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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Fact Checking PolitiFact

PolitiFact, started at the St. Petersburg Times and then franchised out to other newspapers including The Providence Journal, has been the subject of critique here before, Media Bias In Action: Providence Journal Politicizes PolitiFact:
In these latest examples the circumstances are virtually identical -- both candidates voted against a law they generally supported because the laws were overly broad and would have unintended consequences -- but the ratings applied are much more favorable to [Democrat] Cicilline.

In all of the cases above, the ProJo's substantive analysis was pretty accurate and fair. The problem is the rating was not fairly applied, which of course is what people focus on.
Now Eric Ostermeier of Smart Politics (via HotAir) has undertaken a study of PolitiFact use of the "False" and "Pants on Fire" ratings and finds a similar anti-Republican bias by focusing on which statements the newspapers chose to fact check. 

This is an even more critical flaw in the PolitiFact system, because accepting that both sides will make false statements, the use of PolitiFact could be manipulated if more Republican false statements were chosen.

The results were startling:
"A Smart Politics content analysis of more than 500 PolitiFact stories from January 2010 through January 2011 finds that 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)." ...
But this potential selection bias - if there is one at PolitiFact - seems to be aimed more at Republican officeholders than conservatives per se.

An examination of the more than 80 statements PolitiFact graded over the past 13 months by ideological groups and individuals who have not held elective office, conservatives only received slightly harsher ratings than liberals.

Half of the statements made by conservatives received ratings of Pants on Fire (12.5 percent), False (16.1 percent), or Barely True (21.4 percent), compared to 41 percent for liberals.
PolitiFact may claim it is neutral, but it is hard to explain the clearly harsher treatment given Republican officeholders versus Republican non-officeholders, and certainly versus Democrats.

Perhaps we need to create a fact check system for PolitiFact.

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  1. Liberal response:

    This isn't bias, Republicans just lie more! Right... right?

  2. Or, maybe Republicans should stop lying all the time?

  3. If a site says they exist to be an unbiased font of information... you can be pretty dang sure they'll have a clear bias.

  4. Sadly, this is my hometown newspaper, and slants so liberal that it's sideways. Politifact has never been objective and was never designed to be.

  5. The army of Davids approach is afoot.