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Qingu's avatar

According to Politifact, Republicans lie 3 (or 5) times as often as Democrats. Do you think this is accurate?

Asked by Qingu (21175points) September 15th, 2011
89 responses
“Great Question” (7points)

Politifact is a Pulitzer-prize winning project of the St. Petersberg Times. They rate statements by politicians, media personalities, and other sources on a scale: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire.

I just put together a spreadsheet for all of their Pants on Fire ratings —what they consider to be outright deliberate lies or else extremely irresponsible misstatements.

According to them, Republican personalities and media outlets have lied 98 times. Democrats have lied 29 times.

If we include chain e-mails—which are invariably Republican attacks—Republicans have lied 150 times.

Are Republicans really this much more dishonest than Democrats overall? Or is there something wrong with Politifact’s methodology?

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Answers

JLeslie's avatar

How do they choose what they research?

dreamwolf's avatar

Political Science 101 2011. A politician will say almost anything to stay in power.

JLeslie's avatar

And. another question along the same lines. How many total items have they researched regarding republicans vs. democrats?

Qingu's avatar

@dreamwolf, nobody is denying that politicians lie; what Politifact seems to show that one side lies significantly more than the other.

@JLeslie, there’s no objective way to answer the first question; journalists always must make choices on what to cover and those choices can be biased. But I’d urge you to just take a quick look at some of their ratings—a random sample, even. They rate plenty of Democratic sources as well as Republicans; it seems like they choose to rate particularly strident claims over mundane ones. But I’m having trouble thinking of any Democratic whoppers that they didn’t cover (though I of course may have missed them myself.)

As far as the total items they’ve researched, it varies widely based on the source. For example, Glenn Beck has a total of 5 “Pants on Fire” ratings. But they’ve only rated 23 of his claims total. Barack Obama has 4 “Pants on Fire” ratings, but that’s out of 320 statements of his total.

Aethelwine's avatar

Show me a politician who doesn’t lie. haha

Qingu's avatar

And in the interest of more data, here is a list of the top liars (excluding chain e-mails and bloggers):

John McCain (8)
Michelle Bachmann (8)
Mitt Romney (6)
Sarah Palin (5)
Glenn Beck (5)
Barack Obama (4)

Qingu's avatar

@jonsblond, again, that’s not really the point here. Every politician lies. Every human lies. All of us have told “Pants on Fire” lies sometime in our lies.

What is interesting here is that there is a clear asymmetry in the level of dishonesty. At least according to Politifact.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Qingu So if you exclude everyone who is not currently a politician (holding a public office), does that change things? They’ve got Palin and Beck, do they have James Carville and Paul Krugman and other liberal non-office holders covered? Because that could account for some of the asymmetry.

Nullo's avatar

I’d say that you’re using a bad approach, singling out Pants On Fire. A falsehood is a falsehood, after all. There’s the truth, the truth that you don’t tell (because it’s not their business), what you thought was the truth (but was actually wrong), and all the rest are lies.

Qingu's avatar

@Nullo, I disagree. Speaking a falsehood unintentionally or sloppily is very different from intentionally misleading someone or making absurdly irresponsible statements.

Again, I’d urge you to just look at some of their statements and ratings. There are plenty of False statements that politicians have made that I’m willing to forgive; not so for Pants on Fire.

XD's avatar

While I don’t think this is inevitable, it is unsurprising. I think it is more to do with the craziness of today’s politics than inherent conservatism. I think the premise is true because conservatives prioritize capital “O” Order over threats to order such as doubt-raising, shades of gray, truthful assessments. In addition, since falling out of power is about the worst thing that can happen (another threat to order), it is justifiable to “cheat” for a perceived greater good. An example that comes to mind is the voting machine hacker who admitted flipping votes to further a pro-life agenda. (I’d have to search for a link, but can’t immediately.)

Qingu's avatar

(Also, just for practical purposes, there are WAY more “False” statements they’ve rated than “Pants on Fire.” I’m only willing to spend about an hour wasting my precious life making a spreadsheet on fact-checking politics…)

Aethelwine's avatar

@Qingu What is the point, really? Why do you need to know who lies more than the other? Will it really help you sleep better at night knowing you are right because Democrats lie less than Republicans? just curious, I really don’t care. I’m going to bed worrying about bears attacking me ;)

Qingu's avatar

@jonsblond, you really can’t think of any reasons why this might be important?

For starters, it would seem to put to lie the idea that “both parties are the same!” and that you’re justified in your lofty position as an independent looking down on both equally.

Aethelwine's avatar

@Qingu I don’t look down on both equally. I look at the positive each has and vote on those issues.

woken's avatar

Well, here’s how PolitiFact selects the statements that it grades…

This is from Bill Adair (PolitiFact Editor),
“We choose to check things we are curious about. If we look at something and we think that an elected official or talk show host is wrong, then we will fact-check it.”

If that’s the case, then why is PolitiFact grilling Republicans more than the Democrats?

There is no evidence that one party made more false claims then the other. Politifact doesn’t state on their website that it bases it on such evidence anyway.

PolitiFact also doesn’t claim on its site to present a ‘fair and balanced’ selection of statements, or that the statements rated are representative of the general truthfulness of the nation’s political parties or the elected officials involved.

woodcutter's avatar

It’s like asking , who should go to prison longer: someone who kills 5 people or someone who kills 17?

XD's avatar

In defense of conservatives, The Democratic Party simply relies on being ineffectual or employs villain rotation. They can’t just lie, because they are catering to a different psychology.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@woken Politifact may not be intentionally “grilling” Republicans more. The Republican primaries are starting up, and have had a couple debates. As such, Republicans may be simply making more statements (especially ones that are likely to be lies) than Democrats are. So there’s just more stuff to check for Republicans.

Qingu's avatar

@woken,

“If that’s the case, then why is PolitiFact grilling Republicans more frequently than the Democrats?”

They aren’t. They fact-check plenty of Democratic statements. Obama has had 320 of his statements fact-checked. Look at their data yourself.

“There is no evidence that one party made more false claims then the other.”

This is an outrageous statement considering I just spent an hour packaging such evidence for your own perusal. Why don’t you look at their Pants on Fire ratings and tell us why you don’t think it counts as “evidence”?

“PolitiFact also doesn’t claim on its site to present a ‘fair and balanced’ selection of statements,”

So look at what they’ve fact-checked on the balance and decide yourself.

And surely you’re aware that a news outlet claiming itself to be “fair and balanced” doesn’t actually make it so.

Qingu's avatar

@Aethelflaed, that doesn’t seem to be the case either. Again, nobody has had as many statements fact-check as Obama, by a long shot.

It’s true that more Republican politicians have been in the news more recently because of the primaries. But you can trace this all the way back to the 2008 election. Republicans were lying more back then too.

Qingu's avatar

@woodcutter, I don’t think it’s like asking that at all.

Everyone lies. It is a part of human nature. It’s not admirable, but it’s unreasonable to expect a politician to never lie.

Not everyone murders—most people don’t, so your analogy strikes me as completely unfair.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@Qingu Can you post the spreadsheet? I’d be interested in seeing the details.

Qingu's avatar

Erm… well it ain’t pretty, but here’s the data I took. (And I segregated them into “R, D, or Other” columns in the actual spreadsheet, but it ain’t showing up when I C&P…)

American Action Network 1
American public 1
Americans for Prosperity 1
AmeriPAC 1
Barack Obama 4
Barbara Boxer 1
Betsy McCaughey 1
Bill Clinton 2
Bill O’Reilly 1
Bill Richardson 1
Bloggers 7
Brian Schweitzer 1
Carly Fiorina 1
Chain e-mail 52 1
Charles Rangel 1
Christine O’Donnell 2
Christopher Monckton 1
Crossroads 2
Cynthia Lummis 1
Dan Coats 1
DCCC 1
DeMint 1
Dick Cheney 1
Donald Trump 3
Ed Schultz 2
Eric Cantor 1
Freedom Defense Advocates 1
Glenn Beck 5
Harry Reid 1
Hillary Clinton 2
House Republican Congress 1
Investors Business Daily 1
J.D. Hayworth 2
Jan Brewer 1
Jerome Corsi 1
Joe Biden 3
John Edwards 1
John McCain 8
John Raese 1
Liberty Counsel 2 1
Michael Steele 2
Michelle Bachman 8
Mike Gravel 1
Mike Huckabee 2
Mike Prendergast 1
Mitt Romney 6
Nancy Pelosi 2
Nancy Pfotenhauer 1
National Rifle Association 1
Newt Gingrich 1
Obama 1
Organizing for America 1
Orly Taitz 1
Planned Parenthood 1
Randy Neugebauer 1
Reince Priebus 1
Republican National Committee 2
Republican Party of Florida 2
Rick Barber 1
Rick Perry 2
Roy Blunt 1
Rudy Giuliani 2
Rush Limbaugh 3
Russell Pearce 1
Santorum 1
Sarah Palin 5
Scott Brown 1
Steve King 1
Tim Pawlenty 1
Victoria Jackson 1
Vietnam Vets against John McCain 1
Virginia Foxx 1
WorldNetDaily 1

woodcutter's avatar

@Qingu If you can’t see my analogy then maybe you can accept that people who lie fewer times than others are somehow better. I will never.

Aethelwine's avatar

Why don’t you look at their Pants on Fire ratings and tell us why you don’t think it counts as “evidence”?

I’m sorry, but that statement looks like it’s coming from a 10 yr old. A “Pants on Fire” rating? Seriously?

Qingu's avatar

@jonsblond well, I didn’t make up the rating scale. It does come with a nice animated GIF though.

And it actually seems classier than just calling these people “LIARS,” though that’s basically what Politifact is doing.

plethora's avatar

Statements that are “Half true”, “Mostly true”, and “Mostly false” would be the statements that are most effective and the ones mostly used. That’s what you should be gauging.

But on the other hand, who cares. One very effective lie and the publicity it gets can outdo a hundred lesser lies.

Jellie's avatar

Interesting question and I’d never heard of the site before. I know only the outsiders POV on American politics however I have always had the impression of the GOP talking bigger, fluffier and in more rhetorics than the Democrats. So either that is being reflected or the site has democratic leaning and so is picking and chosing it’s statements.

I wonder if it has Clinton’s “I did not have relations with that woman” statement.

Qingu's avatar

@plethora I disagree. Mis-citing a statistic by a small amount would be rated “mostly true.” Inventing an outright lie out of whole cloth is different.

I am uncomfortable ignoring the nuance here. If we are to judge our politicians’ characters, isn’t it pretty damn important to note the difference between unintentional or sloppy mistatements and outright deceit?

Qingu's avatar

@Jellie, I believe Politifact started in 2008.

Nullo's avatar

@Qingu I made provisions for those who say the wrong thing without knowing it was wrong, actually.

phaedryx's avatar

Could you post this to a public google spreadsheet?

Are you taking equal numbers of democrats and republicans and counting up the lies for each group, or just counting up lies altogether?

Suppose you had the following data:

Republican A: 1 lie
Republican B: 1 lie
Republican C: 1 lie
Republican D: 15 lies (a glenn beck type)

Democrat A: 2 lies
Democrat B: 2 lies
Democrat C: 2 lies

Would you say that the Republicans lie 3X more than the Democrats? Your typical Democrat lies 2X more than your typical Republican?

Qingu's avatar

@Nullo, a lot of the “False” statements on Politifact could easily be innocent misstatements. Maybe not all of them, but without mind-reading it would be hard to tell.

That’s why I concentrated on Pants on Fire (in addition to laziness): they’re statements that are clearly deliberate lies or else irresponsible to say.

Nullo's avatar

@Qingu All the same, I think your methodology is wacked.

Qingu's avatar

@phaedryx, I’ll… think about it.

Here is what I did. I looked at all of their Pants on Fire ratings (linked to in the original question). 9 pages in all.

I made three columns on a spreadsheet: Republican, Democrat, and Other.

I wrote down all the names of people who said the statements, each on its own row, along with the total number of their “Pants on Fire” statements.

I put the numbers in one of the columns, depending on who said them.

Then I tallied them up.

I don’t know how to evaluate “typical” Democrats and Republicans. And there are several kinks. For example, Politifact dedicates huge resources to fact-checking Obama. THey’ve ranked 320 of his statements. Many of the other figures only have a few statements ranked.

There’s also the issue of per capita lies. Obama has four lies, which puts him in the top ten… but that’s out of a total of 320. Beck has 5 lies, out of a total of 23.

Does Beck simply lie much more often than Obama? Or does Politifact only check Beck’s deceitful statements and ignore everything else he says? That may be important, but I don’t actually think it’s relevant to my purposes here since I’m not measuring per capita lies.

I guess maybe a better way to put this is “out of all the political statements ranked by Politifact as “Pants on Fire,” 3 or 5 times as many are told by Republicans than Democrats.”

Qingu's avatar

@Nullo, it’s not my methodology.

And you haven’t explained why, nor have you proposed a better methodology for evaluating the truthfulness of political statements.

Nullo's avatar

I have so. Your methods do not take into account all of the various lesser lies. distortions, etc. if you are only focusing on the most blatant cases.
As I said before: whatever isn’t true, or isn’t at least believed to be true by the speaker (has no bearing on the actual veracity, but intentions can shield you from this fire), is a lie. If you can’t take that into account in your analysis, maybe you shouldn’t be making one.

I am, of course, assuming that Politifact is being honest, straightforward, thorough, and unbiased in its selection.

—And now, I’m going to bed. I’ve got an early day tomorrow.

Qingu's avatar

@Nullo how would you suggest I “take into account” the lesser lies and distortions? Such a spreadsheet would need more than two dimensions.

And I don’t know how to be any clearer. There is no way to prove that “Mostly True” through “False” statements are actually lies. Pants on Fire statements, though, are pretty clearly lies, or at least are ridiculous enough to be irresponsible. Do you agree with that, Nullo?

Here is Politifact’s explanation for their own methodology:

How the Truth-O-Meter works

The heart of PolitiFact is the Truth-O-Meter, which we use to rate the candidates’ claims and attacks.

The Truth-O-Meter is based on the concept that – especially in politics – truth is not black and white. Depending on how much information a candidate provides, a statement can be half true or barely true without being false.

PolitiFact writers and editors spend considerable time deliberating on our rulings. We always try to get the original statement in its full context rather than an edited form that appeared in news stories. We then divide the statement into individual claims that we check separately. For example, a Bill Richardson TV ad produced two claims. (We only make Truth-O-Meter rulings on those individual claims. We don’t make them in our articles because they often summarize multiple Truth-O-Meter items that had different rulings.)

When possible, we go to original sources to verify the claims. We look for original government reports rather than news stories. We interview impartial experts.

We then decide which of our six rulings should apply:

True – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

Mostly True – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

Half True – The statement is accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Mostly False – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

False – The statement is not accurate.

Pants on Fire – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

phaedryx's avatar

Hmm

What about the politicians with 0 pants-on-fires? e.g. it looks like Ron Paul doesn’t have any pants-on-fire statements

Republican A: 2 lies
Republican B: 2 lies
Republican C: 2 lies

Democrat A: 0 lies
Democrat B: 0 lies
Democrat C: 6 lies

You could simply add it up and say that Republicans lie as much as Democrats. If you ignore the 0’s, the average Democrat lies 6 times and the average Republican lies 2 times (3X as often), but if you include the zeroes, the average Democrat lies as much as the average Republican. If you throw out Democrat C for being atypical/outlier, then the Democrats are truthful and the Republicans are liars.

Qingu's avatar

@phaedryx, that’s certainly a good point… it’s also why I’ve debated including “Chain e-mails.” Because it’s by far the biggest individual “liar” with 52 total. (It’s also, unlike almost all of the other entities on my list, not really a single entity)

Let me share the data that I have.

Politifact has ranked a total of 74 separate entities as having told at least 1 lie (i.e. Pants on Fire).

Of those 74, 54 — that is, 73% — are Republican or affiliated.

Of the people who have been ranked as having told the most lies individually, the top five are Republicans.

So it seems pretty clear that (1) out of all political lies told, most lies are told by Republicans, and (2) Individual Republicans tend to lie more than individual Democrats.

Qingu's avatar

By the way… while Politifact doesn’t seem to have metadata available, they are pretty good at letting you organize their rankings at least somewhat.

You can view all of their False rankings, for example. And every entity ranked has its own profile with a graph of how many of their statements have been ranked True, Mostly True, False, etc.

ucme's avatar

I’m 39.64% sure that could possibly be true, or not.

tedd's avatar

I mean I don’t doubt that some Republicans/Conservatives lie or stretch the truth a lot more than their Democratic counter parts (See Glen Beck, Rick Perry, etc).... But I have a hard time believing you can quantifiably give a value to how much all Democrats and all Republicans lie.

I think picking a handful of people from either party and fleshing them out thoroughly would be a far better use of time. But even then, you could just happen to pick the two worst liars in one group and the two biggest saints in the other.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

@Qingu

I don’t see Ron Paul on your list although I’m not surprised.

They all lie, which is reason the federal government needs less power, not more power.
The lesser of two evils is still evil.

tedd's avatar

@SquirrelEStuff Big Business is not the lesser of two evils, they are the borderline embodiment of evil.

JLeslie's avatar

Interesting. It makes me think of this question augustlan asked about whether people had ever received liberal chain emails.

What I would wonder is if the politicians who say these things, these blatant pants on fire lies, if they think they are actually saying the truth? That they have heard these things, never bother to do the real research, and then say it to the masses. That is what someone was accusing Bachmann of the other day on TV. I think this happens sometimes, and the Republicans say their talking points more than the democrats, they are like an advertising machine, or robots, so they quickly seem to accept things as the truth and repeat. Not all of them, but a lot of them. I do think people like Newt Gingrich know better, as a Clinton pointed out a while back. My I pressing is Limbaugh also knows better, but he is not a politician, he is a radio guy.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

@tedd

I couldn’t agree more. In my opinion, mainstream republicans and democrats are all corporate stooges, which is why I believe Ron Paul gets only negative press from mainstream media. Why would they back anyone who is for individual liberty and personal freedom? If his philosophy would help big business, as many seem to think, wouldn’t the corporate owned media love him and back his ideas rather than twisting sound bites to try and make him look crazy?

Why would corporate owned media back any person who is against corporate interests? The fact that the media was backing Obama in 2008, threw up red flags to me immediately.
And here we are a few years later, with GE and Monsanto execs being appointed, trillions going to banks, as well as the financial crew who was responsible for much of the financial “deregulation.”

CWOTUS's avatar

Victoria Jackson? Tell me that Victoria Jackson, a ditzy blonde comedienne from Saturday Night Live, isn’t counted as one of your “Republican” liars.

I’m also curious why the first lie that I see attributed to Krugman wasn’t a POF lie, when it was no less “wrong” than many of the others in the POF category.

This thing is interesting, but it should have a disclaimer on it that it is “For Entertainment Value Only”.

Qingu's avatar

@SquirrelEStuff, Ron Paul has a page on Politifact; he just hasn’t told any “Pants on Fire” claims.

I don’t see how you derive your conclusion “the federal government needs less power not more” from this data. Do politicians lie more than normal humans? The data doesn’t say. The data does say that the politicians from one party lie less than the politicians from the party generally against “big government.”

Qingu's avatar

@CWOTUS, Politifact also fact-checks John Stewart and other Democratic media personalities. Here is Victoria Jackson’s page; she is a Tea Party supporter and made a claim that was apparently widely circulated that Obamacare lets Obama form a private army.

About Krugman’s false claim, I’m not sure which one you’re talking about. Let’s look at both of them:

“During the 2005 fight over Social Security, “there were noisy demonstrations — but they were outside the events,” and opponents were “not disruptive — crowds booed lines they didn’t like, but that was about it.”

“A recent report from the president’s deficit commission was “completely empty” on controlling health care costs.”

Are these lies? That depends entirely on if Krugman was aware of the information that contradicts him. And there’s nothing to suggest he did. Everyone has confirmation bias; the first claim likely reflects a selective memory on his part. The second claim, here is how Politifact explains their rating:

“In ruling on Krugman’s statement, he said the deficit proposal was “completely empty” on reining in the future growth of health care costs. Krugman has a point that the co-chairs’ proposal is vague. But the proposal does have several specific ideas on how to strengthen the IPAB. It has other recommendations on health care spending as well, and it includes dollar estimates for how much its ideas would reduce spending. It does recognize that health care spending must be controlled, and it’s not completely empty of ideas.”

Doesn’t sound like it merits a “Pants on Fire” rating at all; the claim was neither ridiculous nor malicious. Compare it to statements like “Obamacare will establish death panels” or “Obamacare will allow the president to raise a private army”—statements that are completely and utterly BS and inflammatory to boot.

I also think it’s amazing that you think fact-checking political statements is just “entertainment.” I’m guessing you wouldn’t be saying that if they had rated Democrats as three times as dishonest as Republicans…

Qingu's avatar

@JLeslie, I think the Republican party for the most part operates as a cult. The mechanics are the same. Cults train their members to repeat claims—often independent of their objective truth. Cults wall off their members from critics and mainstream and seek to produce their own parallel reality. Republicans “faith” in the market strikes me as functionally identical to religious people’s faith in a deity. And of course Republicans tend to be much more religious than Democrats to begin with.

People have been pointing out for years that Republicans are not interested in reality; so it’s not surprising that a fact-checking organization shows that they are much more dishonest than Democrats. It’s also not surprising that the Republicans on Fluther have reacted to this the way they have.

CWOTUS's avatar

@Qingu

… and you’d be wrong – again.

Qingu's avatar

What am I wrong about, again?

phaedryx's avatar

@Qingu
To answer your question, no I don’t think your conclusion is accurate; I think it is overreaching. Your sample size is too small to make that statement.

Qingu's avatar

What do you think would be an adequate sample size to draw meaningful conclusions?

tedd's avatar

@Qingu I don’t think the problem has anything to do with the sample size necessarily, but more to do with quantifying a lie. It’s not necessarily a black and white statement to say someone lied or didn’t lie. You can try to get around it by having an arbitrator of some kind come in and “rate” the statements (ie true, very true, false, very false, etc), but in the end those terms are just different names for a number, and they are being determined arbitrarily by a person.

The study is interesting, don’t get me wrong. But you can’t really quantify it like that.

tedd's avatar

@Qingu And besides, if the argument you’re making is that Republicans lie more than Democrats, you’re not really winning any battles…. that still says Democrats lie.

bkcunningham's avatar

@Qinqu, I thought you might find this interesting for your research.

“During the last 13 months, the Republicans that have led the way with the largest number of Barely True, False, and Pants On Fire grades are Sarah Palin with eight, Michele Bachmann with seven, and John Boehner, Mike Pence, and the National Republican Congressional Committee with four each.

“Whereas Boehner received six “True,” two “Mostly True,” and one “Half True” ratings during this span, Pence and the NRCC received none in these categories, Bachmann only two, and Palin just four.

“What is particularly interesting about these findings is that the political party in control of the Presidency, the US Senate, and the US House during almost the entirety of the period under analysis was the Democrats, not the Republicans.

“And yet, PolitiFact chose to highlight untrue statements made by those in the party out of power.

“But this potential selection bias – if there is one at PolitiFact – seems to be aimed more at Republican officeholders than conservatives per se.

“An examination of the more than 80 statements PolitiFact graded over the past 13 months by ideological groups and individuals who have not held elective office, conservatives only received slightly harsher ratings than liberals.

“Half of the statements made by conservatives received ratings of Pants on Fire (12.5 percent), False (16.1 percent), or Barely True (21.4 percent), compared to 41 percent for liberals.

“These findings beg the central unanswered question, and that is what is the process by which PolitiFact selects the statements that it ultimately grades?

“When PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair was on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal in August of 2009, he explained how statements are picked: ‘We choose to check things we are curious about. If we look at something and we think that an elected official or talk show host is wrong, then we will fact-check it.’

“If that is the methodology, then why is it that PolitiFact takes Republicans to the woodshed much more frequently than Democrats?

“One could theoretically argue that one political party has made a disproportionately higher number of false claims than the other, and that this is subsequently reflected in the distribution of ratings on the PolitiFact site.

“However, there is no evidence offered by PolitiFact that this is their calculus in decision-making.

“Nor does PolitiFact claim on its site to present a ‘fair and balanced’ selection of statements, or that the statements rated are representative of the general truthfulness of the nation’s political parties or the elected officials involved.

“And yet…

“In defending PolitiFact’s ‘statements by ruling’ summaries – tables that combine all ratings given by PolitiFact to an individual or group – Adair explained: ‘We are really creating a tremendous database of independent journalism that’s assessing these things, and it’s valuable for people to see how often is President Obama right and how often was Senator McCain right. I think of it as like the back of a baseball card. You know – that it’s sort of someone’s career statistics. You know – it’s sort of what’s their batting average.’ (C-SPAN Washington Journal, August 4, 2009)

“Adair is also on record for lamenting the media’s kneejerk inclination to treat both sides of an issue equally, particularly when one side has the facts wrong.

“In an interview with the New York Times in April 2010, Adair said: ‘The media in general has shied away from fact checking to a large extent because of fears that we’d be called biased, and also because I think it’s hard journalism. It’s a lot easier to give the on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand kind of journalism and leave it to readers to sort it out. But that isn’t good enough these days. The information age has made things so chaotic, I think it’s our obligation in the mainstream media to help people sort out what’s true and what’s not.’

“The question is not whether PolitiFact will ultimately convert skeptics on the right that they do not have ulterior motives in the selection of what statements are rated, but whether the organization can give a convincing argument that either a) Republicans in fact do lie much more than Democrats, or b) if they do not, that it is immaterial that PolitiFact covers political discourse with a frame that suggests this is the case.

“In his August 2009 C-SPAN interview, Adair explained how the Pants on Fire rating was the site’s most popular feature, and the rationale for its inclusion on the Truth-O-Meter scale: ‘We don’t take this stuff too seriously. It’s politics, but it’s a sport too.’

“By levying 23 Pants on Fire ratings to Republicans over the past year compared to just 4 to Democrats, it appears the sport of choice is game hunting – and the game is elephants.”

http://blog.lib.umn.edu/cspg/smartpolitics/2011/02/selection_bias_politifact_rate.php

Qingu's avatar

@tedd, you don’t think we can meaningfully quantify, for the sake of drawing meaningful conclusions, what a “lie” is?

And like I’ve said… everyone lies. Lying is part of human nature. It should not be remarkable that politicians of either party lie. What is remarkable is that politicians of one party lie so much more than politicians of the other party.

phaedryx's avatar

@Qingu
Wikipedia says that there are 250 million adults in the USA and 29% identify themselves as Republicans, so let’s say that there are 72,500,000 Republicans. I’d probably have to find my statistics notes to tell you what sample size you’d need to be statistically significant, but to make blanket statements about “Republicans” needs a lot more than you’ve got.

Qingu's avatar

@bkcunningham, from your blog post:

First, it should be acknowledged that the number of public officials subjected to PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter lens from each party is fairly even during the period under analysis.

So Politifact has looked at an about equal number of statements from Dems and Repubs. It has concluded that more R statements are lies than Dems.

The blog post offers no counterevidence. It just asserts selection bias without actually demonstrating it… apparently on the basis of an assumption that R’s and D’s lie equally and any assymetry must reflect selection bias.

Any evidence that this assumption is warranted? Such as whopping lies told by prominent Democrats that Politifact has missed? Because it seems like it’s just attacking the messenger.

Qingu's avatar

@phaedryx so if I limit my conclusion to “Republican politicians and prominent media personalities lie more than their Democratic counterparts,” you’d be okay with it?

Qingu's avatar

Let’s do a thought experiment.

Currently Libya is engaged in a Civil War. Both sides—Qaddafi loyalists and rebels—have told well-documented falsehoods and in some cases absurd lies.

Is it possible to meaningfully determine which side, overall, has been more honest? And if so, how would you go about doing that?

In my opinion, it is possible to draw such a meaningful conclusion and you’d go about evaluating the data by gathering as many prominent statements from rebel and loyalist spokespeople and supporters as possible and determining how BS they are.

If this method showed that Qaddafi loyalists seemed to lie a lot more than rebels, my first instinct would not be a knee-jerk “there must be a selection bias!” because there is no reason to assume that both sides of a given conflict are exactly as honest as each other.

phaedryx's avatar

Hmm, better.

But there is also the problem that politicians are making statements all of the time, every day. Politifact has only evaluated a small number of them. The second question I would ask is if the statements Politifact has evaluated are representative of all of those statements.

Qingu's avatar

@phaedryx, well, I would challenge anyone who thinks Politifact’s focus is too narrow to find statements they haven’t covered that you think are worthwhile and ought to be rated.

Qingu's avatar

@bkcunningham, let me put this another way.

Conservatives on here, and the blog post you cited, seem to be making the following argument:

Politifact’s research shows that Republicans lie more often than Democrats.
Therefore, Politifact must be biased.

Am I missing some nuance of the argument?

plethora's avatar

@Qingu I think the Republican party for the most part operates as a cult.
I’m glad you prefaced this with “I think”, denoting personal opinion only.

Honestly, being a conservative, (and a Republican only by default), I am learning so much here that I never dreamed existed….assuming it does. I cannot imagine anything less useful than trying to tally up which party lies the most. If you’re a politician it’s in your genes, regardless of party.

bkcunningham's avatar

The point is, what criteria/process/methodology do Politifact’s journalists use when selecting the statements they put through their grading system?

bkcunningham's avatar

Don’t get me wrong, @Qingu, for the most part, I think Politifact is a useful tool when used in conjunction with other means of fact checking and commonsense. Here is one example of a ranking by Politifact that makes me shake my head.

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/nov/20/orrin-hatch/hatch-senate-health-care-bill-longer-war-peace/

Jaxk's avatar

I realize you all have gone through a lot of debate on this already but I would add that the evaluations seem a bit subjective. When you make subjective assessments, the bias comes through pretty clear. @bkcunningham‘s link is quite representative of this and I would add another. Romney’s statement that Massachusetts health care law only affected 8% while Obama’s affected 100%, was rated ‘pants on fire’ because Obamacare doesn’t affect 100% of the population. I doubt any (even the most adamant Democrat) would admit that Obamacare affects everyone. I question that rating as very subjective and biased. There are many rating that have been done that way and whereas Politifact provides some useful information, the actual ratings are suspect.

Qingu's avatar

@bkcunningham, you could ask the same of any journalist. All journalists have to make calls on what to cover, and how. Considering they won a Pulitzer, I feel comfortable trusting their journalistic integrity.

@Jaxk, you don’t seem to have understood either Romney’s statement or why it was rated Pants on Fire. Romney’s 8% referred specifically to “our people who are uninsured.” That is, 8% of MA’s citizens who are uninsured would have been affected by the mandate. It is completely dishonest to compare the 8% of people affected by Romneycare’s mandate to 100% of people who are somehow “affected” by Obamacare. Only 17% of Americans are uninsured and thus potentially affected by the mandate; that is nowhere close to 100%.

It’s like saying “In my state, the laws only punish the 8% of the population who are criminals. But my opponent’s laws can affect 100% of the population.”

Jaxk's avatar

@Qingu

I understand the statement. It still calls into question the conclusion that Obamacare only affects 17% of the population. I would rate that ‘Pants on Fire’. but of course I don’t have a web site.

Qingu's avatar

Not Obamacare as a whole; the mandate portion of Obamacare in particular. Romney’s 8% figure was about whom the mandate portion of his policy would affect (i.e. uninsured MA citizens).

bkcunningham's avatar

@Qingu, did you know that James Rago, of the Wall Street Journal (I don’t know how to do italics here) won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing for a collection of columns he wrote. One of the columns was called, ”“PolitiFiction,” where he criticized PolitiFact’s choice for its 2010 “Lie of the Year.”

Here’s the column: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703886904576031630593433102.html

plethora's avatar

@bkcunningham Great point, particularly since Mr. Rago has also won a Pulitzer Prize.

Qingu's avatar

He won a Pulitzer for editorial writing.

Are we really going to play this game? It’s like arguing that we can’t trust the 99% of scientists who believe in evolution because there are a few creationists who have PhDs too… PhDs in psychology and meteorology.

Politifact won the Pulitzer for fact-based reporting and public service —i.e. not the ability to write opinion columns. (And lord knows the WSJ, while great at influencing public opinion with their editorials, has a pretty shitty fact-based and predictive track record with their “Dow 36,000” and constant warnings about bond vigilantes.)

Finally, the most interesting thing about this discussion, @bkcunningham, is that you haven’t even attempted to dispute anything Politifact has said. Instead you’ve asked “but how can we trust Politifact?” and then when given reasons, attempted to muddy those reasons.

The editorial you cited is itself deeply dishonest. Obamacare is not a government takeover. It is an expansion of Medicaid along with expanded regulations. It’s still run by private industry (to the fury of liberals!). If this is his criteria for a “government takeover” than most highly regulated industries (nuclear power, auto insurance) have been taken over by the government. Obviously written by someone upset that Politifact called him on his BS.

plethora's avatar

@Qingu Can you document that 99% of scientists who believe in evolution and their credentials and their disciplines? And the particular aspect of evolution they endorse? Would that be from the creation act, before then or at what point after? Maybe there is a service similar to Politifacts for evolution statements.

Re @bkcunningham not disputing Politifact, best to have grounds for trust before disputing.

bkcunningham's avatar

Here’s the thing, @Qingu. You criticize me for asking how can we trust Politifact and for develving deeping and looking at the site from ALL angles. That is really what any good journalist should do and that is what I applaud Politifact for doing. Next, you tout Politifact for winning a Pulitzer and base the journalistist integrity of their writers on the fact that they won the Pulitzer. Yet you dismiss the fact that Ramo won a Pulitzer.

I’m not arguing the honesty or dishonesty of the Pulitzer prize winning column. I’m just pointing out that what you take as gospel from the Politifact journalists, may also have some flaws. I do think it is a good site and worthy of consideration when checking facts if it is used in conjunction with other sources.

Just something for you to consider, my friend. It is just an observation on my part. I always enjoy your point of view and respect what you have to say. Even if I don’t always agree with you 100 percent, I know you are smart enough to be showing or telling me something that is worth considering and reading. I usually learn something and see things from a different perspective.

But it seems like whenever I try to contribute to what you are saying, you seem to take it as if I’m discounting your views and it turns into an argument. Not a discussion that enlightens both of us and others who read what you are sharing. That’s how it feels to me at least. Anyway, I thought the Politifact points you made were interesting.

Qingu's avatar

@bkcunningham, let me try to clarify why I’m bristling at what you’re saying.

I absolutely agree that all journalists, even Pulitzer prizewinners, need to be taken with a grain of salt. It is always worth exploring biases. The same applies to scientists, or any “appeal to authority.” In the case of institutions with a track record of reliability and honesty, that authority can lead to trust, but it shouldn’t be unconditional trust and it shouldn’t be blind faith.

But here’s the thing: if you want to dispute a journalists’ claim, or a scientist’s claim, or anyone—it’s not enough to say “how do we know this person isn’t biased”? You need to offer some counterevidence that actually disputes that claim, otherwise it’s just attacking the messenger and attempting to muddy the waters.

I guess that’s how I’ve been interpreting your posts. Maybe I’m being unfair. But it’s something I’ve noticed conservatives do all the time. If facts and evidence portray a reality that is unflattering to conservative ideology—global warming, evolution, Keynesian economics actually working—conservatives tend to take their ball and go home, shouting “liberal bias!” rather than presenting counterevidence.

I don’t trust Politifact solely because they won a Pulitzer prize. I trust Politifact because they back up what they say and I haven’t actually seen any evidence of bias on their part. Likewise, I don’t trust Ramo—despite his winning a Pulitzer (for opinion-writing, lol)—because Ramo’s points are demonstrably misleading and hyperbolic.

Keep_on_running's avatar

Not surprising really.

Qingu's avatar

@plethora, that’s getting far afield of the question topic, but look here:

Among all PhD holders (including psychologists and computer scientists, i.e. not just biologists) it’s about 95% in a poll; among life scientists and geologists it’s over 99%.

And I’m not sure what you mean by “which aspect.” Obviusly there is disagreement over things like group selection, evo-devo; but in terms of “did life evolve from a single origin or was each form created separately by a deity” scientists almost unanimously agree with the former statement.

tedd's avatar

I’m just jutting in here without thoroughly reading the last few posts so forgive me if I’m missing something… but..

There is no longer any debate in the legitimate scientific community about evolution. It is scientific fact. The only part that is up for debate at this point is how we evolved.

plethora's avatar

@Qingu Well thanks.

cockswain's avatar

I’ve been following Politifact for years, and find their research and fact-checking to be very reliable. Yes, they get it wrong sometimes. But, as a liberal leaning person, they have corrected liberal misconceptions I have had as well as conservative. I don’t see any obvious bias in their methodology.

Qingu's avatar

Politifact outraged a good number of liberals when they declared that calling the Ryan plan an attempt to “destroy Medicare” was false.

cockswain's avatar

Those liberals had no justified reason to be outraged.

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