PolitiFact Wins the “Up is Down” Award

This post is my sixth foray into the world of PolitiFact pants-on-fire charges against President Trump. So far the score has been 5-0 in favor of President Trump. Will PolitiFact finally get on the scoreboard? We shall see.

CNN’s ratings are “way down.”

— PolitiFact National on Monday, July 3rd, 2017

My Opinion

I’m done a series of Google searches on the subject of CNN ratings and one thing easily leaps out. According to some criteria, CNN is doing better than it has before, and according to other criteria it is doing worse. In other words, for its rebuttal, PolitiFact was able to find stats to back up its case against President Trump. But, and this is critical, PolitiFact could have just as easily found stats totally supporting President Trump’s claim about CNN’s ratings going down the tubes. Why didn’t they?

On the first page of every google search I performed on the subject of CNN ratings, there were links to articles saying CNN was doing great and other links to articles saying CNN’s ratings were dropping. It appears to me that PolitiFact only read the former articles and not the latter. If they had read both sets of articles, they would have walked away from this issue.

PolitiFact chose to cherry pick only those stats that supported its side of the story. For nineteen years, my father worked for the last Hearst newspaper in New York City, the New York Journal American, and if he were alive today he would say that this is not the way good journalists work.

Though there are statistics on both sides of the CNN ratings story, two things are not debatable:

  1. If you narrow the look at CNN’s ratings to the month right before President Trump made his tweet, CNN ratings had taken a crashing nosedive just like he said.
  2. Further, if you broaden the issue to include CNN’s ratings vs. its competitors, CNN is far, far below Fox News and even MSNBC, its rival for the liberal cable news market in the coveted primetime demographics. Clearly, CNN is having problems. Clearly.

 

These facts are easily found on the internet with even the most basic of Google searches. See the graph below. From June 7th, to July 3, 2017, CNN’s viewership took a drastic plunge. President Trump’s tweet was sent out on July 3rd.

President Trump’s Comments

Also below is data showing CNN not doing well vs. its main competitors: Fox News and MSNBC. The numbers are from July 5th, just two days after President Trump sent out his tweet. True, the data below doesn’t prove that CNN’s ratings were plunging, but only that they were pretty poor vs. its competitors. But, still, combined with the graph above and the numbers below, the picture is clear: President Trump had a good case to make vs. CNN. How on earth did PolitiFact not only call his tweet a lie, but a pants-on-fire lie?!

Total Viewers (Live +SD) for July 5th 2017

  • Total day: FNC: 1.722 | CNN: 671 | MSNBC: 1.019 | HLN: 239
  • Primetime: FNC: 2.718 | CNN: 856 | MSNBC: 1.983 | HLN: 318

Adweek Stats

Also, according to Nielson, in the week between June 26th and July 2nd , Fox News came in first, MSNBC came in second, and CNN came in 13th, (Nick-at-Night was number 11), in the primetime cable channel rankings. Again, I’m forced to ask PolitiFact: Really, President Trump’s tweet was a ridiculous lie?

Also, even if you look at CNN’s ratings since last year, they appear to have taken a bigger beating than their competitors. Again, PolitiFact failed to note this:

“According to Nielsen ratings data compiled by TV Newser, Fox News’ overall viewership indeed grew in the month following the election, while both MSNBC and CNN saw their ratings dip. In the key 25-54-year-old demographic for the primetime hours, however, all three networks saw their audience shrink, although the losses for CNN (-47%) and MSNBC (-42%) were proportionally much larger than that of Fox News (-2%).”  CNN and MSNBC Ratings

Like I said earlier, PolitiFact also had a few points in their favor in defense of CNN. And I have no reason to dispute their numbers – only their misapplication of them. In its piece, PolitiFact said:

“CNN is at a five-year high in each of the categories we looked at, according to data provided by the Nielsen Company.”

And:

“CNN just posted its most-watched second quarter in history,” a CNN public relations account tweeted in response to Trump. “Those are the facts.”

And:

“We rate Trump’s statement Pants on Fire.”

The problem with PolitiFact’s argument is that President Trump wasn’t talking about their ratings over the past five years or even over the last quarter. Though he didn’t specify, it is highly likely he was talking about CNN’s recent ratings problems. His tweets are notoriously current. During the month of June, when President Trump published his tweet, CNN’s reputation and ratings had taken a big hit. They had shot themselves in the foot by botching several news stories, mostly about Trump.

In June 2017, these stories emerged, causing CNN great embarrassment:

  1. Three CNN reporters had to resign because of a bogus story they ran attacking President Trump.
  2. CNN displayed as real news a fake National Enquirer cover about Ted Cruz.
  3. As a punishment, CNN threatened to review the identity of a Reddit user who created a video used by President Trump to mock CNN.
  4. A CNN editor promoted a deceptively edited video supposedly showing Poland’s first lady snubbing President Trump. Extending the video by 3 more seconds showed this interpretation was totally bogus.
  5. A CNN producer admitted on camera that the CNN Trump/Russian collusion story is “mostly [expletive deleted]” and that “the president is probably right to say [CNN] is witch-hunting [him],” but that CNN pursues the story anyway because it is “good for business.” CNN Producer Admits Russian Story is Nonsense

So the question remains, with all this going on at CNN why was PolitiFact fighting the fact that CNN’s ratings were way down in June. Your guess is as good as mine. It just makes no sense that PolitiFact would waste their time disputing what President Trump tweeted about CNN ratings, let alone label what he said, “pants-on-fire.”

My ruling: PolitiFact is biased against President Trump. If he said ‘up was up,’ they would say it was down. For this I give them the “Up is Down” Award.

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PolitiFact Wins the Mr. Magoo Award

in this post I tackle the second on my list of PolitiFact “Pants-on-Fire” statements by President Trump.

Disclosure: I disagree with President Trump on the elimination of the estate tax. I believe the tax doesn’t have to be eliminated to protect small businesses and farmers from excessive taxation. To quote Winston Churchill, estate taxes are “a certain corrective against the development of a race of idle rich”. And I believe that the ‘idle rich’ cause as many problems in a society as the idle poor.

PolitiFact Writes

Donald Trump

Ending the estate tax would “protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.”

— PolitiFact National on Thursday, September 28th, 2017

Here is My Opinion

In its efforts to peg President Trump a shameless liar, PolitiFact does a very good job of explaining why the “Death Tax” should be kept. In fact, PolitiFact’s position won my vote on that score.

But the question before us is not whether the estate tax is good or bad, but whether President Trump lied when he said that ending the estate tax would “protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.”

This is only the second PolitiFact claim than I’ve examined, but I’m already seeing a trend. PolitiFact doesn’t like Donald Trump, consequently, whenever he opens his mouth, they’re immediately charging the matador’s cape with their eyes closed, and consequently are missing their target completely.

The PolitiFact argument in a nutshell: According to the Tax Policy Center (an organization that claims to be nonpartisan but is generally thought to have a liberal bias – especially by the WSJ https://www.wsj.com/articles/tax-policy-center-propaganda-1506889612 ) only 5,460 estates will likely have to pay estate taxes in 2017. And of those only 80 or so could be considered small businesses or farmers. Eighty small businesses and farmers is quite a ways from the millions that President Trump claimed he was protecting. Therefore, according to PolitiFact, President Trump’s statement is ridiculous and deserves a pants on fire ruling.

I’m sorry PolitiFact: despite your facts, which I have no reason to dispute, ending the estate tax really does protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer. And I’m surprised you don’t see it.

Let’s supposes that instead of talking about the estate tax, President Trump had been talking about toughening up the gun laws in Chicago, a city with a population of 2.7 million. If President Trump had said that toughening the gun laws would protect millions of people in Chicago, would PolitiFact have disagreed? Would PolitiFact argue that since only 762 people were killed by guns in Chicago in 2016, it is ridiculous to claim millions would be protected by the new law in 2017?

Or perhaps, if after the new law was passed and gun deaths dropped to, let’s say, 700, would PolitiFact then claim that only 62 people had been protected? I assume so. Because this is essentially the argument PolitiFact is using against President Trump on the estate tax. PolitiFact would have said that President Trump was an audacious liar and only 62 people had actually been protected by the new gun laws, just as only 80 small businesses and farmers are being ‘protected’ by the repeal of the estate tax.

Why is it that I can clearly see President Trump’s point and PolitiFact can’t? President Trump is saying that there are millions of small businesses and American farmers who now will forever be protected from the estate tax. Is it salesmanship? Yes. Is it putting the best window dressing on a bad law? Yes. Is it a lie? No. I’m not even sure it qualifies as an exaggeration.

True, most small businesses or farmers will never be big enough to qualify for the estate tax. But they’ll all wish they were. I suspect the vast majority of small businesses are earnestly striving to be worth the $5.49 million required to be subject to the estate tax. But, most will never make it. But, nevertheless, with the tax eliminated, they will forever be protected from ever having that problem.

President Trump’s wording of his message is called putting the best spin on a situation. This is hardly a reason to call him a liar.

My ruling: I used to have a professor in college (Boise State University – Rulon Hurt’s alma mater! Go Broncos!) who was fond of saying, “Every way of seeing the world is a way of not seeing the world.” In this case, PolitiFact seems to have a blindspot about President Trump, and neither PolitiFact’s principles, review committee, or followers seem able to open their eyes to that fact. Unfortunately, this blindspot is not serving PolitiFact well if they want to be known as an objective, reasonable, and nonpartisan purveyor of truth.

For this ‘pants on fire’ claim about President Trump, PolitiFact earns the “Mr. Magoo” award.

For those not familiar with Mr. Magoo, Wikipedia states: Quincy Magoo (or simply Mr. Magoo) is a cartoon character created at the UPA animation studio in 1949. Voiced by Jim Backus, Quincy Magoo is a wealthy, short-statured retiree who gets into a series of comical situations as a result of his extreme near-sightedness, compounded by his stubborn refusal to admit the problem.

In my next post, I’ll tackle the third pants-on-fire statement PolitiFact attributes to President Trump:

Donald Trump

White nationalist protesters in Charlottesville “had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.”

— PolitiFact National on Thursday, August 17th, 2017

 

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PolitiFact Wins the “Artful Dodger” Award

There are so many conflicting stories and opinions in the press these days. And so many persuasive speakers and writers whose motives and honesty we have almost no way of judging. For this reason, I finally decided to personally investigate some of the claims made about President Trump in the press. In other words, I’ve decided to fact-check and logic-check the Fact Checkers.

Over the years, an organization called PolitiFact, a non-profit opinion arm of the Tampa Bay Times, http://www.politifact.com/ has hammered President Trump relentlessly over the veracity of his statements. I decided I would start with them.

PolitiFact’s mission is to ‘fact check’ statements by politicians and other public figures and to issue a “ruling” over whether the statement is true or not.

PolitiFact gives only the clearest and most egregious of lies its PANTS ON FIRE ruling, defined by PolitiFact as: The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim. PolitiFact pants on fire definition

In today’s post, I examine the first of twenty-one President Trump “Pants-on-Fire” statements as determined by PolitiFact. I did not cherry-pick these statements. This list was emailed to me by a good friend who endorses PolitiFact. I’m addressing the statements in the order they were sent.

Is President Trump a compulsive liar, as several of my friends have suggested? Or has the press been giving him a bum deal? By the time I’ve checked all twenty-one ‘pants-on-fire’ claims, I should know.

Below is the link to the PolitiFact website with its argument that President Trump egregiously lied when he said that Chicago had the strongest gun laws in the nation. Did he? PolitiFact is adamant he did.

Donald Trump: Chicago is “the city with the strongest gun laws in our Nation.” November 7th, 2017

          I’ve read PolitiFact’s argument and below is my opinion

In the end, while attempting to drive home its point, PolitiFact only succeeded in trivializing the entire issue of guns laws and gun violence.

Does anyone doubt that Chicago has tough gun laws? Does anyone doubt that Chicago’s gun laws are up there with the toughest in the country? Even PolitiFact doesn’t dispute that. And yet, PolitiFact chooses instead to get bogged down in a discussion on whether Chicago has the toughest or second toughest, or third toughest laws in the country.

In fact, there are considerable differences in opinion as to where Chicago ranks in the list of toughest cities on gun crime. A person’s opinion on the point seems to rest on what weight they give the various laws. For this reason, it seemed even stranger to me that PolitiFact would waste its time on this.

This even appears to be a violation of PolitiFact’s own charter.
PolitiFact states on its website: “Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.” truth-o-meter/principles

PolitiFact also states: “To assess the truth for a numbers claim, the biggest factor is the underlying message.” truth-o-meter/article

Here again, PolitiFact violated one of its own principles. President Trump’s underlying message is that Chicago has really tough gun laws and still has a rising murder rate. Is President Trump’s point not still valid even if Chicago doesn’t have the absolute #1 toughest laws in the country?

Still, PolitiFact rates President Trump’s statement to be inaccurate, ridiculous, and deserving of their most caustic, pants-on-fire rating.

Well, I’ve already made my point about this PolitiFact argument, but, at the risk of being accused of ‘piling on’, here are some additional problems I found – not factual errors, so much as simple errors in logic and generally wide of the mark comments.

Problems with PolitiFact’s reasoning :
1. PolitiFact’s claim against President Trump positively screamed out for a simple answer, i.e., simply tell me the cities you think have stronger gun laws than Chicago, then list and compare the significant laws between them. End of story. Case closed. The fact that PolitiFact couldn’t/wouldn’t do this leaves me gobsmacked as to why they still insisted on calling President Trump a liar over his statement. I mean, if you can’t list the cities with stronger gun laws than Chicago then walk away!
2. In its opening argument, instead of answering the question which cities have stronger gun laws than Chicago, PolitiFact answered the question: Are Chicago’s gun laws today stronger than they were in 2010? Apparently not, but that doesn’t prove Chicago still doesn’t have the toughest gun laws in the nation. This is simple logic.
3. PolitiFact said that it cost ~$200 more to obtain a gun license in NYC than it does in Chicago. This is one of PolitiFact’s key arguments. However, it’s a pretty minor one given that guns themselves can cost $thousands.
4. PolitiFact tried using NYC’s longer gun-license processing period as an argument, however, the NYC processing time appears to be an administrative issue rather than a legal one.
5. PolitiFact argued that New York and six other states have stronger gun laws than Illinois without explaining what effect that had on cities within those states. Again, off the mark. President Trump never claimed that Illinois had the strongest gun laws.
6. PolitiFact stated that judges in Chicago gave felons in possession of a firearm four-year sentences when they could have given ten years, suggesting that Chicago judges were lax on enforcing gun laws. Okay, I have no reason to dispute this, but it is also off the mark. President Trump said that Chicago’s gun laws were the toughest in the nation, not that Chicago’s judges were the toughest in the nation.
7. PolitiFact mentions that New York and Los Angeles run their own concealed-carry permit process while Chicago does not. I checked this: In Chicago, the concealed carry process is handled by the state police. I’m not sure why PolitiFact considers this is a problem. They never say. Gun_laws_in_Illinois
8. I’m seeing a trend here: PolitiFact has the annoying habit of answering every question but the original one they started with.
9. Finally, in its entire argument, PolitiFact never actually names a city in America it believes has overall stronger gun laws than Chicago. I’m not making this up. Read the PolitiFact fact-check yourself.

All in all, PolitiFact didn’t make their case. Didn’t even come close. Which begs the question: who chose this issue? If this is an example of the most egregious lie they can pin on President Trump, PolitiFact is tacitly admitting they don’t have much to choose from.

In conclusion: For this, PolitiFact earns my “Artful Dodger” award. Throughout their response, they managed to dodge the very issue they themselves brought up.

Full disclosure: I’m left of President Trump on the issue of gun control. I believe there is ample room for toughening our nation’s gun laws without violating the Constitution. Here is an excellent article on the subject: reforms-gun-laws-actually-make-difference

In my next post, I will tackle the PolitiFact claim that President Trump lied when he said that repealing the estate tax would protect millions of small businesses and the American farmer.

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