Thursday, December 01, 2011

More odd PolitiFact heads

I think that many of the PolitiFact articles checking claims made by public officials, politicians and others are very good. On the whole, I think they constitute a worthwhile contribution to public discourse - if you read the articles.

But if all you do is glance at the "Truth-O-Meter," PolitiFact can be highly misleading and obscure more than enlighten. The text of the articles is often measured and insightful but I can find no rhyme or reason as to how it chooses which cute little graphic to run as part of the article.

A case in point is last week's column on a report by Media Trackers that recall petition circulators are not certified and that there is no privacy protection for those who sign petitions. Both statements are true as PolitiFact concedes.

Yet it rates the Media Trackers story "mostly false." How can that be?

PolitiFact jumps on one line in the MediaTrackers' story saying that these facts have "been discovered." PolitiFact then reads this to mean "newly discovered" or "newly developed" and rates the story mostly false. That strikes me as idiosyncratic at best and unfair at worst.

The thrust of the Media Trackers article is that persons who sign recall petitions are making their name and address a matter of public record. That is true and the fact that it has always been true doesn't make it false. It's not at all clear that most people know that and it seems like a reasonable thing to report.

While it may not have been "discovered" in thes sense that it has always been true and some people have known it doesn't undercut the gist of the story. To make the "truth" or "falsity" of the story turn mostly on the use of that term is to pick a nit. This is particularly so combined with the head which makes no reference to any claim of novelty only Media Trackers report that signers are "at risk."

Someone who merely scans the headline and Truth-O-Meter might - in fact would if they knew nothing else - conclude that Media Trackers falsely reported that signers of recall petitions are at risk that there names might be accessed and misused. But that's not false.

How concerned a signer should be about this is another matter. I get enough nasty mail and e-mails that my wife sometimes thinks we should be "unlisted." That is a quaint relic of our past. No one is unlisted anymore.

But, in Wisconsin's current environment, we have seen partisans - generally if not entirely on the left - use public record of political support to harass their opponents. No one should do that to people who sign recall petitions but Media Trackers is not wrong to point out that they could.

3 comments:

Geo mitchell said...

Good critique. I was an early admirer of politifact.
Overall, I remain one. The effort is undercut
by the ranking labels. There r other weaknesses but on balance it is a net plus.

illusory tenant said...

Loving these "In defense of Media Trackers" posts. Keep 'em comin'!

John Foust said...

I read the original Media Trackers blog post and I was so frightened I almost wet myself. There's no way I'd sign one of those petitions, what with all those anti-Walker-recall folks out there ready to potentially maybe harass me in some unknown, unthinkably horrid manner!

... generally if not entirely on the left...

That's odd! All my documented crank calls came from BadgerBlogger, a right-wing blog.