Until you see fact-checking done: Fact-checking seems like a great idea—until you see fact-checking done.
Many people have pounded Politifact for this fact-check of Obama’s State of the Union Address—a fact-check the site has already adjusted, quite poorly.
As usual, the increasingly hapless site did a fairly good job assembling information about the statement they were checking. The problems occurred when they gave the fact-checked statement a rating.
In case you don’t already know: Even at the amended post, this is the statement Politifact says it was checking:
“In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.”That statement constitutes the headline atop the Politifact post. That is the statement the prize-winning site says it was fact-checking.
Obama said it; Politifact checked. And sure enough! Each part of the statement was found to be accurate, as you can see if you read Politifact’s report. But uh-oh! In its initial post, Politifact rated Obama’s statement “half true.”
After complaints, they amended their judgment. As matters stand, the quoted statement is rated “mostly true.”
What is supposed to be wrong with that statement? Why isn’t the statement just flat-out “True?” Reading between the lines and around a few corners, Politifact thinks Obama was giving his own policies credit for those job gains—and they think that’s a bit of a stretch. These are the parts of his statement which spooked them: “In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect.” (Italics ours.)
Was Obama taking credit for the job growth? You can torture that thought from his text, although we’d say some torture is needed. But even if you take that route, both parts of the quoted, headlined statement remain flat-out accurate: True!
Politifact did a decent job presenting the relevant background information. But as we have noted in the past, the conceptual skills just aren’t strong at this prize-winning site. In the current instance, if they felt Obama was trying to take too much credit, they could have rated his statement like this:
“True (with one minor caveat).”
We think that rating would show excessive concern about Obama’s credit-grab. But at least it would recognize the obvious: The claims which appear in Politifact’s headline were, in fact, found to be accurate!
Fact-checking seems like a good idea—until you see people do it! We had a similar reaction after reading Glenn Kessler’s State of the Union fact-check at the Washington Post.
Kessler offered “a guide through some of President Obama’s more fact-challenged claims, in the order in which he made them.” But people! This is the fifth such claim by Obama, with Kessler’s fact-check shown in full:
“A few weeks ago, the CEO of Master Lock told me that it now makes business sense for him to bring jobs back home. Today, for the first time in fifteen years, Master Lock’s unionized plant in Milwaukee is running at full capacity.”“This is true,” Kessler said. We have no idea why the statement he quoted would be included in a list of Obama’s “more fact-challenged claims.”
This is true. An interesting article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this month explains that costs in China have risen because of labor unrest, higher shipping rates—and weakening of the yuan against the dollar because of political pressure by the United States.
Except maybe we do. Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly—and sometimes, do fact-checkers have to find errors? We thought Kessler picked several nits in other parts of his post. Sometimes, being cast in the role of fact-checker may make us feel that we have to find piles of bum facts.
Then there was Rachel Maddow, taking revenge on Politifact, her nemesis. She’s a former Rhodes Scholar, but you’d never know it! She clowned and performed, as she constantly does—and played it dumb in the process.
Rachel didn’t seem to have any idea what Politifact’s reasoning was. We thought the site’s reasoning process was weak—but at least we told you what it was. We didn’t attempt to con (and please) you in the clowning way this TV star did. (To watch her perform, just click this. Do not throw fish to the seals!)
A week or so back, the public editor at the New York Times wrote a pair of barely coherent posts asking if the Times should do more fact-checking in its news reports. (Or something.)
We liberals screeched and wailed: Of course they should do more fact-checking! This editor’s posts were hard to parse. But few of his critics seemed aware of the pitfalls involved when reporters are told to “check facts.”
The press corps’ skills are very poor. Fact-checking seems like a great idea—until you see it done.