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PolitiFact’s abortion “fact-checking” is really political hackery

by | Aug 14, 2015

By Calvin Freiburger

PolitiFact-Pants-on-Fire-640x3721When we last checked PolitiHack’s… er… PolitiFact’s “fact-checking” on abortion, we found they were actually cherry-picking numbers to falsely deny that the country’s opinion on abortion has been souring. Sadly, a review of their reporting on presidential candidates and abortion since then shows that facts still take a backseat to the agenda.

Most recently, they rated “Half-True” Marco Rubio’s debate statement that “The idea that a minor… cannot get a tattoo without parental consent — but can get an abortion without parental consent — is just mind-shattering for the vast majority of Americans.” After reviewing the laws of each state, they concluded Rubio only “has a good argument for about 11 states” (even though they come close to admitting that the judicial bypass provisions of 37 states render their parental requirements essentially meaningless).

But whatever the numbers amount to is beside the point. PolitiFact’s headline statement presents “A minor cannot get a tattoo without parental consent but can get an abortion without parental consent” as a complete statement by Rubio when in reality the words immediately preceding and following it make clear he wasn’t even claiming that was the case everywhere, but only criticizing the hypocrisy of the viewpoint. That’s not a half-false statement; it’s a statement with zero falsehood.

Earlier, they called Rubio’s claim to have “never said that or advocated that” abortion laws make exceptions for rape or incest “Mostly False” because he’s supported bills with such exceptions before. As the senator himself explained, that’s nonsense because supporting a bill that only gets you part of what you want isn’t the same as actively opposing the rest of what you want. PolitiFact includes Rubio’s explanation and admits that “we could find no evidence that Rubio has generally favored those types of exceptions, and we couldn’t find him specifically advocating for them.”

In a sane world, this would be enough for a “True” rating, or at least “Mostly True.” But when your job is fact-wrecking rather than fact-checking, it adds up to “Mostly False” because “Rubio’s claim has an element of truth, but it leaves out important details.” The most charitable possible response to this is that they’re being petty about the semantic differences between “advocate” and “accept,” and that whether one amounts to the other is a value judgment beyond the scope of empirically-based fact-checking. Feel charitable toward PolitiFact’s motives? Given their track record on the subject, me neither.

On August 7, they examined Hillary Clinton’s claim that Scott Walker “left women across the state stranded with nowhere else to turn” for medical care by defunding Planned Parenthood. PolitiFact noted that the reductions in PP’s state funding led to the closure of several locations, but admitted that the Wisconsin budget still allocated the money for use by other providers. (They missed, however, alternate providers of low-income care in the communities where Planned Parenthoods closed, like my hometown of Fond du Lac.)

And yet, Clinton’s attack gets a “Half True” because Walker supposedly reduced women’s options, but she “goes too far” in saying Wisconsin women have “nowhere” to seek care. This is one of the more insidious ways PolitiFact’s bias sneaks in even while they’re ostensibly criticizing a Democrat. They marked down Rubio’s statements for not conforming to an absolute that he never posited, yet here Clinton is making an absolute claim—“nowhere”—and they’re not judging it like one. If somebody alleges that low-income women’s health care is completely gone in a state, and it is not, in fact, completely gone, that allegation isn’t “Half True” or “partially accurate.” It’s false.

While we might still disagree, there would at least be a defensible consistency to keeping Rubio’s tattoo claim “Half True” yet demoting Clinton’s “nowhere” to “False,” or keeping Clinton’s the same and upgrading Rubio to “True.” But that might hurt their efforts to make Republicans look worse and Democrats better.

Finally, last month PolitiFact criticized as “Mostly False” Walker’s claim that the “odds are pretty high” that someone who sees an ultrasound will opt against abortion. They argued that while “some evidence” backs Walker, “no independent studies” do so, and the “latest academic study we found shows that nearly all women who are more certain about their decision proceed with an abortion even after seeing the ultrasound.”

Funny, they missed a few things, namely that the study they’re talking about was sponsored by Planned Parenthood and the data collected by the abortion giant’s personnel at a single one of their facilities. And if they went looking for more “independent studies,” it’s funny that they missed this one, in which Mark Gius of Quinnipiac University concluded that “ultrasound laws had a very significant and negative effect on the abortion decision.”

Now, to be fairer to PolitiFact than they’ve been to us, we should acknowledge that they sometimes get it unconditionally right, like when they awarded Harry Reid a “Pants on Fire” for claiming Planned Parenthood is “the only health care” available to “about 30 percent of women,” or admitting the Family Foundation was right that America “is one of only seven nations that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization.”

But the occasional outbreak of honesty, over less-contentious claims the narrative can afford to sacrifice, does not ultimately outweigh a pattern of deliberate and partisan deceit.

Editor’s note. This appeared at and is reprinted with permission.

Categories: Media Bias