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PolitiFact's So-Called Fact-Checks Show Bias, Incompetence, Or Both

- August 30, 2016

Raj Shah - August 30, 2016

Lo and behold, as election season rolls around, so-called fact-checking organization PolitiFact is issuing new rulings that conveniently undercut important claims made by Republicans and carry water for Democrats. In doing so, PolitiFact is selectively changing the definition of what is and isn't a fact. PolitiFact has long been cited as unfair to Republicans, but this latest example may be among the most egregious.

This week, PolitiFact Florida looked at the Republican claim that Hillary Clinton voted as a U.S. Senator to raise taxes on individuals making $41,500, as part of a 2008 budget resolution that sought to raise the marginal tax rate on an income bracket that hits American workers earning just $41,500 annually.

PolitiFact didn't rate this claim "mostly false" because she missed the vote, or because the resolution didn't apply to people making just $41,500 a year, but because the vote was on a non-binding budget resolution and as a result, it claims, "[l]iterally speaking, Clinton's vote did nothing." News to us, since budget resolutions lay out clear policy priorities and set spending and tax assumptions about revenue for congressional appropriators - and we've seen votes on them in attack ads for years.

But if one were to assume PolitiFact's logic for a moment, that past budget votes "literally…did nothing," and politicians can't be held responsible for what's in them, one would assume that all attacks leveled against all candidates, Republican or Democrat, for their votes on non-binding budget resolutions would be rated "mostly false," right? Think again.

If you stretch all the way back to…last week…you'll see a different standard when the attack is directed at a Republican. Just a few days ago, PolitiFact North Carolina rated ads attacking a Republican for votes he cast in favor of non-binding Senate budget resolutions that mirrored House-passed budgets authored by now-House Speaker Paul Ryan. In this instance, PolitiFact ruled that it was "accurate" to say voting for budget resolutions that outlined lower tax rates on individuals in higher income brackets meant supporting tax cuts on upper income Americans.

To be clear, this is an apples to apples comparison: both individuals cast votes on non-binding budget resolutions, and both outlined changes to existing tax rates. Yet one was essentially called true, while the other rated false - and the only difference was their respective party affiliations. By the way, this isn't the only time this year an attack that targeted a Republican vote in favor of a budget resolution has been rated true by PolitiFact, and we highly doubt it will be the last.

And let's rewind to 2012, and see how far PolitiFact was willing to bend in order to rubber stamp a bogus Democrat attack on the details of non-binding budget resolutions. That year, with President Obama up for re-election, the so-called fact checking group rated his claim that Paul Ryan's budget would cut Pell Grants for 10 million college students "half true" because if the non-binding budget resolution's proposed spending cuts "were to be spread out evenly" across the entire budget - something the budget resolution's language does not specifically state and almost certainly would not have done if implemented - it could possibly cut financial aid under the Pell Grant program. That's quite the leap.

So fictitious budget cuts extrapolated (i.e. literally made up by a campaign) from a non-binding budget resolution attacking Republicans are "half true," but actual tax increases from a non-binding budget resolution attacking a Democrat are somehow "mostly false."

The only conclusions that can be drawn are that PolitiFact has either arbitrarily decided to change standards on an election by election or week by week basis, and is thus inconsistent, or that it has deliberately decided to change standards to promote Democrats and undercut Republicans, and is thus biased. Or possibly PolitiFact is both inconsistent and biased, and as a result woefully incompetent. But one can't conclude with these so-called fact checks that PolitiFact has been either consistent or fair.


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