Ethics Quiz: PolitiFact’s Ethical, Unethical Lie Of The Year

Lie of the Year

I’m so confused!

PolitiFact, the Tampa Bay Times’ “fact check” web page, has long been flagged on Ethics Alarms (and elsewhere, notably by the WSJ’s James Taranto) for its lack of integrity and flagrant bias towards the Left, Democrats, and President Obama. It was in June of 2012 that Ethics Alarms produced the “smoking gun” of PolitiFact’s perfidy, when the site  pulled off a “when did you stop beating your wife” stunt to cast unfair suspicion on House Speaker John Boehner, “fact-checking” a groundless accusation and despite finding no evidence that it was true, labeling the accusation unsettled, because Boehner might do what he was accused of, eventually. In May of this year, as it slowly dawned on fair, English-comprehending Americans that then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was misleading the American people about what the CIA knew about the September Benghazi attack, and Jay Carney, as his job description requires, lied through his teeth about her performance, PolitiFact could only muster a “mostly false” rating. The site is a partisan spin-machine, using the dishonest guise of a neutral “fact-checker” to undermine trust in Republicans and bolster Democrats when they need cover, particularly the President, who needs cover a lot.

In October, when the nation was dividing itself into two groups—those who would concede that President Obama intentionally lied when he made his repeated statements assuring the public that nothing in his healthcare law would force them to lose their current plan or physicians, and those willing to torture language, memory and logic to claim otherwise—I pointed to the standing position of PolitiFact (from June of 2012) as putting it in the latter camp, a camp it had done nothing since to exit. Politifact had previously rated this guarantee as “true” (in 2008), and had defended it against Mitt Romney’s challenges during the 2012 campaign more than once).

This week, however. PolitiFact  announced that Obama’s “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan—Period” is the 2013 “Lie of the Year.” (Ethics Alarms had already awarded the President the title back in January for another, little-noted whopper, and Taranto had been sure that Obama’s “I didn’t set a red line” denial in September would take the prize.) So PolitiFact finally got it right—but what is this? That’s why I’m confused. Is PolitiFact demonstrating its humility and honesty, as well as integrity, by having the courage to admit that the lie it has been claiming was true to various degrees for five years was a lie after all? Or is PolitiFact cravenly taking the easy way out, abandoning its considered judgement to spare itself more ridicule, and perhaps universal recognition as the incompetent, manipulative hack-factory that it is? Should we trust PolitiFact more because it finally admitted  it was helping the President lie, or less? Is this a demonstration of integrity, as statements that “we were wrong” should be, or an admission that PolitiFact has no integrity?

Thus your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is…

Should PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year cause us to trust it more, or less?

I recuse myself from this one.

I couldn’t possibly trust PolitiFact less.


Spark: Volokh Conspiracy

Sources: Best of the WebPolitiFact

Graphic: CNN


22 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: PolitiFact’s Ethical, Unethical Lie Of The Year

  1. I must bow out as well. I trust them even less than Jack does.

    However, I’m going to go look at their post and see if they bother to mention the fact that they called the exact same sentence “true” for years.

  2. Abstain, on the grounds that I didn’t trust them since long before the cold creeping light of reality woke them up before the snooze alarm did.

  3. I have neither more nor less trust in them.

    An accusation of liberal bias has to account for their crediting Eric Cantor with being half right on a statement about the deficit which was easily disproven, and for their awarding “Lie of the Year” to the claim that Ryan’s plan to end Medicare would end Medicare.

    • Medicare: Shifting the government program for medical care for the elderly to a voucherized system does not end Medicare. In part it was a matter of defining Medicare either in general or very specific terms. The Democrat defense amounted to pretending that any change to a part of the program amounts to ending the program, even if the general purpose is still fulfilled in a different fashion.

      Cantor on the deficit: He didn’t say it was growing right this second. It was a throwaway comment about budget issue which happened to use the phrase “growing deficit”. The deficit was growing, and is projected to grow again, but the statement came during a temporary downturn. If anything, that should have been mostly true, but they shouldn’t have run a piece on a two word phrase that was part of a broad general statement in the first place.

      I think they lean slightly left, but I mostly read them to see what research they did, even if I often think their final call is skewed.

  4. I’d submit nothing they can do will recover any integrity short of closing shop. When a liar lies enough, they can stop lying and never be trusted. It’s the boy who cried wolf. Had they made occasional errors and rectified those errors as quickly as possible throughout their run, then they’d be believable.

    But once established as just a dishonest, unrepentant and consistent cover for the Democrats then no amount of analysis, wrong OR right can be trusted.

    Politifact’s only hope to establish integrity again is to first admit their bias then second, close up shop and end their run as a fact checking service.

    • They’re not about to do that, Tex. What we have here is a case where a leftist outlet could no longer do less than call this for what it is without losing a vital chunk of their credibility. Even the most liberal media organ will look out for #1 first when it comes to that choice. It doesn’t make them any less liberal or more ethical. It’s just business.

  5. Here’s the thing about PolitiFact: their research is often (not always, but more often than not) pretty good. Their stupid little truth-o-meter gimmick, however, is a farce.

    They are not, in my opinion, biased. They are simply the quintessence of incompetence. Yes, there are times when their verdicts seem to lean left, against all evidence. There are as many instances when they lean right with no more rationale. (Example: Eric Cantor’s claim that the federal deficit is growing, even though it is shrinking, earned a “half true” because unless something further is done, it will start growing again in 2016. Verb tenses are clearly not their forte.) Indeed, if they were reliably biased, they might actually serve a function: “even PolitiFact says that Politician X is lying” contributes, however slightly, to the debate.

    But we’d be better off rolling a die: 1=true, 2=mostly true, 3=half true, 4=mostly false, 5=false, 6=”pants on fire.” There is no rigor in their analysis, no consistency in the methodology. Sometimes they adhere scrupulously to the specific phrasing even though it was designed to mislead (it depends on what “is” is); sometimes they ignore what was actually said and attempt to intuit what some particularly dim-witted observer might have misinterpreted it to mean.

    If the actual figure is 25, sometimes estimates ranging from 16-22 make a statement true, because… you know… close enough. Sometimes estimate ranging from 23-26 make the argument only mostly true because only one source has the number as high as 25.

    They are hacks, pure and simple. Which doesn’t mean that the proverbial blind hog doesn’t once in a while stumble across an acorn.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I recuse myself, too. They are beyond redemption in my eyes. Getting one right once in a while isn’t going to change that.

  6. I think they have their finger firmly in the wind and will go whichever way it blows. Journalists (if we can call them that) in general are not principled and I tend to think they never have been. At least not in my lifetime.

  7. They have, for years, intentionally skewed and allowed themselves to be used to skew the course of the entire country. Their punditry had massive ramifications on a very close presidential race, as well as passage of one of – if not the MOST abysmally thrown together laws in the nation’s history.

    Integrity demands recognition, contrition, and redress for those wrongs. If they had possessed the audacity to utter the words ‘we’re sorry’, this STILL would have rated a 10 on the apology scale. As it is, they didn’t even make it on to the scale – this is the ‘we cannot lie about this without making fools of ourselves, so we will tell the truth, and spin it as hard as we can, so that we may retain some shred of dignity and remain in a position to lie next time.’ The truly scary thing is how many publications are still willing to put their names on utterly transparent lies, and hope against hope that they won’t have to pay the piper some day. I’m certain when they are called to, they will respond with indignance and horror that their perfidity actually has repercussions. If, indeed, it does.

  8. There has to be a third option for those of us that do not trust them at all – status quo. The experience that brought the “could not trust them any less” crowd to that conclusion should not disqualify you from voting, Jack, isn’t it what qualifies you.

    I also agree with Rick, it looks like more of a lack of competence than bias. Finding a politician telling the truth is admittedly a tough job, but it is the one they signed up for. They have positioned themselves as the authority we should trust to judge the accuracy of political statements and that process has made “trust” their product. They need to establish a track record of being competent before my trust-o-meter will budge from zero.

  9. These “fact checkers” are not interested in fact. They have an agenda. They will perform Olympian feats of mental gymnastics to arrive at their desired destination.

    The BIG LIE can only be maintained while the people are kept from the truth. Once that truth manifests, the lie collapses and we are treated to the spectacle of “lie of the year”.

    I made a parody video about the lies used to cram down Obamacare.

    Hitler’s health insurance is cancelled



  10. It makes me trust them less. You know, because they are wrong. Context. And other points I have made here and other places that I do not feel like repeating over and over again that Jack and AMS will disagree with.

    • You really are going to die on the “he totally didn’t lie by saying that thing that wasn’t true” hill, aren’t you…

      He said something that was demonstrably untrue, said it after the law was final and signed and he should have known.

      So either he is an idiot and didn’t know what his single signature achievement contained, or he’s a lie.

      Pick one.

      • I am going to insist that his words be taken in the context in which they were given. The law didn’t require policies to be lost. To hold him accountable for bad actions on the part of the industry (as are alleged in California against Anthem Blue Cross where people lost grandfathered policies because their insurer mislead the insureds is pure dishonesty. To hold him accountable for saying you could keep your doctor and then having doctors who were going to retire anyway but instead claim to be quitting because of the law is also pure dishonesty.

        Again, go back to his speech to Congress. When he made comments about keeping your plan/keeping your doctor he did so in what the law would require you to do. It wasn’t a promise to keep your doctor imortal yet enslaved so you could keep your doctor. It wasn’t a promise to keep your insurance policy in force even if the company went out of business.

        So yes, I will stick with that. Because that is the truth. And for some reason I keep engaging those whose heads are buried in the sand and refuse to admit it.

  11. While I’m convinced (by evidence) that PolitiFact has a bias, this LOTY selection should make everybody, including Liberal Dan, trust them less.

    It’s because this year’s selection isn’t about bias at all. It’s CYA all the way, and PolitiFact misled its readers in the interest of trying to salvage the appearance of competence.

    Explained in detail here in advance of the selection:

    And more detail added here, after PolitiFact let on that it had selected *two* statements as its LOTY:

    There’s pretty good circumstantial evidence here showing PolitiFact acted deliberately to deceive.

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