So now that we’ve taken a look at right-wing charges of left-wing bias at PolitiFact Texas, we now travel north to PolitiFact (PF) Wisconsin, where we have an opportunity to take a look at left-wing charges of right-wing bias against PF’s partners at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And it will be using a similar methodology that was utilized by the critics of PolitiFact Texas: a “comparison” to support the belief that PolitiFact applies different standards in making its rulings, which in this case are allegedly more favorable to Republicans.
The subject writer in this case is Jed Lounsbury of Uppity Wisconsin.org, a website featuring “Progressive News from the Cheddarsphere.” We’re off to the right start already, since the counterpart at PolitiFact Texas was also easily established as a *non*-Progressive. And his very first sentence tells us after our right start where we are headed: “The Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact is a joke.”
As one of the few keepers of PolitiFact’s rulings database, I immediately run into something that needs to be addressed:
PolitiFact has chosen to pull out the "pants on fire" ruling three times and all three times have been for Democrats. (PolitiFact has never rated a comment their highest designation of "true," but they have twice designated ads as "mostly true"-- and both of those have gone to Republican candidates.) …
…the MJS has not found a single statement or ad by a GOP politician to brand with their nuclear "pants on fire" designation and couldn't find anything by a Democrat to designate as "mostly true" or higher!
Jed may have not known at the time (since it was September) that there were quite a few True rulings made by PolitiFact Wisconsin, from its inception through the end of 2010. The distribution breaks down as follows, along with the Politi-Score:
Pants on Fire
While Jed was correct on more Pants on Fire rulings for Democrats all the way through the campaign season to the end of 2010, the Democrats had 5 True rulings, while the Republicans had only a single one. The Mostly True category appeared to stay in line with Jed’s claims, only one for the Democrats, but 5 for the Republicans. There on out the rulings diverged. But because of far greater Democrat Pants on Fire grades awarded, the average as calculated by the Politi-Score gave a slight edge to the Republicans, which is NOT how the averages overall, or for most of the other PolitiFact partners, have been running. Overall, the trend has been to the Democrats advantage. In fact, the overall Politi-Score was 50.5 for the Democrats and 38.9 for the Republicans, indicating that either the PF Wisconsin fact-checkers are tougher making their ruling evaluations OR are there just more (almost equally divided between the two political parties) fibbing politicos in Wisconsin? Here is a line chart which provides a graphical presentation of the differences between PF Wisconsin and all PF rulings in total (through December 31, 2010):
Click to enlarge: PF Wisconsin did not follow PF National rulings averages.
Jed starts with a statement by Russ Feingold that he’s been “been outspent by my opponents every time I've run for U.S. Senate” which PolitiFact (PF) Wisconsin rated Pants on Fire.
Jed’s issue is that “This is true if you only look post-primary, but [his 2004 primary opponents] spent millions hitting on Feingold” before the primary, “which is very close to the general election in Wisconsin.” Yet PolitiFact states explicitly that the amounts spent which they list cover “the two year period before the election.” Doesn’t two years include the primary?
What PF was faulting Feingold for was stating that he was outspent by ALL his opponents, and totaling them together would make for, as PolitiFact notes, a very convenient argument, because “tallying up spending by Republican primary candidates he never faced to obscure that he vastly outspent the one he did.” In other words, it’s an argument ridiculous on its face. Yet Jed expects us to believe just that. Feingold, in my opinion, may not deserve a Pants on Fire ruling, but it was False nonetheless.
Jed moves on to another Pants on Fire ruling awarded to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) which said Republican candidate for Congress representing Wausau Sean Duffy “wants to privatize Social Security.” This clearly smacks of similar reasoning used by Republicans in regard to “Obamacare” and those dreaded death panels: the familiar propaganda ploy of invoking fear by reducing something opposed to absurdity. Like heightened regulation of the insurance industry in “Obamacare” is not quite a government takeover, allowing people the option of personal accounts as “managed and overseen by the government” is not quite privatization either. In this case, because PolitiFact often gives Pants on Fire rulings to False claims which stoke “fear”—it appears to have been deserved.
I’ll skip the last Democrat-ruled-Pants-on-Fire Jed complained about to look at the one Republican who he felt should not have been rated Barely True but rather False or Pants on Fire, which was the winning Wisconsin senatorial candidate Ron Johnson’s statement that “likens Social Security to Bernie Madoff style Ponzi scheme.” Ron got a slightly better than a false because he did not flat out say Social Security IS (“indeed!”) a Ponzi scheme, like Rick Perry or John Loughlin. He just said the government treats it that way.
While I’ve published some arguments that it is not Ponzi, Jed’s “conservative counterpart” Weston Hicks over at PolitiHack Tracker has a new and different take on Social Security as Ponzi, or at least something reduced to another absurdity:
Social Security legislation only succeeded after FDR's deceptively packaged it as "old age insurance", helpful spin since the insurance model is self-sustaining. In real insurance, all premium payers pay for protection against events that will only happen to a tiny percentage of them (fires, car accidents, catastrophic health insurance, etc.). Old age happens to everyone. Social Security is not insurance
In truth, Social Security was always a welfare entitlement program, but FDR had to give it a face lift by comparing it to something from the private sector. Social Security impersonates retirement investment much more closely than insurance, and private investment vehicles that make member payments with new member money are called “ponzi schemes”.
(So maybe I should quit paying my life insurance premiums since death happens to everyone? Or call them something else?)
the legal definition of Ponzi. Some critics say that there’s also economic theories of Ponzi which PolitiFact should address with regard to social-security-as-Ponzi; but economic theory is not reality. All that economic theories of Ponzi do is to “seek to explain it” in terms of sustainability.
PolitiFact Wisconsin has not escaped the critical clutches of Bryan White’s Sublime Bloviations, although it appears he has only rated one ruling quite recently. Here he takes PF to task with regard to a statement by Jim Sensenbrenner that the American voters have given an emphatic NO to “Obamacare.” PF has given him a Barely True rating because most of the polls say the “emphasis” has been waning; Bryan’s spin is that the question was about the American voters and not what the polls reflected (using the “straw man” approach).
Which would be a good answer if not for the fact that when PF called Representative Sensenbrenner to directly ask him, his office claimed that his statement was based on a Rasmussen Poll. Likely voters means likely, and since 58.5% didn't vote, what does that mean? So I guess Sensenbrenner’s office was tricked by the pollster straw man too?
Jed Lounsbury did not offer anything quite as detailed as Weston Hicks with regard to PolitiFact’s bias. Of course, he isn’t quite as ardent, since Weston has a website with a number of PolitiFact Texas rulings reviewed. But both cases show what happens when all that is showing is one's bias….whether Liberal or Conservative, it so slants the reasoning that it collapses even under casual scrutiny.