I've made my feelings on PolitiFact clear previously. For a group that claims to be non-partisan and interested in the fact-based reporting, there's precious little of that in the larger editorial choices of whom to fact check and how they rate
June 22, 2011

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I've made my feelings on PolitiFact clear previously. For a group that claims to be non-partisan and interested in the fact-based reporting, there's precious little of that in the larger editorial choices of whom to fact check and how they rate the lie. They will let some rather large and disgusting lies go unchallenged when it comes from a Republican but focus on a small rhetorical flourish when it comes from a Democrat to pounce on them and declare their statement false.

And so it was with Jon Stewart's interview on Fox News Sunday. Politifact seized on the word "every" in Stewart's confrontation of Chris Wallace's bizarre rationalization that Fox is simply offering the other side of the story": Do you know who consistently is misinformed in every poll?" and rated Stewart's statement as false. Now, one of the things my parents drummed in my head during my petulant teen years is that qualifiers like that are useless. No one is ever "always" wrong, and "every" event doesn't necessarily have the same result and saying that someone "never" listens is manifestly untrue. But they are rhetorical flourishes that people use to round up a larger truth. And while it's true that not every poll shows Fox News viewers as the most uninformed, the unqualified truth is that they are *consistently* the least informed and Politifact is being disingenuous to claim otherwise.

in an environment in which conservatives are more inaccurate and more misinformed about science and basic policy facts, the “fact checkers” nevertheless feel unduly compelled to correct “liberal” errors too—which is fine, as long as they are really errors. But sometimes they aren’t. A case in point is Politifact’s recent and deeply misguided attempt to correct Jon Stewart on the topic of…misinformation and Fox News. This is a subject on which we’ve developed some expertise here…my recent post on studies showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed, on an array of issues, is the most comprehensive such collection that I’m aware of, at least when it comes to public opinion surveys detecting statistical correlations between being misinformed about contested facts and Fox News viewership. I’ve repeatedly asked whether anyone knows of additional studies—including contradictory studies—but none have yet been cited. Stewart, very much in the vein of my prior post, went on the air with Fox’s Chris Wallace and stated, "Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll." My research, and my recent post, most emphatically supports this statement. Indeed, I cited five (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) separate public opinion studies in support of it—although I carefully noted that these studies do not prove causation (e.g., that watching Fox News causes one to be more misinformed). The causal arrow could very well run the other way—believing wrong things could make one more likely to watch Fox News in the first place. But the fundamental point is, when it comes to believing political misinformation and watching Fox News, I know of no other studies than these five--though I’d be glad to see additional studies produced. Until then, these five all point in one obvious direction.

The specific, on point surveys that validate what Stewart said were conveniently ignored. Hmmmmm....

What Stewart obviously meant—and what I mean—is that when it comes to politicized, contested issues where the facts have been made murky due to political biases, it is Fox viewers who are the most likely to believe incorrect things—to fall prey to misinformation. A quintessential example of such an issue is global warming, or whether Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction or was collaborating with Al Qaeda. There are many, many others.

To rebut Stewart’s claim, Politifact relied upon irrelevant and off-point studies. Thus, the site cited a number of Pew surveys that examine basic political literacy and relate it to what kind of media citizens consume. E.g., questions like whether people know “who the vice president is, who the president of Russia is, whether the Chief Justice is conservative, which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives and whether the U.S. has a trade deficit.”

Too few citizens know the answers to such basic questions—which is lamentable, but also irrelevant in the current context. These are not contested issues, nor are they skewed by an active misinformation campaign. As a result, on such issues, many Americans may be ill-informed but liberals and conservatives are nevertheless able to agree.

Politifact has semi-acknowledged this criticism, but is still attempting to spin this as a fundamentally correct take.

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