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Rowley: PolitiFact Is Politically Biased

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


“We believe if you dish it out, you have to be able to take it.” - PolitiFact Editor, Tim Murphy

PolitiFact claims to be the Providence Journal’s watchdog of political accuracy. It has been observed by many, however, that conservatives and Republicans tend to receive negative readings from PolitiFact’s trusty “Truth-O-Meter” more so than liberal Democrats. In fact, at the time of this writing, PolitiFact’s online homepage is evaluating eleven conservative statements. Three have received ratings of “Half True.” The other eight rank even worse on the Truth-O-Meter (which seems to be malfunctioning).

At the same time, Lincoln Chafee is receiving credit for keeping four out of five campaign promises, and five of the six liberal positions being considered are receiving credit for being truthful.

National Study Finds Bias

At this point, though, nobody should be shocked. Around the country, PolitiFact’s satellite operations have become known for their left-leaning sympathies.

One study conducted by a professor at the University of Minnesota found that the Truth-O-Meter placed Republican statements in the “False” and “Pants On Fire” categories 39 percent of the time, but only 12 percent of the time for statements made by Democrats. The study of “more than 500 PolitiFact stories from January 2010 through January 2011” found that “74 of the 98 statements by political figures judged ‘False’ or ‘Pants On Fire’ over the last 13 months were given to Republicans, or 76 percent, compared to just 22 statements for Democrats (22 percent).”

A local case in point is a column on public worker salaries written by yours truly,  which PolitiFact recently made their latest target for examination. According to the Truth-O-Meter, the column received a ranking of “Half True” for this assertion: “Rhode Island's public employees [rank] 4th in average pay, while the private sector [ranks] 23rd."

Currently among PolitiFact’s praised politicians is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D), who is receiving a rating of “Mostly True” for informing the public that “the richest 400 taxpayers are taxed at a lower rate than a $29,000-a-year worker.”

Any seasoned politico knows that this is a common Democratic position designed to intentionally deceive the public by silently mingling wages with investment returns. PolitiFact fails to even mention this important distinction, and then, with a twist of lawyer logic, confirms Whitehouse’s sham by ranking his statement Mostly True – “if you include all payroll taxes.”

Attack on the National Organization for Marriage

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM) did not receive the same benefit of technicalities as Senator Whitehouse. NOM has made the claim that "Massachusetts’ public schools teach kids as young as kindergartners about gay marriage. Parents have no legal right to object!" PolitiFact admits that NOM provided them with “two incidents” of this occurring, including one incident marked by two sets of parents having their lawsuit against school officials dismissed in court. Hence, “Parents have no right to object!”

Unsatisfied with being provided “just two examples,” PolitiFact’s inquiry included reaching out to other sources. Jonathan Considine, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, told PolitiFact that “many schools have used books or promoted discussions to teach tolerance because some students have same-sex parents and there are teachers with same-sex spouses.” Considine also pointed to the “Massachusetts Comprehensive Health Curriculum, which includes a standard that by fifth grade, students should be able to define sexual orientation, such as heterosexual, gay and lesbian.” Considine’s testimony apparently had no effect on PolitiFact editors, who insisted, “[NOM’s] only evidence is two incidents [from] five years ago…We find [NOM’s} statement False.”


It seems that, even when their own examination confirms the conservative position, PolitiFact editors will still choose to describe it as “False” to Projo readers. All four of them.

Debate over Public Worker Salaries

PolitiFact’s primary objection to the claim regarding public and private salaries is that I cited the highly venerated report Rich States-Poor States, a study that PolitiFact placed under suspicion by reminding everyone that it was conducted by the “conservative” American Legislative Exchange Council.

In regards to the data in question, Rich States-Poor States references the RI Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) – which PolitiFact made sure the readers understood is a “business-financed” research group. What PolitiFact neglects to mention is that the Providence Journal for many years was the largest funder of RIPEC.

The problem arose when PolitiFact editors called RIPEC for a copy of the study, but RIPEC “couldn’t find it.”

It’s clear from PolitiFact’s analysis that their readers are supposed to conclude that RIPEC never conducted a study on average wages in Rhode Island. But why would PolitiFact decide to suggest this, especially after the Journal was provided with another source that made the claim that Rhode Island “ranks only 20th in average private sector wage per worker [and] ranks 4th in public sector pay,” and cited RIPEC as well?

Two credible sources reported similar findings, and both cited RIPEC. But because RIPEC “couldn’t find it,” PolitiFact chose not to disclose the second source, and then told their readers that the report “doesn’t exist.”

Or maybe RIPEC just needs a filing cabinet.

After an attempt to discover more recent statistics by utilizing the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ database, PolitiFact found that in 2009 “combined state and municipal worker pay ranked 3rd; private sector pay in Rhode Island ranked 20th.”

Ignoring evidence

Furthermore, the PolitiFact editors were provided with the Projo’s own reports that complemented my claim, particularly a 2007 story that said, “Nearly every other state in the nation pays less per resident to run its fire departments…Payrolls alone here outstrip the total cost of operating entire departments in most other states.”

I guess the Providence Journal doesn’t even read the Providence Journal anymore.

Supplied with all of this information, PolitiFact still decided to go “find our own data.”

Guess what PolitiFact discovered:I was right!

With the help of RIPEC, PolitiFact was able to discover that in 2001 “Rhode Island ranked 24th in private pay. Municipal workers ranked 4th…state workers [ranked] 8th.”

After an attempt to discover more recent statistics by utilizing the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ database, PolitiFact found that in 2009 “combined state and municipal worker pay ranked 3rd; private sector pay in Rhode Island ranked 20th.”

PolitiFact goes out of its way to refute conservative claim

Apparently frustrated with an investigation that was confirming the contention about public worker pay, PolitiFact “ended up doing our own comparison,” and finally found some “statistics available from the Bureau of Economic Analysis” that could knock my numbers off-balance. The BEA stats showed “Rhode Island’s state and municipal workers ranked 7th, not 4th, in wages…Private-sector workers rank 15th, not 23rd.”

This is how someone winds up receiving a rating of “Half True” from PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter – by pointing out the extremism and destruction the union-Democrat alliance has wrought in Rhode Island, and by crossing the intellectual limits set by Ocean State elites. People daring to do so are subject to dedicated partisans, posing as arbiters of “truth in politics,” who set out on reckless campaigns to discredit them, and who are willing to cherry-pick data and bury information that could verify conservative positions.

Please excuse the boring minutia of this controversy, but it is important to point out the political bias from which PolitiFact operates.

Besides, it was especially difficult to receive a rating of “Half True” while a rating of “Mostly True” was being bestowed upon Senator Whitehouse, a man who claims that anyone who disagrees with him about ObamaCare is either an Aryan or a white supremacist.

The fact of the matter is this – PolitiFact can’t be trusted.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is chairman of the RI Young Republicans, and author of The RI Republican: An Indictment of the Rhode Island Left.


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