Things that make you go "hmmm..."

Carla Axtman

If you're going to call yourself "Politifact", you might want to factual.

On April 6th, Politifact reported on a claim by the group Our Oregon related to GOP State Rep. Dennis Richardson of Central Point. Others who know more about the weeds of the claims and counterclaims can debate those merits (or lack thereof). What struck me about the Politifact story however, was the headline:

Group Says Republican Senator behind the call for drastic cuts

Richardson is a member of the Oregon House, not the Oregon Senate.

It's a reasonable mistake if you're a layperson or even a part-time blogger. But for a group that claims it has its arms around the mantle of all that is politically factual in Oregon, that's a hefty non-fact to splash across a headline.

Politifact has since changed the headline, fyi. After Our Oregon fact-checked them, that is.

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    (shoulder shrug)

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    They also got it fundamentally wrong (they got hung up over semantics) about the GOP bill the House passed the other day in Congress to eliminate Medicare and replace it with a voucher program as not being, in fact, a bill that would eliminate Medicare and replace it with a voucher program.

    TPM had a piece about it this morning.

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      They do this quite often in their quest for 'balance'

      "Rush Limbaugh says liberals are evil" we at Politifact find that any group might have people who could be good, evil, or indifferent. As Rush doesn't specify that ALL liberals are evil, we give this a true.

      "Dennis Kusinich says the sky is blue." As anybody knows, the sky can be cloudy some times, so we find Dennis to be a UTTER UTTER LIAR!

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    Mitchell- different newspaper. Politifact is the St. Petersburg Times. However, same problem.

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      This is the same organization John. is the organization/project based in St. Petersburg Florida, which has branch groups in 8 states (Oregon being one of them).

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    I've wanted to like Politifact, and appreciate the efforts to fact-check things being said. In this example, I think it's valuable for people to understand the context and that a large number of Democrats voted for the budget created by the co-chairs.

    But again and again, I find Politifact's concluding ratings significantly different than I would make, even based merely on the (sometimes erroneous) information they present in the articles.

    Removing the ratings - while explaining the facts - might be a better way. It's good to hold our officials and advocates responsible to the truth. Yet boiling complex issues back into soundbites can obscure the issues more than illuminate them.

    And the failure to fact-check a headline? One more challenge of the shrinking fourth estate.

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      Oh c'mon Sal..if Politifact is going to appoint itself the arbiter of all things factual, the least they can do is fact check their own stuff.

      This is just basic.

      When a group puts itself out there like this one has--they'd better be accurate.

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    I don't care about the blown headline. Stupid things happen.

    I really, really like PolitiFact. At least, the idea of PolitiFact. (And not just because I was credited with the very first bright-green "true" claim.)

    Too much journalism is of the "report the controversy" sort, rather than an search for the truth. So, PolitiFact often serves a useful purpose.

    But too often, PolitiFact has become a vehicle for reporters to editorialize.

    Let's examine this particular item.

    • Our Oregon claimed that "[Dennis] Richardson wants to make drastic cuts to services we depend on..."

    • PolitiFact noted the presence of bipartisan co-chairs and said, "That’s right, all three men -- two Democrats, one Republican -- were there selling the legislation." and "it still doesn't make this proposal any more Dennis Richardson’s than it does Peter Buckley’s or Richard Devlin’s."

    PolitiFact is right: The co-chairs' budget, by definition, was the co-chairs' budget - Richardson's, Buckley's and Devlin's.

    But that's not the relevant question.

    Our Oregon's claim was merely that "Dennis] Richardson wants to make drastic cuts to services we depend on..."

    And that claim is unquestionably true.

    It may not be fair to single out Richardson, but it is most certainly accurate.

    Now, if this item had appeared on the editorial page, sure, no problem. But PolitiFact is supposed to be about checking facts. And in this case, Our Oregon's fact claim was correct.

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      Kari - Thanks for the reasonable analysis. I disagree, however, that this kind of deliberately misleading ad can be called "correct". The ad clearly suggests that Republicans and Republicans alone were responsible for the K-12 budget, and leaves the viewer with a false impression. Ergo, the ad is false.

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        Sorry, Sal, but "suggests" is not the same as "says".

        For example, a staple of campaign communication is to identify a one-vote legislative vote and call a particular legislator the "deciding vote". As in, "Senator Joe Blow cast the deciding vote for blah blah blah." when the vote was 51-49.

        Now, it's certainly true that the claim of a "deciding vote" can be made for every single one of those 51 Senators. And if you were being fair, you'd say so. But it is still accurate to say that Sen. Blow was the 'deciding vote'.

        Fair and accurate are two different things.

        PolitiFact is supposed to be about factual accuracy. Calling people out when they use incorrect facts. The editorial pages are where fairness is argued.

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          The fact that dishonesty is a communication staple for some political campaigns is no reason for an organization like Politifact not to call them on it, particularly in egregious cases like this one.

          The co-chairs budget allocated $100 million more for K-12 than did the Governor's budget, and as we have seen on the front page of the Oregonian, the Governor is the point person for retaining the full $400 million in the ESF (the right decision, btw).

          Claiming, as the ad does, that this is a purely Republican budget is demonstrably false, though I would not have quibbled with "half true" or "barely true" had it been so graded.

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            So side A insists kill off 50% of funding for Department X, side B says no we should preserve as much of the funding for Department X as we can. A painful compromise is arrived for cutting 25% of Department X funding.

            So running an ad that is calling out side A voted for cutting 25% (when they as a group have long advocated for defunding and privatizing Department X) of a Department's funding, which Group C thinks should not be cut at all... that is "dishonest" communication?

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              The example you have laid out bears no resemblance to the facts in this case.

              The Governor's K-12 budget was roughly comparable to the one Richardson started with.

              At issue is not "cutting" the K-12 budget, but whether the state should dip into the Educational Stability Fund to the tune of $100 million. OEA and some among the House D's support doing this now. Everyone else (Governor, House & Senate R's, Senate D's) supports holding onto the strategic reserve, at least until the rest of the budget is finalized, or until the interim session.

              My view is that the money should be kept in reserve, probably until the interim session, because the year 2 portion of the K-12 budget is more austere than the year 1 portion. As as the governor has pointed out, spending that money now is a lot like running full speed towards a cliff.

              In any event, to pretend that the consensus budget of the co chairs, the Governor, and the entire Oregon Senate, is actually the House Republican budget is simply false, which is the main thrust of the Politifact article.

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                It bears a lot of resemblance to the fact about the budget and ad in question, but speaks more to the larger point of your shaky argument about "dishonest" communication.


                Because the budget, without going deeper into the reserves will make the cuts which are going to occur for K-12, bigger than they would be if we went deeper into reserves and withholding $444 million instead of spending it on basic services.

                Richardson initially proposed holding more than $1 billion, but that number was negotiated down by the Democrats. In addition the idea of holding aside hundreds of millions of dollars was pushed by Dennis Richardson since the beginning of the legislative session.

                The fact that hundreds of millions of dollars are being set aside in this proposed budget is due to Richardson’s efforts.

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                  Your analysis is simply false, bordering on fantasy.

                  There was never "more than a billion" in the School Stability Fund.

                  Neither the Governor's budget, nor the co-chairs budget has ever recommended spending down substantially more of the strategic reserve, and I was told personally by one of the Democratic co-chairs that Richardson's most extreme budget was never more than $150 million apart from the Governor's original proposed budget.

                  You are entitled to your opinion, Mitch. Not to your own facts.

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                    The Governor's original proposed budget had an over $3.1 billion increase in the carry forward balance of the non-General fund totals (i.e. un-spent reserves).

                    So all the hand-waving in the world by you will not make your bringing up the claimed largest difference between the Richardson's proposal and Kitzhaber's proposed budget (which includes the aforementioned $3.1 billion increase in unspent funds) up meaningful in an way to the actual issue the ad brings up and PolitFact got wrong.

                    Nor does it support your claim that the ad is "dishonest communication".

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                      Mitch - with due respect, I feel as though I've said "the weather is nice today," and your response is "Idaho".

                      The fact that the Governor's budget reflects an increase in terms of actual dollars says nothing about the Richardson's starting budget number. It merely reflects an increase in revenue, and none of it touches the school stability fund or the state's strategic reserve.

                      My understanding, based on actual conversations with one of the Democratic co-chairs is that the starting point between Richardson's "dream proposal" and the governor's is a difference of $150 million.

                      You'll forgive me for taking that person's word over yours, particularly in the absence of any references or citations on your part.

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                        This isn't about "taking my word" for it, it's called math.

                        The Governor's starting budget numbers had over $3.1 billion in reserves more than what was there from the last budget.

                        So you saying that you heard Richardson's starting number was in the neighborhood of more than $150 million more than the $3.1 billion in the Governor's budget somehow proves that my saying Richardson's started out looking for at least $1 billion kept in reserves (a number from those who were also involved in the negotiations BTW) is somehow "fantasy" is reality challenged to say the least.

                        Again, this isn't an issue of "taking my word" for it. It's called math.

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                          Mitch, email me offline and I will show you where you are getting tripped up in the numbers. Also, re-read what I said. i don't think you were following me if you believe that i said Richardson's general fund numbers were higher than the Governor's.

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                        Furthermore, what I was referring to isn't an increase in revenue.

                        It is an increase in carry forward balances of non-general fund reserves. In other words, we started out with a $53 billion carry forward balance in non-general fund reserves, and were the Governor's proposed budget implemented as he wished, we would have a $56+ billion non-general fund cash reserve carry forward balance.

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            Claiming, as the ad does, that this is a purely Republican budget is demonstrably false

            Um, could you quote the line that says this is a "purely Republican budget"

            I can't seem to find it in the transcript.

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      You should care about the headline, Kari. It's evidence of sloppiness. If they're that sloppy with the words they blaze across the top of the story, what else are they sloppy about?

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    Kari's hit the nail on the head here. The O-checkers might have a leg to stand on if they applied this principle consistently, but they don’t. For example:

    Last fall they went after an ad by Taxpayers Association of Oregon for claiming that “"Richard Devlin raised your taxes by $1 billion in a single day."

    As in the piece on Our Oregon, after going through the numbers they chide TAO for singling out Devlin, noting that “[t]wo Republicans joined all 18 Democrats in the Senate to approve this bill.”

    Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander, right? Well, not exactly: While PolitiFact gave Our Oregon's ad a rating of "False," TAO’s got a rating of “Half True,” two rungs above “False” on the Truth-O-Meter. Sounds fishy to me.

    Unless, as Kari suggests, they want to move this feature over to the editorial page, they need to re-calibrate that Truth-O-Meter. To paraphrase Rachel Maddow, just putting the word "Fact" in your name doesn't make it so.

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    By the way - this could merit a separate post, but nationally PolitiFact is catching a lot of grief for having given a "Pants on Fire" rating to Democrats' statements that Republicans want to end Medicare. See here and here for starters.

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