Wednesday, August 08, 2012

"Pants On Fire" ... PolitiFact editor Fiske and his Democratic votes

Some are wondering if accusations that PolitiFact leans left are justified now that it's been disclosed its editor, Warren Fiske, has been a regular voter in Democratic primaries.

There have been rumblings for a while about the self-described unbiased political fact-checker sporting a decidedly liberal slant. PolitiFact Virginia, one of eleven states working under the St. Petersburg-based news agency, judges political statements with a Truth-O-Meter ranking of True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True, False, or Pants on Fire. There's also the No Flip, Half Flip, and Full Flop.

The rumblings became a roar in July when the Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) came out with a massive, in-depth 86-page report documenting many instances of bias from PolitiFact Virginia against Republican candidates.

On top of that, the PolitiFact Bias blog has kept a running list of infractions since 2011 showing an inconsistent basis of measuring "facts" between Democrats and Republicans.

Interestingly, Bill McMorris of the Washington Free Beacon did a little fact-checking of his own and discovered that PolitiFact Virginia editor Warren Fiske voted in a number of recent Democratic primaries:
Warren Fiske, editor of Politifact Virginia, has voted in Democratic primaries in all but one of the last 6 major election cycles. Virginia does not have party registration, allowing voters to select the ballot of their choice during the March primary. Fiske opted for a Republican primary ballot in 2005 when then-Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine ran unopposed for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Let's double-check two of Fiske's primary votes:
- 2001 Democratic primary where Tim Kaine was running for the nomination for Lieutenant Governor
- 2006 Democratic U.S. Senate primary where Jim Webb faced off against Harris Miller
A startling example of PolitiFact's bias was revealed when it fact-checked 2012 U.S. Senate candidates Republican George Allen versus Democrat Tim Kaine:
Politifact’s coverage of the dead-heat Senate race between Allen and former governor and DNC Chairman Tim Kaine has drawn the most scrutiny from political insiders. About forty percent of Allen’s statements received some degree of false ratings compared to 18 percent for Kaine. Politifact has used different metrics in some of its ratings to skew the budgetary track record of the candidates, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis.

The fact checkers ignored the impact inflation and skyrocketing federal spending on programs like Medicaid had on spending increases while Allen was governor, declaring the Republican’s claim of fiscal hawk “false.”

Fiske has not made the same mistake when analyzing Kaine’s record.

Politifact adjusted for inflation to downplay the dramatic spike in college tuition under Kaine’s watch, as well as to cast his spending record in a more positive light. When Kaine said that the “general fund budget shrank when he was governor,” fact checkers discounted federal spending, failed to mention that Kaine attempted to hike taxes rather than cut costs and left the state with a multi-billion dollar deficit at the end of his term.

The claim received a “True” rating.
In a profession where neutrality should be an essential ingredient but that has been caught grading Allen and Kaine on an uneven playing field, Fiske's ability to write with an unbiased eye has definitely been called into question.

Jim Riley at the conservative Virginia Virtucon blog cut to the chase when he wrote:
"You see, Warren, that is what people like to call a 'double standard.' They don’t like it in their politicians and they increasingly don’t like it in their media.  All journalists have to sell their stories to people is their credibility.  With you at the helm of Politifact Virginia, that is an area sorely lacking."
The Washington Free Beacon noted that Fiske's actions would violate ethics policies set in place by the Roanoke Times'  newspaper whose gidelines state, "Staffers should … avoid active involvement in partisan political causes—including participation in primaries or meetings to choose political candidates—community affairs, social actions or demonstrations that could compromise or seem to compromise our ability to report, edit or photograph fairly."

Fiske did not return phone calls from the Free Beacon when asked about the significant increase of slanted negative ratings for Republicans:
Under Fiske’s leadership, the site has faced mounting criticism from the state GOP for perceived bias against Republican Senate candidate George Allen and Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The RPV document pointed out, "PolitiFact Virginia purports to sit in objective judgment on the truthfulness of factual assertions by leading public figures, yet it fails to meet the very standard it claims to enforce."

Even though PolitiFact claims to be unbiased, journalist Matthew Vadum noted while investigating the organization in 2009:
When reporters claiming to be neutral political fact-checkers go beyond mere reporting to state with absolute certainty things they cannot possibly know, they run the risk of churning out political opinion masquerading as high-minded investigative journalism.
Because of an editor who has clearly demonstrated a preference at the polls that has been reflected in his work, PolitiFact receives a Fact-O-Meter rating of Pants On Fire.

Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

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