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January 25, 2012 9:45 AM PolitiFact keeps falling short of its name

By Steve Benen

In his State of the Union address, President Obama noted an important observation that Americans may not be aware of: “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.”

That’s true. America’s private sector has, in fact, created 3.13 million jobs over the last 22 months. What’s more, looking at the annual totals, 2011 was the best year for private-sector job growth since 2005, and the second best since 1999. That’s not spin; it’s just what happened.

PolitiFact, meanwhile, wasn’t satisfied with the claim, labeling it “half-true.”

In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs “before our policies were in full effect.” Then he describe [sic] the subsequent job increases, essentially taking credit for the job growth. But labor economists tell us that no mayor or governor or president deserves all the claim or all the credit for changes in employment.

I’ve been largely inclined to ignore PolitiFact since its “Lie of the Year” debacle in December, which for me, tarnished the site’s credibility in ways from which it will not soon recover. But if this SOTU analysis is evidence of where PolitiFact is headed, it appears the editors are making matters worse, not better.

The president made two observations: noting the number of private-sector jobs created since March 2010, and comparing 2011 job totals against recent years. What Obama said is literally, demonstrably accurate. He didn’t fudge the numbers; he didn’t exclude details or context; he didn’t even take credit for the data. The president, making a point about the improving national economy, simply highlighted statistics that are easily confirmed through arithmetic.

But the self-proclaimed fact-checking website wasn’t impressed.

When PolitiFact deems simple truths to be half accurate, it’s probably time for the site’s editors to reevaluate exactly what they hope to accomplish with this endeavor.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • schtick on January 25, 2012 9:53 AM:

    Now you know. PolitiFact is bought and paid for by the tealiban with the tealiban talking heads telling them what is true. December wasn't a fluke.


  • Danp on January 25, 2012 9:55 AM:

    Politifact is more politi than fact. Their explanations consistently show that they have trouble distinguishing between facts and what the perceive the public infers. WaPo's Kessler isn't any better, by the way. Nor CNN's Josh Levs.

  • Texas Aggie on January 25, 2012 9:56 AM:

    As is abundantly clear by now, Politifact is definitely skewed to the right wing. The only time you can trust them without having to do your own fact checking is when they call one of the wingnuts on one of their more egregious statements. Otherwise it behooves one to fact check the fact check.

  • Patrick Star on January 25, 2012 9:59 AM:

    Politifact started out as a good idea but, like so many worthwhile ideas these days, somehow got co-opted by greed or power or something. Kinda like Americans Elect.

  • Mudge on January 25, 2012 10:00 AM:

    I marvel at this. Obama made a factual observation about jobs. Then they say Obama "essentially " took credit. Then Politifact cites unnamed "labor economists" who observe that no mayor or governor (or president) deserves all the credit, in this case credit Obama did not claim..except "essentially". So they say Obama's statement is half true because, although he stated that businesses created the jobs, what Obama implied (and never said) cannot be true due to unnamed economists.

    I'll go search for how many times Politifact has told its readers that specific charges that Obama is a socialist by Republicans is totally false..or half of the other things they say or "essentially claim" are false.

  • Lifelong Dem on January 25, 2012 10:06 AM:

    NPR went even further off the rails. After saying that the President was correct in the way he stated the numbers (I'll pause to let that soak in), the NPR reporter talked about the reduction in government jobs and then did the net-jobs-since-January-2009 rap to imply that Obama was maybe half accurate. I almost threw my breakfast at the radio.

  • Danp on January 25, 2012 10:08 AM:

    By the way USA today's fact check of the SotU address also reads like point-counterpoint. Instead of challenging facts, they pepper their rebuttals with "some economists think", etc.

  • michelle on January 25, 2012 10:10 AM:

    politifact also gives Obama a half true for GM sales.
    1. it's true
    2. the justification for it not being true says Ford didn't get a bailout, but doesn't acknowledge that Ford benefited hugely from the restructuring at other companies.
    3. what obama said was totally true!!!

    We'll miss you, Steve. Good luck & have fun with Rachel.

  • a on January 25, 2012 10:11 AM:

    Rohm RG-14 22 caliber pistol used by John Hinckley Jr in attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.

    http://worldfamousweapons.blogspot.com/2011/04/rohm-rg-14-22-caliber-pistol-used-john.html

  • BruceK on January 25, 2012 10:12 AM:

    Well, the argument could be made that PolitiFact was logically correct. There were two halves to the statement, and one half was true. Only problem is, so was the other half.

  • Gummo on January 25, 2012 10:16 AM:

    it’s probably time for the site’s editors to reevaluate exactly what they hope to accomplish with this endeavor.

    Um, suck up to the right wing for all that sweet sweet wingnut welfare cash when they're ready to move on?

  • stormskies on January 25, 2012 10:17 AM:

    And did this corrupt PolitiFact check anything that the Governor of Indiana said afterwords ? If not, why not ?

  • SWENXOF on January 25, 2012 10:19 AM:

    Last night Obama sent a thunderous warning shot across the bow of the USS GOP CVN .01% while hijacking or neutralizing all their favorite talking points. What we are seeing now is the GOP and its affiliates scurrying out on deck in full spin detail.

  • T2 on January 25, 2012 10:22 AM:

    Since PolitFact became widely syndicated, they have, for whatever reason, lost their spine. Their reason for existence now seems to be to find, no matter how long a statement they have to make to justify it, that Lies are only half-false and Truth is only half-true. PolitiFact has become, sadly, the National "Both Sides Do It" arbiter.
    That said, it's worthless. And that's too bad because we really need someone to report the truth and call the lies.
    When you take everything as a whole, the entire Print and Broadcast Media seems bent on glossing the GOP mistakes and minimizing Dem accomplishments. I know that sounds highly partisan, but it is what it is. Prove me wrong.

  • stormskies on January 25, 2012 10:22 AM:

    this is great news ......

    A survey taken moments after President Barack Obama finished giving his third State of the Union speech found that an overwhelming majority of Americans who viewed the speech, including most Republicans, strongly favored the president’s proposals.

    The CBS News poll’s focus group was 25 percent Republicans, 44 percent Democrats and 31 percent independents. In total, 91 percent of those surveyed approved of Obama’s agenda.

    CBS News explained that the reason there were more Democrats in the survey is because more people from the president’s own party tend to watch the annual State of the Union speech. Approximately 27 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republican, the poll noted — versus 34 percent identifying as Democrats and 39 percent as independents.

    Most remarkable of all, the poll found that approval of Obama’s agenda skyrocketed among speech watchers. Approval of his plans on the economy shot up from 53 percent to 82 percent; on the deficit, approval went from 45 percent to 80 percent; on the Afghanistan occupation, 83 percent approved, up from 57 percent. CBS News did not offer a partisan breakdown for Obama’s approval on individual issues.

    A full 75 percent of respondents also said that Obama’s agenda will create jobs and make the U.S. more competitive. The president said he wanted to “do some nation building right here at home,” and proposed a series of progressive tax breaks that would encourage companies to bring overseas jobs back to the U.S. He also urged development of every energy resource available, including the controversial shale gas extraction method known as “fracking.”

    The one area where the president did not gain as much traction is on his health care reforms, passed by Congress in 2010. Approval of the health care bill went from 56 percent to 65 percent after the speech. It was not one of the president’s main topics.

    Miss the speech? Watch the replay below, “enhanced” by the White House with notes about the president’s agenda.

  • Ron Byers on January 25, 2012 10:32 AM:

    The only way the media can keep the race alive is to lie about the improving economy.

    Don't get me wrong, the Europeans could screw up our recover all by themselves, but if they don't and if the economy continues to recover nobody in the Republican party is safe. They are rapidly coming to what any forward thinking person would have seen years ago. You can't keep the American economy down for too long. Cars wear out, people need places to live and clothes to wear. Every recession and every depression ends, sometimes it takes a while, but they always end, and as they end things begin to improve. Right now the issues of economic fairness and justice are front and center. Any smart member of the 1% will realize that we have to reinject real opportunity into our system. Throughout history when real opportunity become impossible for the average person societies stagnate and die. What has made America exceptional is that we have continually reintroduced real opportunity into our society.

    Unfortunately most of the members of the 1%, especially the trust fund babies, aren't any smarter than anybody else. Many of them simply think they are. They certainly have the money to buy a lot of "free speech."

    Last night I was talking to my legal assistant. Her daughter is about to graduate from veterinary school. Her entire family struggling under the burden of paying for her education which has cost about $100,000. So far they have been she has benefitted from scholarships, grants and the entire family has worked very hard at multiple jobs so the young woman is not too deeply in debt. She is lucky her parents only have one child. One of her fellow students, however, is facing long term student debt of $170,000.

    Back in the late 60s and early 70s when I was able to attend college and law school on scholarships, grants and some small loans. My parents did the best they could to help me, but they had three other sons coming on right behind me. I worked hard at part time jobs to pick up the difference. When I graduated from law school my debt was minimal, probably $500.

    I don't think I could have afforded college today, let alone law school.

    We have got to open up opportunity in this country. We can't let the 1% skate by. Full disclosure, I am in the 1%, but I am an American first.

  • SYSPROG on January 25, 2012 10:37 AM:

    This is how POLITIFACT rolls. He will parse ANY comment by the President but when a Republican (oh let's say NEWT and his 'food stamp President' remark) and he will say 'well it's fact' without looking at the underlying causes. And the MSM will dutifully report it. ALL of them. Yesterday, the MSM (every single network) wanted to know if the SOTU would be a 'campaign' speech. Would it 'divide' the country. Finally this morning Chuck Todd said ALL presidents use the last year of their term to have a 'campaign' speech...but we had to listen to every nimrod Republican faux outrage yesterday...why don't we just elect Hollywood to the Congress? There are a lot of unemployed actors out there...

  • Ron Byers on January 25, 2012 10:38 AM:

    Damn I wish I had hit the review button.

  • TheOtherJim on January 25, 2012 10:51 AM:

    Can we just give PolitiFact a rating of "Pants On Fire" and leave it at that?

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 25, 2012 10:51 AM:

    Balderdash...

    Everyone knows that Obama is to blame for all of the jobs lost during his first 8 months in office and that Bush policies deserve the credit for all of the job gains since then!

  • Fess on January 25, 2012 10:57 AM:

    After the "Lie of the Year," I deleted Politfact from my bookmarks. When "facts" take on a partisan bias, I have no use for the "analysts."

  • RalfW on January 25, 2012 10:58 AM:


    The editors of Politifact did reevaluate exactly what they hope to accomplish with this endeavor.

    A few weeks ago with that LotY debacle.

    They decided there's more butter for their bread being a tool for Fox and the GOP than for being journalists.

    (And I know you know that, so I hope you'll not continue the coy closing paragraphs schtick in your new gig at MSNBC. Carry on and good luck!)

  • June on January 25, 2012 11:13 AM:

    What @Mudge said speaks for me.

  • biggerbox on January 25, 2012 11:18 AM:

    2+2=4.

    The above statement is only half-true, since it depends on the way math works, and I didn't have anything to do with that. By implicitly taking credit for math, I've gone too far, so it's only half-true.

    I worry about the laws of physics around the Politfact office. If Obama mentioned that gravity exists, would everyone at Politifact start floating around the room?

  • SYSPROG on January 25, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Hey Ron? I thought you spoke very well. I am 'of an age' with you and graduated with a masters and no debt. It wasn't because of massive help from my family but because I could work and help pay for my college. But don't forget...education was SUBSIDIZED back then. Something the 'I did it all myself' don't want to get out. Thanks.

  • cwolf on January 25, 2012 11:28 AM:

    Another day,
    Another rancid Politi-Fart.
    Ho Hum.

  • Crusty the Clown on January 25, 2012 11:42 AM:

    According to the article about them in Clownopedia, PolitiFact is about to change their name to PoliteFiction. At least 'polite' to those who are outraged by reality's well-known liberal bias.

  • Ryan on January 25, 2012 12:01 PM:

    Politifact has now upgraded it to "Mostly True." Slow learners...

  • emjayay on January 25, 2012 12:01 PM:

    I did think that Obama missed an opportunity there. He should have pointed out the however many government jobs eliminated at the city, county, state, and federal level. So the monons wouldn't be thinking "3 million jobs, oh yeah, where are they?" and making a big deal about Big Government all the time when it is actually smaller.

  • deanarms on January 25, 2012 12:10 PM:

    Krugman cited Jared Bernstein making the same point. I commented that last month Politifact found Sen. Ron Johnson's (R-Wis. Tea Party)claim that 2 million jobs have been lost under Obama, while the federal workforce has grown by 192,000, to be "mostly true." The 2 million jobs lost claim (the flip side to the president's claim of jobs created) was true in their eyes, no context needed. The "mostly" had to do with differing sources for the claim of federal jobs added. So Politifact will blame him for net jobs lost, regardless that the majority were lost before his policies took effect, but will deny the accuracy of a simple fact -- businesses created millions of jobs after the date that his policies had taken effect. Pathetic.
    http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/dec/15/ron-johnson/sen-ron-johnson-says-obama-has-increased-federal-w/

  • LauraNo on January 25, 2012 12:13 PM:

    I saw a tweet go by, asking Politifact to check that point, they responded (via RT) that they were going to look at it. I butted in with a tweet of my own, saying why bother? you will just call it half true.

    They have no reason to exist unless they are trying to rally those people who are almost always on the losing side of truth and fact. Either 3 million jobs were added under Obama, or they were not. Only if you don't like the answer to the question will you turn it into a different question and then answer that one.

  • rk on January 25, 2012 12:23 PM:

    As noted above Politifact was remarkably tendentious in their "fact-checking" of the SOTU. On a whole series of issues they note that Obama's statements were factually correct but Politifact then editorializes to say that Obama doesn't deserve complete credit for the situation (e.g., increased oil production, more private sector jobs, auto sales at GM) or that there were "numerous factors" that entered into the situation. But Obama was never claiming that his policies were the sole reason for the data presented. Politifact's editorializing is particularly egregious with the GM bailout.

    On the other hand Politifact did not check any of Mitch Daniels' claims in the SOTU response. Incredibly, they rate Romney's claim that he never inherited any money to be mostly true because he donated the money that he inherited to charity.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on January 25, 2012 12:25 PM:

    They (PolitiFact) have upgraded the statement to "Mostly True." Mostly? Good grief.

    Almost certainly their goal was to become the Fox of fact-checkers. They've succeeded.

  • steve on January 25, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Kesseler at the WP is as bad. He applies a subjective standard to determining whether facts are true (ie -- he knows what they really intended) and applies a different grading standard to repub's and dem's (repub's can't get worse than a 3, and a 1 for repub's equals a 4 for dem's. Kesseler should get a 4 for claiming that he is a fact checker.

  • Anonymous on January 25, 2012 12:32 PM:

    I suggest everybody sent one of the "fact-checkers" an email telling them what you think. I did. It wasn't nice.

  • Carter on January 25, 2012 1:14 PM:

    Don't know if anyone will see this comment way down here, but Politifact changed their rating to "True" with an explanation about an hour ago: http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2012/jan/25/tuning-truth-o-meter/

  • Jimo on January 25, 2012 1:17 PM:

    In sum: the 'but for' aspect that made the statement half-true was that the impression left was that Obama was wholly responsible for the fact.

    So the logical conclusion would be that if the context failed to reflect positively on the President then this would be a 'whole truth'?

    By extension, it would half-true for the President to assert that (1) there hasn't been a terrorist attack in the U.S. over the last year (because that implies Obama stopped it all by himself), (2) that new medical advances continue to save lives (because they aren't Obama's discoveries), or (3) that GM regained a historic place as world's largest automaker (because Barrack the Magic Negro isn't riveting the cars personally). What's next? Claiming that Obama had nothing to do with killing Bin Laden and inventing fake claims that it's all Cheney's genius that was the catalyst? (Wait .... ooops.)

    I believe this is what we might call the Tea Party Theory of Truthiness: It can't really be true if it is (a) about Obama and (b) makes Obama look good.

  • booch221 on January 25, 2012 1:30 PM:

    But labor economists tell us that no mayor or governor or president deserves all the claim or all the credit for changes in employment.

    But Republicans are only too happy to blame Obama for job losses, even those that occurred during the Bush administration.

  • msmolly on January 25, 2012 2:54 PM:

    @Carter: Politifact changed their rating to "Mostly True," NOT to "True."

  • RalfW on January 25, 2012 6:04 PM:

    @Carter

    Their site's graphics are a joke! They still rate the claim as "mostly true" but the bigger of the two conflicting images to the right shows "True" and I cannot tell why.

    So we won't notice that they're still wrong? WTF. Graphics are not that hard, PunditCrap.

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