PolitiFact has a pretty terrible and rather partisan history of Obamacare fact checks. However, there's one, in particular, about Obamacare that remains especially puzzling. It's the "half-true" rating the organization gave when President Obama promised that, If you like your health insurance, you can keep your health insurance under Obamacare. This was not a casually tossed-off statement by the president, either. It was made repeatedly and quite deliberately in an attempt to sell America on Obamacare.
And yet, in 2009 PolitiFact rated Obama's statement "If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan" as "half true." And last year, PolitiFact rated the statement, "If you're one of the more than 250 million Americans who already have health insurance, you will keep your health insurance," as "half true" again.
Now PolitiFact explains the rationale for their rulings in both cases, but I suspect it won't do much to persuade anyone. The first ruling even explicitly states, "Barack Obama promises you can keep your health insurance, but there's no guarantee." If they're acknowledging that's the case, how can PolitiFact say it's even partially true? The president's promise was an absolute promise. If even a few Americans were losing their insurance -- let alone 16 million -- it would be untrue.
Interestingly enough, PolitiFact rated Mitt Romney "False" last year for the statement "Obamacare … means that for up to 20 million Americans, they will lose the insurance they currently have, the insurance that they like and they want to keep." PolitiFact dinged Romney, perhaps fairly, for the suggestion that everyone losing their insurance would want to keep it. Still, a generous reading would allow that the vast majority of people in the individual insurance market are probably not grateful Obamacare is doing away with many affordable insurance options. And based on what we know now about people losing their insurance due to Obamacare, Romney's statement about "up to 20 million" losing their health insurance is certainly much closer to being "half-true" than "if you like your health insurance you can keep it."
PolitiFact's "half-true" ratings of Obama's promise that Americans could keep their health insurance under Obamacare were indefensible at the time they were made. And in light of what we know now about millions of Americans losing their health insurance, these ratings should be a four-alarm trouser conflagration. Yet, PolitiFact hasn't updated their rulings to acknowledge that the president's repeated promise is demonstrably untrue. Updating and correcting your stories when new facts emerge that contradict your reporting -- and that word should be used very loosely here, given PolitiFact's shoddy and partisan track-record -- is the bare minimum one can expect of responsible journalists. PolitiFact pretends to sit in judgment of other journalists, yet they've proven again and again that they themselves do not abide by basic standards of journalism.
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.
Earlier today, I wrote a lengthy critique pointing out the inconvenient fact that PolitiFact's Lie of the Year -- "The Romney campaign's ad on Jeeps made in China" -- turns out to be true. It involves a lot of complicated back and forth, so I encouage you to read that post if you're not familiar with what's going on. But the thrust of the matter is that the Romney campaign ran an ad saying that Jeep, the recipient of a taxpayer bailout, was going to start producing cars in China.
Last month, PolitiFact selected its "Lie of the Year." Given PolitiFact's dubious record of singling out Republicans for lying far more often than Democrats, you probably could have guessed the winner of this particular sweepstakes was a Mitt Romney campaign ad:
The Tampa Bay Times, the paper that puts out (and funds) the supposedly unbiased PolitiFact, has just enthusiastically endorsed President Obama for a second term. The Timeswrites that “[w]ithout hesitation” it “recommends Barack Obama for re-election as president.” The paper cites Obama’s “steady leadership.” It’s no wonder the Times is backing Obama.
After staring in some amazement at PolitiFact’s ostensibly unbiased rulings on the truthfulness of various statements made during Wednesday night’s presidential debate, I finally realized what the problem is: PolitiFact’s self-described Truth-O-Meter is clearly broken. Thankfully, however, it’s broken in a way that’s both predictable and fixable. You see, if you simply turn the Truth-O-Meter two notches to the right for any claim made by a Republican, and two notches to the left for any claim made by a Democrat, its reading actually becomes surprisingly accurate.
Yesterday, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. the heads of all of the major media "fact checking" organizations convened for a panel discussion. On the panel were PolitiFact editor Bill Adair, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler, the Associated Press's Jim Drinkard, and it was moderated by Brooks Jackson of FactCheck.org.
Yesterday, I wrote a lengthy blog post taking PolitiFact to task for their shamelessly skewed "fact checks" on the Romney-Ryan health care plans. And as it happens, I woke up today and National Review has an excellent editorial on the same topic. It's worth reading in full, but this part was as amusing as it was discrediting:
Perhaps if we all ignore PolitiFact, they'll go away. But for the time being, the supposedly independent organization continues to crank out skewed and partisan work. There's no better example of this than the the current jihad the "fact checking" organization is waging against the Romney-Ryan health care plan.
I know those of you masochistic enough to pay close attention to media fact checkers aren't going to be surprised by this, but Media Trackers, a nonpartisan watchdog, combed through the personal Twitter feed of PolitiFact Ohio writer Tom Feran and found he's a pretty vocal liberal. You can review the evidence here, but it turns out that he's not a fan of George W. Bush, refers to conservatives as "wingnuts" and "yahoos," and tweets out links to blog postings on the "The Cancer of Conservatism." On the other hand, Feran is an enthusiastic Obama supporter—"Go-bama!"—and supporter of Occupy Wall Street.
The Romney campaign is none too happy with PolitiFact at the moment, issuing a blistering response to a recent fact checking item on a campaign talking point. As a response to Democrats' "war on women" rehetoric, the presumed GOP presidential nominee's press secretary pointed out that under Obama's presidency, women account for 92.3 percent of the job losses. This kind of statement—a bold claim involving an actual statistic—is catnip to media fact checkers.
Before I explain why PolitiFact is once again being deliberately misleading, grossly incompetent, or some hellbroth of these distinguishing characteristics, you'll have bear with me. Part of the reason PolitiFact gets away with being so shoddy is that it counts on its readers believing that it can be trusted to explain any necessary context to justify its status as judge, jury, and factual executioner. So first, some background.
A lot of people are buzzing about this blog post by Tom Bruschino, assistant professor of history at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Bruschino was contacted by PolitiFact and asked to weigh in on Mitt Romney's claim that "Our navy is smaller than it's been since 1917. Our air force is smaller and older than any time since 1947."
In tonight’s debate, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum both questioned whether Mitt Romney actually governed in a pro-life fashion, even after his public conversion on abortion. Both claimed that Romney’s health care law increased access to taxpayer-subsidized abortion. Romney denied any culpability, replying, “That was done by the courts.” Fortunately, PolitiFact has looked into this matter on more than one occasion.