"We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers."
- A Mitt Romney pollster at the RNC
Recently, a study by GOP strategists have indicated that PolitiFact Virginia, has a liberal bias! The article that I saw, which ran on poynter.org showed that PolitiFact Virginia was more likely to give a False or Pants on Fire rating to Republicans rather than Democrats. They are more likely to rule disproportionally against Republicans and in favor of Democrats. They also charge that when they rule in favor of Republicans, it is more likely to run on Fridays when there are less people reading for news. Here's the link.
So, how did PolitiFact respond? Pretty much like you would expect. I'm quoting at length here:
"The GOP takes issue with the fact that 26 of our last 37 rulings have concerned Republican candidates and elected officials. But Virginia is largely controlled by Republican politicians. The governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general belong to the party, as do eight of the 13 members of Virginia’s congressional delegation, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Both houses of the General Assembly are run by Republicans.
In addition, the GOP fielded four candidates in its primary for the U.S. Senate this spring and sponsored three debates among the candidates. The Democrats, in contrast, handed their nomination to unopposed Kaine.
So it’s no surprise that during the first half of the year, we spent most of our time rating Republican statements. We follow the action.
We do not try match every Truth-O-Meter item on a Republican with one on a Democrat. We are not obliged to assign a False rating to a Democrat just because we gave one to a Republican. PolitiFact Virginia is not about mathematical balance between parties in our ratings. We’re about making calls on political statements that are in the news.
We makes no claims of being infallible. When we mistakes, we correct them. In recent months, we held separate meetings with officials from the Allen and Kaine campaigns to discuss their concerns about us. We believe in open dialogue because it helps us get the story right."
In addition to their response, I have a few thoughts of my own. I'll number them because I want to.
1. PolitiFact Virginia is focusing on the stories that happen. If most of the elected officials in the state are one party, of course they are going to be selected more often.
2. Bob McDonnell is a very outspoken individual. He also happens to be the Republican Governor of Virginia. He is a surrogate for the Republican party and he has presidential hopes for 2016. He is going to make public appearances. He is going to be listened to by people.
3. McDonnell repeats much of the same claims the Romney campaign has issued because of his standing as governor.
4. PolitiFact National's 2011 Lie of the Year was that Republicans were going to end Medicare. They were roundly bashed by liberal talking heads and politicians alike.
5. PolitiFact is routinely criticized by both parties, by politicians of both sides, by talking heads of both sides, etc. that they are being biased towards the other side.
6. In PolitiFact Virginia's response, they state that they have been criticized by the Democrat who is running for Senate for being biased towards the Republican.
7. In every PolitiFact ruling, they provide links to the sources that they are using, which usually include non-partisan websites or actual governmental studies. If you are disagreeing with the ruling of PolitiFact, you are welcome to use the various sources provided to come to your own conclusion. Even in cases where they issue a Pants on Fire ruling, they attempt to find the sources that the politician used to get to that statistic, factoid, fact, figure, etc. As a reader, you are welcome to click on that source, as well.
8. PolitiFact Virginia was founded in 2010, they have found that 60% of their statements are Republican and 40% are Democrat. From their response: "After gathering a full list of our fact-check items, we assigned 5 for a True, 4 for a Mostly True, 3 for a Half True, 2 for a Mostly False, 1 for a False, and zero for a Pants on Fire. The average rating for each Democratic claim we have reviewed is 2.9, the average rating for Republicans was 2.8."
9. On the same day the study was announced, Allen (Republican running for Senate) used PolitiFact data to show that Kaine (the Democrat running for Senate) cut support to state colleges when Kaine was governor. They released this report on their website. If you are critical of something that produces statistics and figures, you cannot use it when it benefits you and call it unreliable the next instance.
10. The issue of this whole study isn't just confirmation bias. Well, the study itself probably is. But the issue is that one party can look at facts and say these facts do not matter because they are produced in a biased way. People will listen. People are naturally suspicious of manipulations of statistics, figures, and facts. When you claim that these figures, facts, or statistics are manufactured to produce a certain result, people are going to find solace in the old adage, that there are three types of lies, lies, damned lies, and statistics. This goes both ways. Democrats can't say look at independent fact-checkers about Republican claims but not Democratic claims. Republicans shouldn't say the same thing. We have an increasing us vs. them dichotomy in this country and it's getting worse with claims of bias that do not exist.
There are biases in media outlets. For PolitiFact, there needs to be more proof than what was offered.