NewsBusters Podcast: PolitiFact Is NOT 'Obsessed with Fairness'

April 10th, 2024 10:28 PM

When PolitiFact won the Pulitzer Prize (for national reporting) in 2008, the committee touted how they used "probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters." It's not that simple. It's not always so cut and dried to locate "truth."

While USA Today fact-checking boss Eric Litke says fact-checkers should be "obsessed with fairness," our latest NewsBusters study of PolitiFact demonstrates a significant partisan aggression against Republican politicians. Named politicians in the GOP were tagged as "Mostly False" or worse in almost 75 percent of fact checks, while the Democrats landed on that False side only 26 percent of the time. Blogs tagging the Republicans as false (47) were almost five times as common as blogs tagging the Democrats as false (ten).

PolitiFact's selection bias seems to operate along the lines of the old Stephen Colbert joke that "Reality has a liberal bias." Republicans drew more "fact checks" (63 to 39), but it started with a 20 to 1 disparity in the first three weeks in January. I called attention to it on Twitter, and suddenly they added five Democrat fact checks, including two for President Biden and two for Vice President Harris. 

It evened out in February -- 17 Republican checks to 14 for Democrats -- but the tilt was egregious. Thirteen of 17 GOP fact checks were tagged "Mostly False" or worse, and only two on the True side. But eleven of the 14 Democrat checks were on the True side -- eight True, three Mostly True.

No one should expect fact-checking groups to calibrate their checks so that the distribution of "False" claims is equally distributed. But what PolitiFact's doing here is the opposite: it's making sure the Party of Trump stands out as the less honest and trustworthy party. That doesn't "enlighten voters" as much as encourage voters to check the D.

Enjoy the podcast below or wherever you listen to podcasts.