PolitiFact Once Again Shows It Judges Conservatives Far More Harshly Than Liberals

For years NewsBusters has reported on how the so-called "fact-checking" website PolitiFact is far harsher with its analysis of conservatives than it is with liberals.

Back to back postings this week at the organization's new PunditFact once again boldly demonstrate this.

On Thursday, PF analyzed a comment by MSNBC's Ed Schultz: 

On his election day show, Schultz said Christie is far more conservative than the moderate image that swirls around him. Case in point? The governor’s education policy.

"All of a sudden, he is the self-anointed expert on education in America, and he has all the answers," Schultz said. "Cut a billion dollars out of the system, fire 6,000 teachers, and just tell everybody I'm an expert."

Did Christie’s policy lead to the firing of 6,000 teachers? We decided to dig a little.

After "digging," PF concluded:

Christie took office in 2010. Over the next two years, the number of teachers fell by about 4,500.

So Schultz was high by 33 percent. Or more.

As PF found out, some of the reduction in teachers may have come from retirements. In addition (emphasis added):

Gordon MacInnes, a former Democratic lawmaker and now head of a left-leaning think tank, New Jersey Policy Perspective, said two things happened after Christie took office.

"Christie and the Democratic Legislature cut $1 billion in state funds from school aid and the stimulus aid expired," MacInnes said.

A multi-billion dollar state budget deficit made 2010 a very contentious year for school funding. Christie proposed deep reductions in aid, and local school boards tried to fill the gap with property tax hikes. Then local voters shot down those plans in record numbers.

Those local decisions complicate the picture,

"Yes, funding cuts do appear in many cases to have led to staffing reductions," said Bruce Baker, professor of education at Rutgers. "But I'm not sure of a good data source you could use to identify what share of those reductions were from ‘reduction in force’ policies invoked by local public school districts claiming fiscal stress."

So how many of the 4,500 teacher reductions in New Jersey since Christie took over are directly attributable to him?

None of PF's sources were able to say leading the author to the following conclusion:

Schultz said Christie firied 6,000 teachers. There are two problems with Schultz’s claim. First, the number is closer to 4,500, and even the teachers’ union would not say that all the people that held those jobs were fired. Some of them retired and were not replaced. The number of teachers declined but not necessarily through being fired or laid-off.

Second, while Christie pushed hard for steep cuts to school funding, he also got help from local voters.

Because of those caveats, we rate Schultz's claim Half True.

So Schultz being high by at least 33 percent and maybe far more made his claim Half True.

Now consider what PF wrote about conservative talk radio host Larry Elder on Friday:

Conservative talk radio host and [CNN] panelist Larry Elder criticized Christie for accepting the "architecture of the welfare state," pointing to Christie’s embrace of billions of dollars in federal aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In pressing his point, Elder made a head-spinning claim that our governments take almost $.50 of every $1 we earn.

"In 1900, at all three levels of government, federal, state and local, government took less than 10 percent of the American people's money," Elder said. "Now we're talking about 35 percent, and when you add a dollar value to mandates, you're talking almost 50 percent. Where’s the outrage on the part of the Republican Party?"

Elder’s figures certainly are eye-popping, and his general point -- that the government consumes a lot more money than it did more than 100 years ago -- is true. But on the merits of his specific stats, experts we consulted urged caution.

Does it sound "eye-popping" to you that the mixture of federal, state, and local governments could at this time be taking "almost 50 percent" of what Americans make?

I'm sure there are a lot of people in states such as California, Massachusetts, and New York where this is certainly the case just in income and property taxes.

Here's what PF found. As a percentage of Gross Domestic Product - I'm not sure why they went in this direction since Elder was talking about income! - total taxes in 2012 were 32.5 percent.

But here's the far more important number:

Given the way Elder phrased his claim -- using as the denominator "the American people’s money" -- it’s possible to use a different calculation. If you replace gross domestic product with personal income (which was about $13.7 trillion in 2012), then the percentage is a few points higher -- 38.5 percent.

38.5 percent. And Elder said "when you add a dollar value to mandates, you're talking almost 50 percent."

So what's the dollar value to those mandates?

Much as it couldn't find out the real number of New Jersey teachers losing their jobs directly because of Christie's acts, the experts PF contacted didn't know:

But even economists sympathetic to the notion that government is too big are unwilling to say Elder’s definitively right. They say the numbers are simply too squishy.

Government mandates "do have a large burden," said Chris Edwards of the libertarian Cato Institute. "But the estimates shouldn’t be treated with precision."

Despite this, what did PF conclude?

Elder said, "When you add a dollar value to mandates," government took almost 50 percent "of the American people’s money."

It’s easy to get to the mid-to-high 30 percent range. But getting the last 10 to 15 percentage points to get to "almost 50 percent" is less certain. Regulation does have a cost, but the exact cost is hard to pin down. Because his larger point -- that government spending has increased, and that mandates have a cost -- is valid, we rate the claim Mostly False.

So, on Thursday, PF ruled Schultz Half True for overstating Christie's role in teacher firings by at least 33 percent and maybe far more given the variables. Adding in the retirement issue and layoffs due to local cut-backs having nothing to do with the state capital, maybe Christie was only responsible for 3,000 cuts making Schultz's claim 100 percent high. Or more.

But as Elder said "almost 50," and we're starting from a number of 38.5 before we add in mandates that PF couldn't get any definitive numbers on, Elder in the worst case is high by around 25 percent.

Yet that was only on one of his claims during this CNN Crossfire segment. As Elder told me by email:

PunditFact fact-checked my following statement: "In 1900, at all three levels of government, federal, state and local, government took less than 10 percent of the American people's money," Elder said. "Now we're talking about 35 percent, and when you add a dollar value to mandates, you're talking almost 50 percent."

PundiFact call this "Mostly False" and sent me a letter requesting sources for "all of my claims."

I made three "claims":

Claim 1) About government at 1900 - Right.

Claim 2) About government today at 35 percent - Right.

Claim 3) About government taking 50 percent of "people's money." Difficult to state definitively (never said otherwise). But "almost 50 percent" is not an unreasonable estimate based on experts like Grover Norquist's organization that she cites and promptly dismisses. - Mostly Right

So how is my statement "Mostly False?"

This seems particularly absurd given the previous day's analysis of Schultz's demonstrably falser claim which was ruled "Half True."

Sadly, PF has once again proven that it analyzes conservatives and liberals far differently - this time in back to back articles published roughly 24 hours from one another.

Maybe these folks should give themselves a Pants on Fire!

Larry Elder Ed Schultz
Noel Sheppard's picture

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