Monday, January 30, 2012

Illustrating Why the Folks at POlitiFact Need to Get Out of the Fact Checking Business

Or Change Their Name, Because they Are No Longer Checking Facts

President Obama has made the following statement which may be true or false, but turns out to be true

"For the first time in 13 years, our dependence on foreign oil is below 50 percent," the announcer says on the ad.

Obama repeated the claim Jan. 24 in his State of the Union address, too.

So how do we know it is true?  Because the ad cites a government data source and the people at PolitiFact checked the source and found out that the statement was correct.

The Obama campaign is correct that U.S. oil dependence is below 50 percent. According to his own source, the energy administration, it was 49.3 percent in 2010. That’s down from a high of 60.3 percent in 2005.

So that ought to be the end of the story, the statement was an objective one concerning data, the data was correct according to the independent source cited and both the Obama campaign and the President himself were making a true statement.  Not so fast.

But fully evaluating the accuracy of the claim also means looking at the context in which it is made.

Obama clearly claims credit in the commercial; and his own source for the claim makes clear that a number of factors, including the poor economy and gains from drilling -- which began before his administration -- are among them.

These are important details. Without them, the claim in the ad -- made specifically to boast of Obama’s accomplishments -- lacks context. And when factually accurate claims leave out such important context, the Truth-O-Meter’s dial turns to Half True.

Note the absurdity here.  The statement is rated at “half true” which is a logical impossibility.  Either dependence is above 50% or it is below 50%.  But PolitiFact thinks it has to go further and pass judgment on a claim that was not made and is not relevant to the accuracy of the fact, the causes and credit for the decline.  This is pure subjective value judgment, not fact checking.

Claiming credit for something that happened that we were involved in is something we all do.  The fact checking should restrict itself to verifying that the "something happened", because that is all they can do.  The audience is smart enough to know the extent to which the speaker was actually involved in creating the "something happened" part, we don't need PolitiFact on anyone else to make that judgment for us.  In fact they are not capable of making that judgment.

So the Dismal Political Economist awards PolitiFact the “Liar, Liar Pants on Fire” designation PolitiFact itself uses. 

Wear it in good health folks.

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