Politifact

Wed, 2012-01-11 11:36Chris Mooney
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Does PolitiFact Adequately Cover Scientific Misinformation? Well, Sort Of

I’ve been harping a lot lately on the fact-checkers, like PolitiFact, and how they too often fall for a type of phony journalistic “balance” that those of us who practice science journalism as a trade have long abhorred.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe the deep difference between science journalism and political journalism is part of the core reason why political fact-checkers seem so often to do their job as if politics is a horse race–striving to regularly ding Democrats, even when Republicans are really ginning up the vast majority of the most severe and systemic political falsehoods.

After all, as a science journalist, I’ve come to denounce media “balance” on issues like evolution and global warming precisely because…well, because I know how to report on the science of evolution and global warming. And knowing how to report on that science has, in turned, shown me how solid our body of knowledge in these areas really is—and thus, how extensively out of touch conservatives are.

But learning how to practice journalism in this way—well, that takes some doing. It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s a journalistic speciality.

So if political fact checkers don’t really know much about how to report on science—one of the chief areas in which Democrats and Republicans are unequal when it comes to spewing misinformation—then perhaps it's no wonder they're so prone to falling for phony “balance.” They simply haven’t had the behavior drilled out of their heads enough, through reporting on issues where “balance” just isn't an option.

I wanted to test this idea, so here’s what I did. I went to PolitiFact and searched its archives for the word “evolution,” just to see how often the site had grappled with a very prominent scientific issue where Republicans and conservatives have an overwhelming tendency to be factually incorrect and make false claims–and where, by any stretch, a “balanced” approach is utterly inappropriate.

Wed, 2011-12-21 04:55Chris Mooney
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“End Medicare?” How Phony Bipartisanship Created a Fact Checking Disaster

Just last week, I wrote about the core problem facing the new breed of political fact-checkers: The political right is more factually wrong, meaning that taking a strictly “bipartisan” approach will inevitably leave the fact-checkers themselves guilty of phony “balance.” And it will also lead to them occasionally having their lunches eaten by left-leaning sites like Media Matters, as well as by sensible liberal bloggers.

Little did I know that PolitiFact, arguably the leading fact-checker, would immediately come through with a stunning validation of this point.

PolitiFact just announced its “lie of the year,” the Democratic claim that “Republicans voted to end Medicare.” However, if you peruse analyses from Paul Krugman, Steven Benen, Jason Linkins, and others, you’ll find that the very notion that this is a lie at all is highly debatable. Frankly, the repeated fact-checks of this Democratic assertion seem to boil down to little more than a matter of definition.

It all depends on what the meaning of the word “end” is.

Thu, 2011-12-15 07:08Chris Mooney
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Can Fact Checking be Politically “Neutral,” When Facts Are Not Equally Distributed Across the Political Spectrum?

Recently, I sat in on an off-the-record meeting about political fact-checking. I can’t report or quote from the event, but it spurred along some general thoughts that had already arisen in the context of writing The Republican Brain, which focuses a great deal on fact-checking—and thus, helped  propel this post.

Fact checking is a phenomenon that has really taken off over the last half decade or so as, more and more, media outlets as well as independent and/or partisan voices are busily pronouncing on the “truth” of political statements. The reason? Well, there are many, but I would place the growing divide over reality and what is factually true, between the left and the right, as perhaps the leading one.

By far the best known fact-checking outlets are the websites PolitiFact, a project of the St. Petersburg Times, and FactCheck.org, based at the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Perhaps most prominently in the mainstream media, there is also the Washington Post’s fact-checker column, which regularly bestows one to four “Pinocchios” upon politicians’ statements.

These three main fact-checking outlets are then complemented by an ever growing number of blogs and, of course, fact-checkers on both sides of the political aisle.

Here, incidentally, arises a pretty sharp divide—between those who claim to check both political “sides” equally, and those who don’t.

Mon, 2011-11-21 02:55Chris Mooney
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Fox News Viewers are the Most Misinformed: A Seventh Study Arrives to Prove It (and to Vindicate Jon Stewart!)

Two of my most popular posts here at DeSmogBlog were a pair of items documenting 1) just how many surveys have found Fox News viewers to be more misinformed about factual reality and 2) taking PolitiFact to task for giving Jon Stewart a “false” rating when he pointed this out.

Stewart wasn’t wrong, PolitiFact was.

In these pieces, I identified 6 separate studies showing Fox News viewers to be the most misinformed, and in a right wing direction–studies on global warming, health care, health care a second time, the Ground Zero mosque, the Iraq war, and the 2010 election.

I also asked if anyone was aware of any counterevidence, and none was forthcoming. There might very well be a survey out there showing that Fox viewers aren't the most misinformed cable news consumers on some topic (presumably it would be a topic where Democrats have some sort of ideological blind spot), but I haven’t seen it. And I have looked.

There really does seem to be a “Fox News effect,” then, and one that is playing a central role in driving our political divide over reality in the U.S. And now comes a true tour-de-force seventh study showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed, this time once again about global warming.

Wed, 2011-06-29 06:19Chris Mooney
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When Facts Don’t Matter: Proving The Problem With Fox News

My two posts about Fox News and misinformation are probably the most popular items I’ve contributed here. They’ve been widely linked, Tweeted and Facebooked hundreds of times, and viewed well over ten thousand times. That’s because they perform a simple task that, at least as far as I had seen when I wrote the first one, hadn’t been done elsewhere: They list studies (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) showing that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed about an array of factual—but politicized—issues.

In these posts, I’ve tried to be as dispassionate as one can be on such a matter. I’ve repeatedly said that the studies don’t prove that Fox causes people to be misinformed; they just show a correlation, but the causal arrow could run in either direction (or both). I’ve also said that there may well be other studies out there than the 6 that I’ve found; and there may even be studies out there showing some cases where Fox News viewers are not the most misinformed. Indeed, I could design such a study myself–though it would have to be politically skewed by only asking about topics where liberals and Democrats are likely to be misinformed.

It is interesting, though, that no contrary studies have yet been produced.

Wed, 2011-06-22 05:37Chris Mooney
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Jon Stewart 1, Politifact 0: Fox News Viewers Are The Most Misinformed

I have a lot of respect for political fact checking sites. I think they play a critical role, especially in our misinformation-saturated political and media environment.

However, sometimes these sites fall for the allure of phony bipartisanship. In other words, in an environment in which conservatives are more inaccurate and more misinformed about science and basic policy facts, the “fact checkers” nevertheless feel unduly compelled to correct “liberal” errors too—which is fine, as long as they are really errors.

But sometimes they aren’t. A case in point is Politifact’s recent and deeply misguided attempt to correct Jon Stewart on the topic of…misinformation and Fox News. This is a subject on which we’ve developed some expertise here…my recent post on studies showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed, on an array of issues, is the most comprehensive such collection that I’m aware of, at least when it comes to public opinion surveys detecting statistical correlations between being misinformed about contested facts and Fox News viewership. I’ve repeatedly asked whether anyone knows of additional studies—including contradictory studies—but none have yet been cited.

Stewart, very much in the vein of my prior post, went on the air with Fox’s Chris Wallace and stated,

“Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll.”

My research, and my recent post, most emphatically supports this statement.

Thu, 2009-04-09 09:01Jeanne Roberts
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Obama’s Cap and Trade Costs vs. GOP’s Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

The quote (lies, damned lies and statistics) is from 1840’s British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, but the political scene remains unchanged 170 years later. The Republicans would have you believe that President Barack Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade emissions plan will cost the average American family $3,000 a year if implemented.

If, as they say, a lie oft repeated becomes the truth, Fox News, CNN, Politifact and Roll Call are clearly in the business of “retruthing” the administration’s cap-and-trade proposals by parroting the GOP’s lie. Shamelessly, in fact, since none of the above-mentioned media sources (or their reporters) even bothered to question the figures presented them like so much frosting on a truly toxic fossil-fuel cake.

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