Grading KSTP’s ‘Truth Test’ as it checks another Hubbard-favored ad

KSTP-TV’s corporate owner has given $100,000 to MnForward, a group backing GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer. Emmer’s DFL opponent, Mark Dayton, has given MinnPost $4,500 and my boss’s son works for Dayton’s campaign.

With those disclaimers in place, let’s compare how KSTP reporter Tom Hauser fact-checked the most recent MnForward ad to one from the pro-Dayton Alliance for a Better Minnesota.

Hauser uses letter grades to sum up his evaluations. The game — which involves an appreciation of hairsplitting — is seeing if you think they’re consistent. But at the outset, I’ll say if you take the grades away, both reports are solid and add necessary context.

Because KSTP doesn’t allow embeddable video, you’ll have to view the MnForward analysis here and the ABM review here. Hauser found both factually accurate, but like most media fact-checkers, also considers context or lack thereof. In the end, he graded MnForward’s higher — a “B+” versus ABM’s “C+.”

The MnForward ad makes three basic claims: Dayton wants to raise income and property taxes $5 billion, “he even supported a tax on email,” and “thinks ideas to reduce wasteful spending are ‘idiotic.’”

ABM’s ad starts out, “What if you missed one out of every five days of work for a year?” analogizing that to Emmer missing 23 percent of votes in the 2010 legislature.

Fundamentally, Hauser says ABM over-reached by equating a missed Emmer vote to a missed day of work. Many votes occur on the same day (though on the flip side, the legislature doesn’t vote every working day).

When I interviewed Hauser last month, he explained that the ad “gave almost no context.” DFL opponents Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Paul Thissen — who, like Emmer are legislators — saw missed votes spike, though to a lesser degree. (Hauser notes Anderson Kelliher, as Speaker, controlled the House floor.)

Noting President Obama missed 24 percent of U.S. Senate votes the year he ran for president, Hauser asks, “The inference is that anyone who misses 23 percent of votes, as Emmer did in 2010, isn’t qualified to be governor. … Does ABM then infer President Obama is unfit for office?”

ABM isn’t advertising in a presidential race, but if Hauser is saying the missed-votes issue is superficial and not tightly linked to governance, I agree — even if that’s opinion more than truth.

MnForward’s ad also has its misleading moments.

The ad is generally on solid ground asserting Dayton’s $5 billion in (biennial) income and property tax hikes; Hauser notes the property tax hikes only kick in for homes valued above $1 million.

While Dayton did say in 2003 that it’s “worth looking at some very, very small charge for every e-mail sent” to reduce spam, Hauser says the concept was not in a computer-owners’ bill Dayton introduced. It has also never been part of the DFLer’s 2010 budget proposal.

(Another pro-Emmer group, Minnesota’s Future, has an ad stating the email tax is part of Dayton’s budget “bill.” That’s patently false. Hauser and WCCO Reality Checker Pat Kessler did not review that ad; MPR’s Tom Scheck critiques it here. The MnForward ad hits the same themes as the Minnesota’s Future ad, a political tag team even though the parties may not have touched hands.)

As for thinking “ideas to reduce wasteful spending are ‘idiotic,’” Hauser notes that was Dayton’s evaluation of a single idea — Gov. Pawlenty’s proposed constitutional amendment to limit state spending to the amount raised in the previous biennium.

I’d argue that idea doesn’t “reduce wasteful spending” so much as it reduces all spending. More importantly, Hauser notes that Dayton has proposed $680 million in spending cuts.

So … ABM highlights a superficial issue that’s par for the bipartisan course and stretches to make an analogy, earning a C+; MnForward hits a more fundamental taxation issue but highlights a tax with no role in the race and stretches to imply Dayton won’t cut waste, receiving a B+.

Seem fair? To judge, you need to know KSTP’s grading scale. A problem with the station’s reports online and on-air is they never tell you what the letters mean. Here’s how Hauser described them to me:

  • An “A” requires nearly complete accuracy with little exaggeration and little or no need for more context. 
  • A “B” requires mostly accurate information, but gets marked down for minor exaggerations and misleading information. 
  • A “C” can be the result of inaccurate information or exaggerated information that misleads and gives the viewer no context. 
  • A “D” is the result of at least half the information being false or misleading to the point of leaving a false impression. 
  • An “F” is the result of more than half the information being outright false as well as misleading and out of context.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/08/2010 - 09:11 am.

    The ABM ad is lame, according to KSTP’s rating scale that gets a “B”.

    The MNForward’s ad however contains an outright false claim that leaves a misleading impression when it refers the e-mail tax. The fact that Dayton was willing to consider it in 2003 may indicate he has an open mind, but it doesn’t demonstrate support. And since the idea was never pursued in any way by anyone, much less Dayton, it’s misleading to imply that it was a serious proposal that Dayton supported. I don’t see you can give the e-mail claim anything other than a “D”. The wasteful spending idiot claim is a narrow application devoid of context, which gets a “C” according to the scale, and the 5 billion dollar claim would get an “A”. ON a standard grading scale I think that would yield a “C-“. However, over-all the ad suggests that Dayton only wants to reais taxes and is not interested in reducing waste. This is patently false since Dayton’s stated budget plan includes over 700 million (proposals 9-17) in cost savings. Given the over-all impression the grad drops down to a “D”. Houser’s grading has it almost exactly backwards.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/08/2010 - 09:37 am.

    $4500 and a job for the bosses kid?

    Well, when Dayton is looking for someone to blame in November, he certianly can’t say he didn’t get his money’s worth from Minnpost, Dave.

  3. Submitted by David Brauer on 09/08/2010 - 10:29 am.

    Well, Tom, I guess it’s a step up from you claiming we’d give him everything for free!

  4. Submitted by Lora Jones on 09/08/2010 - 03:17 pm.

    I’ve also noted blatant bias in previous “grades” given by KSTP. I think the previous round of ABM-MN Forward saw Hauser give MN Forward an A- and ABM a B+ for NO appreciable difference in the factualness or context or anything that I could see. Ditto for a pair of Bachman-Clark ads that ran earlier.

    Because the discrepancy has gotten larger this time, I have to assume that the Boss didn’t think the previous round was “balanced” enough towards MN Forward and let his “unbiased” political reporter know it.

  5. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/08/2010 - 03:54 pm.

    Can we PLEASE consider the ACTUAL INTENT of the “email tax” idea? The facts are that some advertisers, especially spammers, send out daily barrages of millions of e-mails. Attaching a miniscule tax to each e-mail would cost the average user so little as to have no effect, it would, however cost the spammers huge amounts of money and thereby, discourage their most common (and annoying) practices.

    Of course tracking and enforcement of the tax, especially those using botnets (other people’s unprotected and, therefore, seriously compromised computers being used unbeknownst to their users) could be prohibitively difficult, but again, the idea was to STOP SPAM, not to actually produce government revenue by taxing routine e-mail users.

    Now, as far as Dayton’s financial picture, let’s remember that you can always tell what a “conservative” is up to by taking note of what they’re falsely accusing others of doing (and I didn’t even realize Mr. Sutton had enough money to make stashing any of it off shore to avoid taxes a viable possibility – apparently I was wrong).

  6. Submitted by bea sinna on 09/08/2010 - 04:54 pm.

    Why don’t we all acknowledge that all the campaign ads so far suck! I don’t expect that they’ll get any more “informative” because of this story or these comments. I’m hoping that the Dayton contribution came to MinnPost before, way before, his decision to run. I would be very disappointed in this unbiased non-profit on-line news source to hear otherwise. (What the bosses’ son does is really nobody’s business- he’s an adult whose career has nothing to do with MinnPost.)

  7. Submitted by Stan Daniels on 09/08/2010 - 06:17 pm.

    David, for being an admitted lefty, your analysis was excellent (and non-biased). I wish Hauser would just dump the grades. I prefer how Kessler did it and just saying something like “yes — but”.

  8. Submitted by Bob Spaulding on 09/09/2010 - 10:09 am.

    Based on his own scale, I’d give Tom Hauser’s grading in these cases a “C” . In the way he graded the MN Forward attack on Dayton, I see “inaccurate information or exaggerated information that misleads and gives the viewer no context.”

    Hauser should have found the email claim clearly exaggerated – Dayton never supported an email tax, he merely said once that it was “worth looking at”. I think it’s worth looking at all sorts of ideas without supporting them. A significant difference glossed over by Hauser.

    In reference to MN Forward’s claim that “ideas to reduce wasteful spending are ‘idiotic,’” there was only one idea that ever was described as idiotic, not ideas plural. And moreover, as Brauer points out, capping revenue is not a way to target wasteful spending, it’s a throw-out-the-baby-with-the-bathwater solution that targets spending both wasteful and helpful.

    The combination of these exaggerations made two of the three claims in the ad exaggerated or false – which on Hauser’s own scale should result in a D.

    I don’t care about accuracy in the fluff pieces that dominate TV news. But when they’re grading politicians about an election, a little more care is in order.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/09/2010 - 10:18 pm.

    //Attaching a miniscule tax to each e-mail would cost the average user so little as to have no effect, it would, however cost the spammers huge amounts of money and thereby, discourage their most common (and annoying) practices.

    How you gonna collect this tax from servers in Russian? In theory tax would work, but the technical reality of the internet makes it unworkable, which is why the idea went exactly nowhere.

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