PolitiFact: Well, here we go again

By Scott Moore of Portland, Oregon. Scott is the Communications Director for Our Oregon and was a political reporter and news editor for the Portland Mercury. Previously, he contributed "Trivial Pursuit: That's Some Har-ible Reporting"

Just a day after having to do an embarrassing about face on a truly bizarre ruling, PolitiFact Oregon is back with a new entry that’s even more troubling.

Today’s PolitiFact Oregon criticizes the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for saying that “Rob Cornilles supports privatizing Medicare.” Actually, what the DCCC said was that Cornilles supports “turning over some of Medicare to private insurance companies”. In a partially rephrased Tweet, the DCCC asked “Did you know Cornilles said he'd support turning parts of Medicare over to private insurance companies?”

Reporter Janie Har and PolitiFact Oregon ruled these statements “Mostly False.” But in order to do so, they had to utterly conflate the statements to absurd levels, claiming that Democrats said Cornilles wants to turn Medicare entirely over to private companies and cut government out.

The fact is, Cornilles wants to open Medicare to private insurance companies in order to increase competition with the public program. By its very definition, turning over some of Medicare to private insurance companies IS increasing the privatization at the program. This should be obvious to any reasonable observer.

But Har made up a new argument -- that Democrats are contending that Cornilles wants to completely remove government from Medicare, and then ruled it “Mostly False.” The real controversy between the campaigns centers on Cornilles' claim that he is strongly against privatization while being in favor of proposals that do just that. PolitiFact’s problem is their unwillingness to focus on the real issues of the campaign and then actually fact-check them. Of course, it’s hard to be an objective referee for a fight you are participating in, which seems to be the main problem with the Oregonian these days.

Seriously, what is going on over there at PolitiFact Oregon? This isn’t fact checking; it’s weird semantics and word games to the benefit of the Cornilles campaign. And coming literally a day after the embarrassing reversal they had to make on another strange ruling, you’d think Har and her editors would be more vigilant about checking actual facts.

It’s not Oregon-specific, but New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has joined the chorus of voices pointing out the increasing bizarreness of PolitiFact:

Unfortunately, Politifact has lost sight of what it was supposed to be doing. Instead of simply saying whether a claim is true, it’s trying to act as some kind of referee of what it imagines to be fair play: even if a politician says something completely true, it gets ruled only partly true if Politifact feels that the fact is being used to gain an unfair political advantage. In the case of Obama’s job statement, Politifact first called it only half true, then upgraded that to mostly true, not because Obama said anything factually incorrect, but because Politifact perceived Obama as trying to imply that he was responsible for the gains.

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      Rough day for PolitiFact! They got fired by Rachel Maddow: http://video.msnbc.msn.com/the-rachel-maddow-show/46141410#46141410

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        PolitiFact, what is wrong with you? You think the President calls himself "businesses", like it's a nickname for himself? You think he look himself in the mirror and says, "Hey, Businesses, looking good!"

        And later:

        PolitiFact, you are fired. You are a mess. You are fired. You are undermining the definition of the word "fact" in the English language by pretending to it in your name. The English language wants its word back. You are an embarrassment. You sully the reputation of anyone who sites you as an authority on factishness, let alone fact. You are fired.

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      Love the concluding line there about how national PolitiFact must have picked that particular fact to "check":

      Another possible explanation is simply that someone at Politifact was sitting at their computer last night, staring at a blank page, when they finally just shrugged and said, "Screw it, this is half-assed, but I've gotta post about something." Either way, what's been demonstrated in this instance is that Politifact can be criticized into adjusting their ruling. I'm not sure this is necessarily a good thing, frankly! But the bottom line is that this all could have been avoided had a smidge of circumspection been applied.

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    I think the framework is flawed, and journalists do themselves a huge disservice by wading into the debate--effectively becoming part of the story themselves. This is actually a great case in point, because Janie Har is a fantastic reporter. When she gets to, you know, go report.

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    it's not just the local version; it seems to be endemic in the model. to abuse an overly abused phrase, who fact-checks the fact-checkers? the answer to that question has no end point.

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      I actually think that's because, like any media enterprise, there's an expectation of volume; ie two columns/week or something. But there may not be that many new facts to examine every week, especially locally.

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    During the Swiftboat brouhaha back in 2004, I stood outside the Oregonian with a cardboard sign that read; "Will fact check for food".

    Maybe I should do it again.

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    Last night on the News Hour the Washington Post Fact Checker was interviewed to fact check the SOU. His comments had nothing to do with fact checking, but were his analysis of what the President said. If they had another WP reporter commenting on the speech I would respect his opinion. By adding fact checker to his title and then having him give an opinion rather than "facts" made the interview very disturbing in an Orwellian way.

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    The link for "a day after the embarrassing reversal" just comes back to this page.

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    @jeff alworth. I disagree with your assessment of Janie Har as a fantastic reporter-- she was overbearing, terribly rude and persistent beyond all reason to me on the David Wu story-- she twisted comments,and was horribly biased. I will never talk with her again about any political story, on or off the record. And I do not hold that view of all Oregonian reporters- I find Mapes and Cole in particular to be trustworthy and honest in their press dealings.

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    I always considered fact checking the main difference between, blogging- no offense to anyone here who often do a better job - and ordinary journalism. I am afraid that skill isn't valued as much in todays print/e-media environment, desperate to reposition as authorities mixed with truthiness widgets to prevent being squeezed out of the political discourse.

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