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PolitiFact’s Pants-On-Fire Claims of Neutrality

by | Sep 4, 2020

By Tim Graham 

Apparently, the proper role of the “independent fact checker” in today’s presidential campaign is to present the consistent opinion that Joe Biden is a force for truth and light, and Donald Trump is a rampaging liar who never says anything true.

No one should suggest that these “fact checker” groups need to parcel their rulings out in a completely even fashion, so everyone gets a participation trophy for being half-right. But the dramatic tilt in these “fact checkers” betrays an obvious partisan bias.

Just look at PolitiFact’s “Truth-O-Meter” rulings for the month of August.  This is Joe Biden’s five rulings for the month of August: Mostly True, Mostly True, Mostly True, Mostly True, and Mostly True.

Now let’s compare that to “Truth-O-Meter” rulings for August for President Trump.  Let’s see: Mostly False, False, False, False, Mostly False, Half True, False, False, False, Mostly False, False, Pants on Fire, False, Pants on Fire, and False.

As I write, PolitiFact added three more Trump assessments on September 1: Pants on Fire, False, and False.

The shock here is that PolitiFact threw in one “Half True.” What drives you batty is they employed one of their typical tropes: “President Trump and Housing Secretary Ben Carson claimed a San Francisco lawmaker pushed ‘to abolish single-family zoning in California.’ Housing experts say the claim is technically correct but leaves out key context.”

Overall, from the start of 2019 through August 2020, Trump has 197 ratings, and Biden has only 64. Trump’s Mostly False or worse in 156 of those (79 percent). He’s only Mostly True or True in 17, or 8.6 percent. By contrast more than half of Biden’s ratings are Mostly True or True – 33 of 64, or 51.5 percent, and then there are 29 Mostly False or worse (45 percent).  

Does anyone who’s less partisan than [CNN’s] Brian Stelter think this looks like a “fact checker” who should boast of their “independence”?

Some might suggest this is just about a serious aversion to Trump’s casual relationship with the truth. So let’s take a broader view. Take the dates of the party conventions, from the start of the Democratic one on August 17 to the aftermath of the Republican one on August 28. Over those twelve days, PolitiFact checked the Republicans and their affiliated PACs and pundits 32 times, and the Democrats and their equivalents only eleven. Just the disparity of checks implies a partisan tilt.

The Democrats drew eight ratings of Mostly True or True, two Half Trues, and one Mostly False, or a roughly 8-to-1 true-to-false ratio. During their convention, Michelle Obama scored a True, and Bill Clinton was Mostly True – as usual?

Then look at the Republicans. There were four Mostly Trues and one Half True….out of 32. The other 27 were Mostly False or worse. Trump drew two “Pants on Fire” ratings. Donald Trump Jr. and Rush Limbaugh also received a “Pants on Fire.”  This all adds up to an almost 1-to-7 true-to-false ratio.

On July 17, PolitiFact posted a video on their YouTube page with their executive editor, Angie Drobnic Holan, to answer the question “What is PolitiFact’s agenda?” Holan declared “Our agenda is simple: it’s to give citizens the information they need to govern themselves in a democracy.” That’s what all the left-wing journalists say.

Holan later proclaimed: “The PolitiFact agenda is – don’t take sides with any politician or party.” Really? There’s no political tilt? She claimed: “We’re independent and we work hard to find the truth. So we follow the facts wherever they take us, regardless of who made the claim.”  

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

Categories: Media Bias