health care bill actually reduces government spending by about $124 billion over 10 years.
PolitiFact makes this claim in the context of a story about spending under the Accessible Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.

PolitiFact doesn't use "spending" normally, here.

People use "spending" to refer to outlays.  If you make $2000 per month and spend $1500 on rent and essentials while saving $500, your spending for the month is $1500.  PolitiFact would have you count your income against your expenses and find that you spent -$500 for the month.  But that's a budget surplus, not a reduction in spending.

It's misleading to present a budget surplus or deficit as a spending figure.

No serious person thinks the ACA reduces spending.

The closest to that we can get comes from crediting the ACA with reducing the increase in Medicare spending.  We'll ignore the cautions from Medicare's chief actuary that the projections are unrealistic.  Here's what the left-leaning Center for American Progress says about Medicare savings: 
$424.4 billion: The amount of federal deficit reduction from 2010 to 2019 due to changes in Medicare coverage and payment rules under ACA. These include limits on annual rate increases for hospitals and other health care providers.
Nothing else in the ACA suggests a decrease in federal spending.  It spends more on subsidies and more on Medicaid.  The federal government will spend more with the ACA than without.

This CBO report may represent the source of PolitiFact's claim:
In March 2010, CBO and JCT estimated that PPACA and the provisions of the Reconciliation Act related to health care would produce a net reduction in federal deficits of $124 billion over the 2010–2019 period as a result of changes in direct spending and revenues.
Drop the part about "revenues" and it makes for an ObamaCare-friendly soundbite.  The CBO figures the ACA as a deficit reducer not because of decreased federal spending but because of tax increases combined with the accounting trick (built into the CBO's standard methodology) of not foreseeing changes to statutorily mandated decreases in health care provider reimbursements under Medicare (see the "doc fix").  The CBO has to pretend that the "doc fix" will not occur even though it very probably will occur regularly.

PolitiFact's misstatement is the stuff of misleading political ads.  But they call it fact checking.


The inventor of Internet "Truth Goggles" continues to refine his product and his approach, yet this comment captured by the Nieman Journalism Lab gives cause for amusement:
Bill Adair, the editor of PolitiFact, said his operation is considering adopting the source code and building a PolitiFact-branded version of Truth Goggles.
O-kay, then.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Oh, that war on women

Jonathan Parker of Emily's list loaded my email box with a little reminder that it is Republicans who say Democrats are charging them with waging a "war on women."

Democrats don't say that.

Parker (bold emphasis in the original):
No one understands better than Mazie Hirono that it's women and families who benefit most from Obamacare. And Republicans have made killing this bill their top priority in the War on Women.
Got it.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Yet more bogus evidence from truth-hustler Chris Mooney

We should expect Chris Mooney to know something about science and epistemology.

Get used to disappointment.

I've classed Mooney as a "truth hustler."  Mooney, posing as a voice of reason, misleads people.  An article published today at "Desmogblog" serves as the latest example.

In the article, titled "More Evidence That Republicans Are More Factually Challenged Than Democrats," Mooney introduces us to the latest evidence:  Republicans fare worse than Democrats according to the past year's statistics from The Washington Post Fact Checker (Glenn Kessler).

What's wrong with that evidence?  Plenty.  And we'll let Mooney help explain it via contrast with a series of wrongheaded statements.

I ... needed evidence from the real world showing that, you know, conservatives or Republicans are more factually incorrect.

That’s where all the fact-checker data came in.

You see, we have paid professionals whose job it is to track just how wrong Democrats and Republicans are.
Mooney, intentionally or not, misses an important distinction.  Journalists are not paid to determine whether Democrats are differentially more wrong than Republicans or vice versa.  Fact-checking journalists are paid to produce stories that interest readers.  Toward that end, fact-checking journalists use editorial judgment to find potentially popular stories.

In scientific terms, fact checking journalists purposely employ a form of selection bias in choosing the data set they choose to fact check.

If Mooney's bio isn't filled with lies then he has to know about selection bias and its implications for would-be scientific conclusions.  A study that fails to control for selection bias provides poor evidence for any conclusion it attempts to support.

I find these fact-checker data particularly compelling, by the way, for the following reason: Neither PolitiFact nor Glenn Kessler (who writes the Post’s column), think of themselves as liberal partisans.
Lovely.  We might as well favor the findings of scientists who do not perceive their own bias.

If Kessler and the PolitiFact folks thought of themselves as partisan, maybe it would increase the chances they would institute controls on selection bias.  Mooney's self-confessed reassurance is misplaced.  In truth, the self-perception of bias is irrelevant.  A properly done study controls for bias so that the point of view of the researcher is irrelevant.  But Kessler and PolitiFact apparently do absolutely nothing to control for selection bias.
I would argue that both go too far in trying to ding Democrats and liberals, just to make themselves appear balanced (and, presumably, to keep getting their calls returned by the other side of the aisle). Therefore, if their data shows Republicans fare worse, that really says something.
As evidence, Mooney first presented his prediction that Kessler would react to the last half year's findings with a resulting change in the numbers indicating Kessler's attempt to correct for the potential perception of bias.

Mooney was wrong.  The new data looked pretty much like the old data.

Mooney, undaunted by the failure of his prediction, found even more reason to cleave to his theory.  After all, if the numbers look the same this year six months as last, doesn't this suggest that Kessler actually treated Democrats unfairly in order to obtain that result?

(T)he data are all the more striking in that I believe Kessler inflates the Democrat total, intentionally or otherwise.
At least Mooney tries to support his statement with evidence.  Unfortunately the evidence remains pathetically weak.

1)  Kessler gave President Obama four "Pinocchios" for misattributing a quotation to Rutherford B. Hayes.

2)  Kessler didn't even bother to rate Sarah Palin's statement that Paul Revere "warned the British."

Two anecdotes making up one comparison?  Seriously, that's all we get?

Mooney does make a late-breaking feint toward reason:
(G)iven that this difference does not appear to be a fluke, there has to be a reason for it to exist. And I agree, one could posit many explanations: Maybe there is a selection bias with respect to which items are being rated. Maybe Kessler himself is biased against Republicans.
Maybe there is a selection bias?

In science we expect researchers to take affirmative steps to eliminate selection bias.  Lacking evidence of such steps we assume that the evidence is tainted by selection bias, lest we draw unfounded conclusions.  Or if you're Chris Mooney just go ahead and draw the unfounded conclusion while allowing that maybe there's selection bias.

But the point is, there has to be an explanation. It just won’t do to say, as Kessler does, that since both Dems and Republicans score above Two Pinocchios, both ought to be ashamed of themselves. The data are telling us something more than that—something stronger than that.
The answer to the question isn't that tough.  The data are not designed to give us a dependable differential breakdown for the claims of Democrats against those of Republicans.  No serious researcher would try to answer that question while relying on left-leaning journalists with no control for selection bias.  But the data do have an obvious use.  The data directly measure how fact checkers choose subject matter.  Kessler and PolitiFact give us an excellent tool measuring their selection bias.  Add to that the ratings each fact checker provides and we end up with data that can help us measure media bias.

As for Chris Mooney, I can only wonder what cognitive processes he uses to either miss or de-emphasize the obvious.

Correction 7/10/2012:  The totals for Glenn Kessler's Pinocchio count apparent came from a six-month period rather than from a full year. The text was altered to reflect the shorter period of time.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Grading PolitiFact: Nancy Pelosi exempts ObamaCare from basic economics

“Even if you disagree, our articles will make you smarter.”
--attributed to PolitiFact editor Bill Adair by the Nashua Telegraph

The issue:

(clipped from PolitiFact.com)

The fact checkers:

Jon Greenberg:  writer, researcher
Angie Drobnic Holan:  editor


Why review PolitiFact's grading of Nancy Pelosi's truth-challenged statement when PolitiFact gives it a "False" rating and I don't think any "Pants on Fire" rating is fair?  It has to do with the epigraph above and a very recent PolitiFact Florida fact check of Gov. Rick Scott.

In short, PolitiFact misinforms.

First let's hit the transcript from "Meet The Press" (MSNBC, bold emphasis added):
DAVID GREGORY: Well, Republicans have said they won't waste any time to try to repeal this.  Is that fantasy from your point of view?

NANCY PELOSI: It's being the mouthpiece of the health insurance industry.  And we're saying let's not have them be in charge anymore.  Let the people be in charge of how they receive coverage and health care.  It's -- they'll bring it up, and when they bring it up they will ask for repeal, repeal of all the things I said that help children, help young adults, help seniors, help men or women who may have prostate cancer, breast cancer, whatever it is, any precondition.  And everybody will have lower rates, better quality care and better access.  So that's what they want to repeal, we're happy to have that debate.
Note to scouts:  Pelosi has trouble handling a softball down the center of the strike zone.

That last line is a bold statement, because "everybody" covers a lot of people. PolitiFact has looked at Republican allegations that the law is bad because it will drive up premiums for most people and found those statements False.
PolitiFact apparently neglected to publish its findings on those supposed Republican allegations.  Except maybe one.

But back to Pelosi and PolitiFact:
Pelosi’s statement allows us to make an assessment of the opposite point -- the law is good because everyone will save money.

The Congressional Budget Office is designed to be the neutral analytic arm of Congress, and its study on how the ACA will affect insurance premiums is widely seen as the gold standard when it comes to projections. We called Pelosi’s office for background on her claim, and they pointed us to a CBO analysis of the law.

Pelosi’s staff highlighted part of the report that states that for people who buy insurance on their own -- the individual market as it’s called -- rates will be 7 to 10 percent lower. Rates for those in the "small group" market will be 1 to 4 percent lower; and there will be little appreciable change for those in the "large group" market.
PolitiFact points out that the explanation from Pelosi's office misinterprets the report.  An average decrease doesn't necessarily indicate that all share the savings. PolitiFact then explains a separate  problem inaccurately (bold emphasis added):
Second, the CBO did this section of its analysis assuming that people would buy the same kind of insurance they do today, without the new law. So if they have a $5,000 deductible and limited coverage today, the CBO analysts compared that to the rate they would pay in 2016 to get that same coverage under the law.
Because the ACA changes minimum standards for insurance plans in exchanges, the report calculates according to what people would pay today if they had the type of coverage the CBO expects them to purchase in 2016.  Some of today's insurance plans won't qualify for an exchange offering, so it makes no sense to calculate according to plans that will not exist on the exchange.

PolitiFact immediately follows up with another flawed explanation (bold emphasis added):
(I)n its study, the CBO number crunchers actually predict that a large number of people will want to buy better insurance. They would opt for a lower deductible, lower co-pays and a wider range of benefits. That personal choice would cause their total premiums to rise some 27 to 30 percent. For a policy covering just one person, the difference would be about $600 a year, before accounting for any of the subsidies the law provides; over half the people in the individual market would qualify for those subsidies.
The above explanation is contrary to the one offered in the CBO report (bold emphasis added):
The main elements of the legislation that would affect the amount of coverage purchased are the requirement that all new policies in the nongroup and small group markets cover at least a minimum specified set of benefits; the requirement that such policies have a certain minimum actuarial value; and the design of the federal subsidies, which would encourage many enrollees in the exchanges to join plans with an actuarial value above the required minimum.
While PolitiFact sells the resulting higher premiums entirely as a personal choice, the CBO explains them as two parts requirement and one part personal choice.   The personal choice, as it happens, reflects the opportunity to use other people's money (the subsidy) to obtain a better relative value on one's own expense.  A New York Times blog explains it well:
The premium subsidies will be based on the price of the second-lowest-cost silver plan in a geographic area. If you sign up for that particular silver plan, you will pay no more than 9.5 percent of your income in premiums. But if you decide you want lower cost-sharing and want to spring for a pricier gold or platinum plan, you will be responsible for paying the difference between that silver plan premium and those of the more expensive plans, pushing your share of the premium over that 9.5 percent cap, said Jennifer Tolbert, a health policy expert at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Going with a more expensive plan may make sense, depending on your health, family medical history or other factors. “If they’re paying 20 percent of their income now for insurance, it may be worth it to pay 11 or 12 percent for a more generous plan on the exchange, because they’d get much better coverage,” Ms. Tolbert said.
And of course somebody has to pay for the subsidy in any case.

PolitiFact quoted Heritage Foundation's Ed Haislmaier regarding the tendency of subsidy recipients to upgrade their level of insurance but probably provided insufficient context for readers to properly understand what he was saying.

PolitiFact had Pelosi dead to rights on her trifecta of falsehood but ignored everything for the sake of the fact check except her claim about lower rates.  And then PolitiFact botched the reporting on that issue, making the ACA look better than it is.

Smarter.  Right.

The grades:

Jon Greenberg:  F
Angie Drobnic Holan:  F


Pelosi completely misrepresents CBO data and gets a "False" rating from PolitiFact.  Rick Scott accurately represents CBO data and gets a "Mostly False" rating because he supposedly left out a huge amount of critical context.

The ratings make perfect sense in a liberally biased kind of way.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Grading PolitiFact (Florida): Rick Scott and rising insurance premiums under ObamaCare

PolitiFact regularly engages in prodigious spin on behalf of the health care reform bill.  The following case featuring Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and PolitFact's state operation in Florida serves as just one example among many.

The issue:

(clipped from PolitiFact.com)

The fact checkers:

Katie Sanders:  writer, researcher
Angie Drobnic Holan:  editor


PolitiFact quotes Rick Scott:
"(W)e know the Congressional Budget Office said if you’re going to buy your own policy with these exchanges you’ll be paying 10 percent more, or a family will. So about $2,100 more for a family. So you’re going to pay more with these exchanges."
PolitiFact finds that Scott spoke accurately:
As Scott said, CBO expected the average premium per person in new individual policies would rise 10 percent to 13 percent in 2016 compared with where it was before the law took effect.

In this market, average premiums per policy in this market would be about $5,800 for single policies (a $300 increase) and $15,200 for families (a $2,100 increase -- just like Scott said), according to CBO (pages 5 and 6).

If only the report ended there.

The third paragraph hints at significant caveats, especially since we note from the graphic at the top of the story that Scott receives a "Mostly False" rating.  Before we move on, however, note that Scott used the conservative end of the CBO estimate to back his statement.  He used 10 percent instead of 13 percent.  Sometimes PolitiFact uses such factors to award extra credit.  Apparently not this time.

Now for some mighty PolitiFact spin.

PolitiFact explains that using an "apples to apples" comparison in the same CBO report leads to the CBO's conclusion that the provisions of the PPACA lead to a net savings of 7 to 10 percent on the average premium.  The "apples to apples" comparison shows that the exchange system does provide some features that reduce insurance premiums.  The CBO report estimates that for equivalent plans the exchange would save 7-10 percent compared to current law.  Of course the exchanges require much higher levels of insurance, than the current average, and this spikes the cost of premiums.

The CBO's estimate of  the ACA's effect on nongroup insurance premiums

The CBO's chart makes clear that the increase in premiums stems from increases in insurance coverage.  Curiously, PolitiFact calls this a benefit:
People will pay more, but it will be for a bigger swath of benefits. The law requires insurance companies to offer an "essential health benefits" package that would mirror benefits people get through employer plans.
People receive benefits from insurance when their insurance pays for something.  A healthy person who goes to the doctor once per year for 10 years regardless of insurance coverage is not receiving any additional benefit from insurance coverage.  The person is paying much more for the same benefits.

PolitiFact actually refers to coverage when it refers to benefits.  The expanded scope of health coverage primarily enables the government to expand the pool of people paying for insurance so that healthy people who do not have an immediate need of insurance will help pay the benefits of others--a much wider swath of benefits.  In short, overall medical costs go way up while the premium costs per individual go down.  This from a bill that was sold as a means of controlling rising medical costs.  It doesn't do much at all to control costs.  Instead, it coerces the people into paying for higher overall costs.  And the bill contains measures that shift  costs from those who present the biggest risk to those with thicker wallets.

Where does that leave us on this fact check?  PolitiFact charges Scott with leaving things out, and we'll address those charges individually.

Many (CBO estimates 57 percent) seeking nongroup insurance through state exchanges would receive subsidies.

Scott specifically referred to persons paying for their own insurance through the exchanges, which implicitly acknowledges subsidies.  The availability of subsidies through the exchanges should be common knowledge.  It's hard to see why PolitiFact should fault Scott for this omission, especially when the subsidies drive overall costs up instead of bringing them down.  Insurance subsidies represent progressive partial free riding.

Though the insured pay more, they receive a "bigger swath of benefits"

PolitiFact tries to make this seem like a huge benefit, but it's kind of like getting an expensive Buick when all you really need is a Kia.  There's no more Kia.  The Buick is the new entry-level automobile.  And maybe the Buick has leather upholstery, but then again maybe you're a vegan (celibates paying for contraception and pregnancy insurance).  Again,. there's no reason why Scott should need to provide this detail.  He's giving reasons why he's not setting up an exchange.  His objections have to do with overall cost and the priorities of Floridians.  When everyone's driving a Buick, people are paying more for transportation even if Buick drops its prices down to wholesale.

Exchanges do help lower costs in an "apples to apples" comparison

To the extent that Gov. Scott's statement suggests that exchanges do nothing to encourage cost reductions, PolitiFact has a point.  Buick dealers can compete against each other to provide the lowest-cost Buick and that competition does have an effect, not to mention economies of scale.  But Scott emphasizes overall health care costs, so he is justified in keeping the emphasis on the overall increase in premiums.

"People purchasing their own health insurance comprise less than one-fifth of the market"

People who are not purchasing their own health insurance are not purchasing it through an exchange, so this point is irrelevant.  There's no reason for Scott to mention it, since he's giving reasons for not setting up a state exchange.  In fact, the smaller the share of the market, arguably the greater justification Scott has for not setting up an exchange.

PolitiFact routinely asserts that Scott leaves out important information.  PolitiFact routinely leaves out the justification for calling the information important.  Scott's omissions were of borderline relevance at most.

Scott said that the Congressional Budget Office said people would pay 10 percent more for policies on the exchange, "so about $2,100 more for a family." What he doesn’t say is that these policies will have to offer comprehensive coverage. So people will pay more, but they’re also get more benefits. Additionally, the federal government will offer subsidies to many of these people to cut the cost.

It’s also important to remember the CBO’s "apples-to-apples" comparison. According to the agency, people in the individual market will actually pay less for the required amount of benefits under the Affordable Care Act than they would for those same benefits under old policies.

We rate Scott’s statement Mostly False.
Note that while Scott emphasized overall medical costs to the state of Florida and its people, PolitiFact's objections all center around costs to the individual.  PolitiFact ignored Scott's central point and graded him according to a standard that failed to respect the context of his remarks.

The "Truth-O-Meter" ruling, as is so often the case, represents an absurdity.  PolitiFact defines "Mostly False" as a statement that "contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."  But Scott's statement does not simply contain an element of truth.  His statement is perfectly accurate and even takes the lower premium increase estimate from the CBO report.  None of PolitiFact's caveats alter the impression that a family paying for its own insurance faces a 10 percent hike, unless it shows that the CBO said the hike might end up at 13 percent instead.

This case points up again that despite PolitiFact's continued assertions that "words matter" it makes a great big exception for itself when it comes to defining the "Truth-O-Meter" grades.

Scott's statements were more truthful than PolitiFact's, using the same measure.

The grades:

Katie Sanders:  F
Angie Drobnic Holan:  F

This story reads like a PPACA apologetic, not like a fact check.  The PolitiFact team substituted its own point for Gov. Scott's point and graded Scott according to the result.  That's a wrong approach for fact checking, as PolitiFact admits in its statement of principles:
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.
PolitiFact may think it grand that everyone in the exchange gets a good deal on a Buick, but that doesn't undermine Scott's point that getting everyone a Buick imposes a heavy burden in terms of cost.


Friday, July 06, 2012

PolitiFact fishing for Romney error?

There's something fishy about PolitiFact's July 3 fact check of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Fishy fact checks are common at PolitiFact, but the stench this time comes from a less common source:  The key quotation is missing from the story.

PolitiFact (bold emphasis added):
Mitt Romney likes to draw a straight line between environmental regulations and the jobs they cost. That was the thrust of his statement at a Frankenmuth, Mich., campaign event on June 19, 2012.  Romney said Oklahoma lost out on a plant that Dow Chemical ended up building in Saudi Arabia.

Citing a conversation he'd had with a person from Dow, Romney told his audience at a business roundtable, "They said they couldn't rely on the natural gas here given the environmental regulation and whether it would be an abundant supply and reliable or not."
PolitiFact writer Jon Greenberg cited a transcript of the business roundtable Romney attended in Michigan.  So why no quotation? 

Upon investigation, perhaps we get no quotation because that gives the reader too much information.

A video of the roundtable is available at electad.com.  Romney makes the comments PolitiFact found interesting at about the 12:45 mark of the video.  My transcript follows (bold emphasis added):
"Yeah, I heard from Dow Chemical, they just did, they announced a major facility in I believe it's Saudi Arabia, they were looking at building it in Oklahoma but they said we couldn't rely on the natural gas here, the environmental regulation and whether it would be an abundant supply and reliable or not."
Greenberg fact checks whether a Dow Chemical plant planned for Saudi Arabia was planned for Oklahoma.  But Romney clearly indicated his uncertainty that the facility for which Oklahoma was in the running ended up in Saudi Arabia.

Is Greenberg hiding the ball from his readers?

Greenberg remains fixed on Romney's tentative recollection of the Saudi Arabia facility:
But Romney wasn’t highlighting a Dow project by itself. He was saying it could have happened in Oklahoma. We asked the Romney campaign to back up the claim that Dow had picked Saudi Arabia over Oklahoma for reasons related to the natural gas supply. We never heard back.

We asked Dow if Oklahoma had ever been in the running as a possible location for that facility. The company never responded to that direct question.
Greenberg supplies sufficient reporting to make it appear unlikely the facility in Saudi Arabia was ever a possibility for Oklahoma.  But he spends apparently no time at all exploring other possibilities where Romney expressed uncertainty.  The PolitiFact story mentions a new plant in Freeport, Texas as part of an effort to take advantage of cheap natural gas reserves.  Why not explore that avenue?

Business Insider, April 12, 2012:
My friend who has been running hedge fund money for years had this to say:
“Nat Gas could go to zero. Gas is a byproduct of drilling for oil. With US oil still worth $100+ a barrel, the drilling will continue, and more gas will be the result.”

“There are many things that are changing due to the cheap Nat. gas. Companies that are running short haul truck routes out of central locations are converting to gas. Chemical companies that use natural gas as a feedstock are seeing new opportunities. The first new ethylene plant (plastic from natural gas) in many years will be built in Oklahoma. This plant was going to be built in Mexico, but cheap gas has brought it back home.”
I'm not going to try to do Greenberg's reporting for him.  But it seems possible that Oklahoma could host an ethylene cracking facility, for example, and that Dow may have initially considered Oklahoma as part of the expansion based in Freeport.

It looks like Greenberg either ignored his reporter's instincts or else had no such instincts to ignore.

Editors Aaron Sharockman and Bill Adair failed to bridge the gap.