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.”
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.