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PolitiFact Fail No. 2: OH senate candidate’s pants? Never on fire

By   /   December 27, 2012  /   1 Comment

Part 15 of 17 in the series PolitiFact or Fiction

By Jon Cassidy | Ohio Watchdog

One of the biggest stories of the year in journalism and politics was the rise of fact-checking. The fact-checkers played a big role in the presidential campaign, and an even bigger role in the Ohio Senate race.

This was also the year observers started questioning what the fact-checkers were really up to. By the end of the year, the criticism wasn’t just coming from the right, mainstream publications like Newsweek and The Atlantic had joined in.

The problem? Fact-checking is a guise, a ploy, a gambit – a way to gain the reader’s trust with a Joe Friday pose while engaging in plain old punditry. It’s dishonest.

If PolitiFact were really doing what it said – reporting indisputable facts – it would have been impossible to put together this list of our favorite PolitiFails of the year here in Ohio. On Monday, we looked at PolitiFact’s troubles counting money. On Wednesday, we gaped at PolitiFact’s oblivious examination of the war on coal.

Today: PolitiFail No. 2: Josh Mandel is “the winner of the pants on crown thing”

At the second Senate debate, incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown expressed amazement at being called a liar by Josh Mandel, “the winner of the pants on crown thing.”

It was fitting – nonsense described with gibberish.

Brown was repeating a claim from one of his ads, which cited an article by PolitiFactOhio writer Tom Feran that was headlined: “Campaign Attacks Give Josh Mandel Pants on Fire Crown.”

The story was that PolitiFact’s work somehow proved that Mandel was the most dishonest politician around. The idea that PolitiFact can tell you that somebody “told the most lies” was called “meaningless” by PolitiFact’s national editor, who was denouncing somebody else’s pants on crown thing.

Feran’s own editor, Robert Higgs, just three weeks ago told an audience that rankings of that sort were bunk.

Media Trackers Ohio quoted Higgs telling an audience that “We don’t say, ‘This party is more truthful than this party.’”

“On the website you can look and you can see a scorecard for all the statements we’ve done for one particular person, but you can’t really take that and compare it to another. In part because some people just get rated more than others.”

That’s hypocrisy.

The phony narrative that Josh Mandel had a problem with the truth made one national list Forbes published of the Top 10 biggest fact-check fails of the year:

“A Mandel ad which criticizes Brown for ‘supporting the job-killing cap-and-trade plan’ is fact-checked. For proof, the Mandel campaign points to a statement from Brown: ‘I’m an environmentalist. I want cap and trade. I just want to make sure that the ratepayers in my state don’t get socked hard. And that the manufacturing doesn’t get crippled.’ The ad is deemed False.”

When Mandel criticized new EPA greenhouse gas regulations that basically blocked new coal plant construction, limiting the market for Ohio’s coal, PolitiFact said the claim was “inaccurate and invokes issues that don’t exist in reality.” You see, power companies aren’t building coal plants (because of EPA hostility), so the plants they aren’t building “don’t exist in reality.” Only PolitiFact could acknowledge that EPA regulations are leading energy companies to shut down old plants and stop building new plants, and still conclude this is “something that has no known effect” on Ohio coal producers.

If you still have any doubt that PolitiFact’s double standards and hypocrisy are the root of attacks on Mandel’s honesty, check out this gem from PolitiFact Bias, where Bryan White and Jeff Dyberg have been exposing lies for years.

Remember when PolitiFact gave a False rating to Mandel’s claim that Brown had voted to raise his own pay six times? Tom Feran argued that it was really a gray area of parliamentary procedure. If Brown voted to “order the previous question” on a motion to instruct conferees, which “in effect foreclosed the possibility of instructing conferees to omit the pay adjustment from the conference report,” is that really a vote to raise your pay? It sounds so complicated.

Only two years earlier, PolitiFact looked at nearly the same question, whether a Florida Republican had voted to raise his pay four times, and found nothing complicated about it. It was “True” that Rep. Bill McCollum had done so, PolitiFact wrote, citing some of the exact same roll call votes it reviewed for Mandel’s claim.

I guess when McCollum voted Yea on House Vote #435 (On Ordering the Previous Question: H.R. 2378, Treasury, Postal Appropriations, FY 1998) on Sep. 24, 1997, it meant he was voting for a pay increase, but when Brown did the same, it meant something else.

Contact Jon Cassidy at [email protected]

Part of 17 in the series PolitiFact or Fiction


Jon Cassidy was a former Houston-based reporter for Watchdog.org.