Sunday, October 5, 2014

PolitiFact Wisconsin's latest rating on Mary Burke is "Mostly Bunk"

Fact-checking site misrepresents candidate Mary Burke with its latest rating

I have mixed feelings when it comes to PolitiFact, the fact-checking site that makes rulings based on statements made by politicians, pundits, and candidates for office.

I’ve cited PolitiFact on this site several times. I’ve also come to understand that, while their articles usually contain a good measure of information in them, reading only their ratings on statements is a good way to remain misinformed on issues. The ratings, in fact, are largely subjective to whoever is making them, and in many cases they ignore the very rating system that they have set up in the first place.

The PolitiFact Wisconsin site recently commented on Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke’s assertion that Wisconsin has “fallen to dead last in Midwest job growth” under Gov. Scott Walker.

They rated that statement as “False.” And they're wrong.


Here’s PolitiFact Wisconsin’s rating system:
TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

MOSTLY TRUE – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

FALSE – The statement is not accurate.

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
Reading only the statement that the Burke campaign made alongside with the rating of “False” from PolitiFact Wisconsin would lead one to believe that the assertion is indeed false, and nothing more.

But PolitiFact Wisconsin, in its examination of Burke’s statement, makes many contradictory assertions against its own false rating.
Burke’s campaign points out that this data is the most recent available and that you cannot combine full-year with partial-year data. And that in the window from March 2011 to March 2014 Wisconsin does rank last in the Midwest.

True enough. PolitiFact Wisconsin says it’s “true enough,” but the statement still warrants a “False” rating? Why?
But that timeframe does not correspond well with anything. It misses entirely the first three months of Walker’s term. What’s more, it masks an important fact.

When reviewing economic data, a common yardstick is to examine year-over-year performance to gauge trends. And in that 12-month time frame -- March 2013 to March 2014 -- Wisconsin no longer ranks "dead last" in the Midwest.
Yet the Burke campaign didn’t say we became last in the Midwest over the past year. The assertion in the ad is that we’ve become last in the Midwest since Walker has been governor. It even says so in the ad itself, citing the data as being from the years 2011 to 2014!

PolitiFact Wisconsin also takes issue with the Burke campaign only using numbers from the first quarter job reports. Using anything else, however, would be more misleading, as you can and only should compare data from the same quarterly reports. For example, it makes no sense to compare fourth quarter data from one year with third quarter data from a separate year, as seasonal changes in employment would skew numbers about.

But OK -- let’s play along with PolitiFact Wisconsin, and say that we absolutely NEED to compare numbers that include Walker’s first three months, which would be from December 2010 to March 2014. What happens when we look at those numbers? THEY STILL HOLD UP as being LAST in the Midwest.

Rankings based on numbers
from the website
So PolitiFact Wisconsin is calling Burke’s ad as misleading because it doesn’t include the information THEY wanted. But when you include the information that they say was omitted, the Burke claim still remains True.

Which begs the question: Where does the False rating come from? At best, a case can be made for “Mostly True” or perhaps even “Half True” for the Burke assertion.

As defined above, a rating of Mostly True means that “the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information,” while the statement Half True means “the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.”

The statement from the Burke campaign contains more than partially accurate numbers -- it contains accurate numbers, period. Why it garners a rating of "False," which means it contains NO accuracy whatsoever, is beyond reason.

What’s more mind-boggling than the statement of False (when it should be one of the two ratings mentioned above) is that, while making its rating, PolitiFact Wisconsin actually states that the statement contains some semblance of truth in it:
Burke’s ad renews the claim that Wisconsin rates last in the Midwest in terms of job creation. She’s arrives at that conclusion by citing accurate data, but by using an unconventional shift in the time frame to make her point.
The shift is not all that unconventional, as it requires comparisons from the same quarter to reflect an accurate (and non-misleading) jobs picture.

My Rating

PolitiFact Wisconsin is making a judgment on a Burke campaign statement based on parameters that were never in place to begin with. The Burke campaign said Wisconsin is “dead last” in private sector employment from March 2011 to March 2014. That statement is accurate no matter how you look at it. Yet PolitiFact Wisconsin rated that claim as false because it didn’t take into account the Midwest ranking over the past year, a claim the Burke campaign never made and doesn't make sense to make when talking about Gov. Walker's entire performance in office.

What’s more, in making its ranking of the statement, PolitiFact Wisconsin ignores its own ranking system. It states that Burke is indeed providing factual information, and based upon the parameters they have stated they remain accurate. But it still gives a “False” rating based upon the year-long rankings, not the overall rankings that the campaign was pointing out.

For providing an absurd rating on an accurate campaign statement, using parameters that were set up by their editorial staff and ignoring those of the campaign itself, I rate PolitiFact Wisconsin’s rating of “False” to be “Mostly Bunk.”

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