Politifact responds to U researcher’s anti-GOP bias claim

Late last week, I noted U researcher Eric Ostermeier’s critique of Pulitzer-winning Politifact site. In short, Ostermeier thinks the Politifact politician-fiskers look harder for GOP statements to tear down.

I asked Politifact editor Bill Adair for his response. Here it is:

Eric Ostermeier’s study is particularly timely because we’ve heard a lot of charges this week that we are biased — from liberals. They are unhappy with our False rulings on President Obama from his interview with Bill O’Reilly. So we’re accustomed to hearing strong reactions from people on both ends of the political spectrum.

We are a news organization and we choose which facts to check based on news judgment. We check claims that we believe readers are curious about, claims that would prompt them to wonder, “Is that true?”

We write our reports and source them in a way so that readers and other journalists can independently confirm our findings. We list all our sources so that readers can reach their own conclusions about whether they agree with us.

My quick take:

In the fact-check Adair cites, Obama received two “false” ratings, two “half true” and one “mostly true.” That’s 40 percent “falses” — far above the 12 percent rate Ostermeier calculated for false or bigger demerit, “pants on fire.” (The GOP rate was 38 percent.)

I’ve never been a fan of the “both sides hate us so we must be doing something right” argument; that can enable false balance. But Adair isn’t really concerned about imbalace, saying, essentially, “We follow our insincts and this is where it led.”

Old school.

As I noted before, Ostermeier’s numbers-based approach has weaknesses. To truly prove selection bias, you have to show Politifact fixates on Republican claims while ignoring similar Democrat ones. Obviously, that’s a more subjective exercise, plus a whole lot of work. But like Politifact, Ostermeier showed his work and readers can reach their own conclusions about the bias issue.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 02/15/2011 - 02:43 pm.

    Politifact isn’t biased by party, they’re biased in an establishment way. That’s why Bachmann does badly by them, but so do people like Alan Grayson who they often parsed to death.

    They also cannot differentiate between politicians who skillfully dissemble, as opposed to politicians who equivocate themselves into gray areas.

    They would do much better if they placed every politician’s statements in the context of their party’s political agenda. If a misstatement serves their agenda, it should be graded more harshly because it’s fair to assume that lies that benefit the cause are deliberate.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/16/2011 - 08:09 am.

    After reading Ostermeier’s article I have to say I can’t figure out what if anything he’s really pointing out or criticizing. The examination of Dem and Rep statements is about 50-50. I would assume the statements being investigated would be the most controversial or heavily covered stories, and those judged to be significant given whatever debate is taking place at the time. Obviously Republicans are going fair poorly since they have tight noise machine echo chamber high school debate approach to facts and information. This is well documented, from Fox to Clear Channel. The problem with Ostermeier’s complaint is that it assumes Politifact could be checking other facts that Republicans are getting right or that would score higher. Well, if he Ostermeier wants to make that claim he needs to do more than compare numbers, he needs to compare actual rating, and make his own comparative selection that demonstrate parity of inaccurate statements instead of a Republican dominance.

    If you want to detect a bias, you’d have to establish that both parties are equally fact challenged but one party is getting the majority of high inaccuracy ratings. Ostermeier doesn’t even try to do that, he’s making a mundane observation and selling it as analysis.

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