Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Politifacts Are Apparently Not Stubborn Things

As Adam Serwer astutely points out, the only reason there is such a thing as Politifact is because the mainstream media has abdicated what should be its responsibility -- objectively fact-checking the statements made by politicians and determining their validity.   The media's commitment to balance, or as Eric Alterman puts it "the time-honored MSM tactic of false equivalence," has left a void in the political discourse filled by fact-checkers tasked with determining what is true and what is false.  But since Politifact picked Republican talking points as the "Lie of the Year" in each of the past two years, it felt pressure to pick a Democratic one this time around.  So, as Serwer states, to avoid another avalanche of conservative criticism, Politifact has "proven that fact-checking organizations are themselves vulnerable to the very problem that spurred their existence in the first place: A media tradition of 'objectivity" in which 'fairness' to competing sides of an argument overwhelm journalists' commitment to reporting what is true, and what is not."  -- Lovechilde

 Politifact Kills Its Credibility

By Dave Johnson, cross-posted from Campaign for America's Future

If you take a government program, change everything about it, destroy its core purpose, but keep the same name, is it the same program? Politifact.com says yes, and even goes so far as to say it is "The Lie Of The Year" to say it isn't -- because it still has the same name.

Early this year Republicans voted to privatize Medicare, ending it as a government insurance program, instead giving limited vouchers to people to use to purchase private insurance. Everything about the program would change, and because of the loss of economy-of-scale that government provides the costs to seniors would be much higher while the coverage would be lower. This would effectively end the program.

Americans were outraged by this. People love Medicare, and depend on it. And the cost-shifting these changes would bring mean that the cost to the larger economy would greatly increase. But since government wasn't paying those costs anymore, the pressure to raise taxes on the 1% would go down.

People took up arms that Republicans were trying to end Medicare. Newspaper editorials expressed shock and outrage. Bloggers were angry. Politicians pledged to run against Republicans who voted for this plan to end Medicare.

Enter Politifact.com

Politifact.com's About page says, "PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times and its partners to help you find the truth in politics." The look at statements, research the facts, "then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter – True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False and False."

Politifact examined the statements that Republicans voted to "end Medicare" and decided this was a "lie" -- because the program would continue to have the same name. This week Politicat doubled down on this absurd conclusion, saying that claiming the program would end is the "Lie Of The Year."

That's right, they say it is "The Lie Of The Year" to say that a program ends, as long as there still exists a program with the same name. 

The Kicker

How did Politifact decide that this is the lie of the year? Digby explains, in Paul Ryan Stuffed The PolitiFact Ballot Box, that Rep. Paul Ryan rigged this by sending people to vote at Politifact. She writes,
Unfortunately, the Villagers will be gleefully using this as proof that their dreamy young idol Paul Ryan is a good guy after all but it's probably a good idea to demand another source for anyone who cites Politifact on the veracity of any claim going forward. This will make it easier on the Republicans in the beginning, since they actually make a profit at their lying, but in the long run it will be for good. Clearly Politifact can't tell the difference between a lie and and a fact and is subject to obvious right wing manipulation.
Others Weigh In

Paul Krugman: Politifact, R.I.P.: "This is really awful. Politifact, which is supposed to police false claims in politics, has announced its Lie of the Year — and it’s a statement that happens to be true, the claim that Republicans have voted to end Medicare."

Steve Benen: PolitiFact ought to be ashamed of itself: "This is simply indefensible. Claims that are factually true shouldn’t be eligible for a Lie of the Year designation."

Jason Linkins at Huffington Post: Politifact Has Decided That A Totally True Thing Is The "Lie Of The Year," For Some Reason

Ben Adler at The Nation: Politifact Peddles Falsehood About Ryan Plan to Privatize Medicare
But Politifact, an independent organization associated with the St. Petersburg Times, chose instead a claim that placed third in their poll, thanks to an effort by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to stuff the ballots. The only problem? The big “lie” is true. "Republicans voted to end Medicare,” by the the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other Democrats, is the winner, despite the fact that Republicans did indeed vote to end Medicare when they voted for Ryan’s budget.
Politifact.com has ended its credibility.


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