Last week, Politifact rated a claim by the Texas Public Policy Foundation that Texas had created more jobs over the last five years than the other 49 (or 56) states combined. In Politifact’s “analysis” this completely accurate statement was listed as “half-true.” The mental gymnastics required to come to this conclusion were summed up by Joshua Trevino thusly:
PolitiFact then engaged in a series of exercises, over the course of a thousand words, in which it sought to construct alternative jobs-creation metrics, finally settling on a jaw-dropping declaration that full accuracy would demand noting gross jobs created as well as net. If it occurred to anyone at PolitiFact that this methodology would enable a state to rack up its employment figures simply by firing the entire population each Friday, and re-hiring them all each Monday, there is no sign of it.
So what’s the bottom line on PolitiFact’s assessment that TPPF has promulgated a “half truth”? On the negative side, PolitiFact engaged in tendentious interpretive exercises in an effort to promulgate a jobs-creation metric that absolutely no one uses — and then penalized us for not using it. On the positive side, PolitiFact did acknowledge that TPPF’s Rollins is objectively correct by every reasonable standard, and they spelled our name right.
I thought that was bad. This is worse. Rep. Steny Hoyer made the following jaw-dropping claim:
"We went from a $5.6 trillion surplus that George Bush inherited to over … $11-plus trillion debt when George Bush left office."
Clinton gave us a $5.6 trillion surplus? I must’ve missed that one.
For the Record, Politifact did too.
Here’s the way we initially looked at it. We turned to a historical table published annually by the Office of Management and Budget. The table reports that during fiscal year 2001 — which included much of Bush’s first year in office, and which was based on a budget assembled during the term of his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton — there was a surplus of $128 billion. So Hoyer was right that there was a surplus, but it was only 2 percent of the amount Hoyer indicated it was. [emphasis added]
Normal people might conclude that being off by 98 percent would earn you a false. You’d be wrong. Politifact deemed this statement “half-true.”
Well, Politifact writer Louis Jacobson and editor Bill Adair apparently really wanted to believe Hoyer, so they allowed themselves to be convinced by this ridiculous explanation:
But when we spoke to Hoyer’s office, they said he was actually using a different yardstick for the first figure.
They said Hoyer was referring to the $5.61 trillion in surpluses that the Congressional Budget Office — the nonpartisan number-crunching arm of Congress — had predicted in January 2001 would materialize over the next 10 years, based on the fiscal outlook at the end of Clinton’s tenure. (Hoyer’s office confirmed our conclusion about the second figure.)
Not only was Hoyer comparing apples to oranges when he made his statement—conflating annual deficit numbers with the overall national debt—but his extended explanation to Politifact suggests he meant to compare apples to kumquats. That apparently makes it half-okay.
Imagine the following, comparable, claim: “President Obama took the balanced budgets that he inherited from President George W. Bush and will now put us more than $20 trillion in debt.”
This ludicrous construction would also rate a “half-true” according to Politifact standards.
President Bush’s final 2009 budget balanced the budget effective in 2012 and left it balanced for the foreseeable future. (“Under the President’s proposals, the deficit would steadily diminish from 2009 through 2012, at which point the budget would be balanced; it would remain close to balance in most years through 2018.”)
Yes, I know it’s ludicrous to paint the fiscal situation Bush left the nation in this way. Just as it’s ridiculous to paint the fiscal situation Clinton left us in the way Hoyer has. The budget number Hoyer refers to ignores the dot-com bubble bursting and mild recession that occurred at the end of Clinton’s term. It also ignores the 9/11 attacks and all that followed that. The idea that if Bush had done absolutely nothing for 8 years that we’d have a $5 trillion more in tax dollars today is just dishonest.
Politifact becomes more like Politifraud every day.