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Once Again, PolitiFact Struggles to Explain Data Showing They Treat GOP Unfairly

1:42 PM, May 31, 2013 • By MARK HEMINGWAY
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The Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University is out with a new study on media fact checkers, and unsurprisingly, their results suggest that PolitiFact has it out for Republicans. Dylan Byers at Politico summarized CMPA's findings:

The fact-checking organization PolitiFact has found Republicans to be less trustworthy than Democrats, according to a new study.

Fifty-two percent of Republican claims reviewed by  the Tampa Bay Times fact-checking operation were rated "mostly false," “false” or “pants on fire,” versus just 24 percent of Democratic statements, according to George Mason University's Center for Media and Public Affairs. By the same token, 54 percent of Democratic statements were rated as "mostly true" or "true," compared to just 18 percent of Republican statements.

The CMPA looked at 100 statements -- 46 by Democrats, 54 by Republicans -- that were fact-checked by PolitiFact between January 20 and May 22.

PolitiFact head Bill Adair was compelled to respond to the new report and sent this statement to Politico:

PolitiFact rates the factual accuracy of specific claims; we do not seek to measure which party tells more falsehoods.

The authors of this press release seem to have counted up a small number of our Truth-O-Meter ratings over a few months, and then drew their own conclusions.

We've rated more than 7,000 statements since we started in 2007. We are journalists, not social scientists. We select statements to fact-check based on our news judgment -- whether a statement is timely, provocative, whether it's been repeated and whether readers would wonder if it is true.

Adair's statement is lawyerly and bordering on dishonest. CMPA did not draw their own conclusions—they simply tallied up all of PolitiFact's ratings during a specific time period to get a representative sample. All the CMPA did was present relevant data, they most certainly did not "draw their own conclusions." (You can read the full release on the study by CMPA here. It's very straightforward.) Ironically, the big problem with PolitiFact is that they claim to make psuedoscientific judgments about the "facts" and frequently end up drawing their own erroneous conclusions. It's both telling and unsurprising that they'd be confronted with raw data about their organization from an academic study and dispute it as being slanted.

This is also not the first academic study that concluded PolitiFact might be putting their thumb on the scale when it comes to selecting and evaluating political statements. Last year, during the height of campaign season, the CMPA tallied up PolitiFact ratings. That study also showed PolitiFact tends to be much harder on Republicans:

The study examined 98 election-related statements by the presidential candidates, their surrogates, and campaign ads fact-checked by PolitiFact.com from June 1 to September 11. Major findings:

PolitiFact checked the assertions of Democrats slightly more often than those of Republicans (54% vs. 46% of all statements).

However, PolitiFact rated Democratic statements as “mostly true” or “entirely true” about twice as often as Republican statements -- 42% true ratings for Democrats vs. 20% for Republicans.

Conversely, statements by Republicans were rated as entirely false about twice as often as Democratic statements – 29% false ratings for GOP statements vs. 15% false ratings for Democrats. (This includes categories labeled “false” and “pants on fire.”)

Further, the University of Minnesota School of Public Affairs looked at over than 500 PolitiFact stories from January 2010 through January 2011. Their conclusion:

Current and former Republican officeholders have been assigned substantially harsher grades by the news organization than their Democratic counterparts. In total, 74 of the 98 statements by political figures judged 'false' or 'pants on fire' over the last 13 months were given to Republicans, or 76 percent, compared to just 22 statements for Democrats (22 percent).

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