Politifact is willing to take on a difficult task, you have to give them that.
Investigating claims made by politicians is tough work. Press releases or transcripts of speeches have to be carefully parsed; statements have to be analyzed; data sources have to be found and vetted; conclusions have to be drawn. It's not easy work even in the best of times--and this election cycle is far from the best of times.
So, one can forgive the occasional error in giving a rating to a politician's claim--nobody's perfect, and things are always open to interpretation.
But, when one gets it as wrong as often as Politifact seems to, it ceases to be forgivable--and soon seems to enter the domain of the absurd.
Case in point: Politifact recently scored the main claim made in a recent Obama campaign advertisement.
Mitt Romney is proposing a tax plan "that would give millionaires another tax break and raises taxes on middle class families by up to $2,000 a year."The Politifact analysis is pretty well done. The summary of the analysis:
Obama said Romney is proposing a tax plan "that would give millionaires another tax break and raises taxes on middle class families by up to $2,000 a year."Pretty much a slam-dunk to be rated "True", one would think. And one would be wrong.
The claims are based on a study by the Tax Policy Center, which used what Romney has said about his tax plan and attempted to calculate outcomes for different groups of taxpayers.
The study prioritizes the idea that the plan would be revenue neutral. In that scenario, millionaires lose deductions, but the lower rates would still decrease their tax bill by an average of $87,000.
Middle-class taxpayers would see lower tax rates, too, but the loss of exemptions and deductions would hit them harder. People making $200,000 or less a year would see their taxes rise by an average of about $2,000.
In the closing paragraph:
The study is making the point that Romney’s plan is untenable: to cut rates that much without adding to the deficit, something has to give. It necessarily makes some assumptions, and therefore these conclusions are not definite as long as the details of the plan remain unknown. For that reason, people should be cautious in calling this Romney's plan.Say what? "Without more detail, Romney's plan shouldn't be called Romney's plan?" What the hell does this even mean?
But let's ignore that last, nonsensical sentence. Given the lack of detail in the plan, the Politifact analysts made some necessary assumptions--assumptions which are as generous an interpretation as is possible--and what the Obama ad says is found to be accurate.
And Politifact rates it "Mostly True".
Now, the most charitable explanation I can offer is that the analysts, when they complete their work and turn in fifteen paragraphs of well written, careful analysis, are not the ones who assign the Truth Rating. That's the responsibility of an Editor-in-Chief.
Who proceeds to skim the article and, focusing only the illogical last sentence, decides to assign the equivalent of a "We don't want to seem unfair, so..." rating and, voila, the claim is rated "Mostly True".
Thus, the title of the diary. If Obama made the statement "The sun will rise tomorrow", the Politifact writers would dutifully interview astronomers, geographers and mapmakers and write an article stating "yes, the sun has always risen each day for recorded history, and so it seems overwhelmingly likely that it will rise again tomorrow". Then, close with this sentence:
But--though the odds are less then 1 in 100 billion--it's possible that through some unknown mechanism the Sun will cease to shine before it's scheduled to come up.And the Politifact Editor-in-Chief would slap a "Half True" label on it (arguing, no doubt, that there are two outcomes possible, never mind the likelihood of each) and post and Tweet it to the world.
Better it were called "Politifactoid".