The Problems With PolitiFact Wisconsin

Posted November 24th, 2010 @ 7:07 AM by

So there is this fact-checking gimmick that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel runs. It’s branded as the Wisconsin version of the PolitFact(R) brand. Site is here.

Bloggers on both the right and the left have taken shots at PolitFact Wisconsin. I have my own issues with the way they do business, but I found it hard to write an entry on it. Why? Well when they were unfair to Republicans and conservatives, it was kind of hard to motivate myself to complain about that. Yeah, I have an agenda, but then again, so does anyone who blogs. I mean, why go through the trouble?

And when they were unfair to groups/people I agreed with, it was hard for me to not get drawn off into a blog entry that was more about pure politics, instead of the PolitFact Wisconsin column.

But I found a few good examples, that I didn’t like that didn’t have anything to do with what groups they were criticizing. So here are a few examples:

1. Their standards are bizarre, take this conclusion to this ruling: State Democratic Party says Scott Walker’s campaign chair killed the release of a damaging report before the election

With no direct evidence, the state Democrats allege Walker rewarded Grebe for burying a damaging report. As Greater Milwaukee Committee chairman, Grebe had the means, motive and opportunity to delay the report — but in trying to connect the dots, Democrats ignore the most important one: evidence he actually did it. The column they cite raises that as a possibility, but does not state it as fact. Indeed, the column — and our reporting — includes people who say the opposite, that it was a group decision, albeit one Grebe acknowledges supporting.

If the party or others produce a smoking gun, we would revisit our determination. But we’re left with the facts in evidence and find the statement Barely True.

So they say there is no evidence to support it and they say that their ruling might not be final, but then they rate it as Barely True? Seems weird to issue a ruling when there isn’t evidence, unless they are using some strange standard where a lack of evidence means something is barely true?

Since they are wielding strong terms like “fact,” why issue a ruling when they aren’t sure? Unless of course, it’s to get the clicks for a story…

2. They use hearsay: Look at the example above, I find it interesting that despite the fact that they are checking individuals for honesty, but then they use unverified statements from other people to issue a ruling. Or look at this one: State GOP says earmarks ban passed due to leadership of U.S. Sen.-elect Ron Johnson of Wisconsin

They cite as evidence like this:

Johnson, by his own account, did not lobby other senators face-to-face on the issue. And he said he was not deeply involved with DeMint’s concerted effort, which dates back months.

“That all occurred before we got here,” said Johnson. “Quite honestly, we kind of stepped into this, having been asked to co-sponsor it (referring to the freshmen who signed on). And Sen. McConnell made his decision.”

DeMint, though, directly credits Johnson and the small group of early supporters for the victory.

Wesley Denton, DeMint’s spokesman, told us: “Senator-elect Johnson was an early public supporter of the earmark ban. His leadership helped give us the momentum we needed to win.”

So here they uncritically accept what Jim DeMint says. Gosh, anyone think that Senator DeMint has an agenda? Maybe complimenting new Senators to help win them over to his side?

3. They predict the future. So check this one: Sierra Club says killing high-speed rail project will cost almost 10,000 permanent jobs in Wisconsin (emphasis mine):

The Sierra Club’s Wisconsin chapter and others say killing the high-speed train will kill jobs, specifically 9,572 permanent ones. Their number is taken from a professional analysis, but that analysis is based on a host of assumptions — including that an entire Midwest network is built — many of which could change. And while the Sierra Club suggests the jobs are an immediate loss, the report itself puts them years into the future.

The Truth-O-Meter isn’t a crystal ball. But it’s got a present-day rating that fits this claim: Barely True.

They say they aren’t a crystal ball but they issue a rating based on the future?

Other Notes:

1. Their Attitude. Their arrogance is obnoxious. Take this recent Tweet from their Twitter account:

And read us in the morning for more about our post-election plans. (Sorry, pols, parties and pundits. We’re not going away)

Uh yeah. Maybe they should work a little harder on their methodology before they make snarky remarks.

2. What I find even more amusing about that statement is that sometimes pols, parties, and pundits do like PolitiFact Wisconsin, and sometimes they don’t, depending on how useful a group or person finds a specific ruling. Who does PolitFact think forwards links to their stories around? Uninterested observers? Not likely…

Categories: | Media | Wisconsin

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