The Hacks at Politifact

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The self-proclaimed fact-checkers at Politifact have really had a banner day today, publishing two flawed fact-checks that betray their partisan leanings. The hacks at Politifact aren’t even trying anymore.

First, reporter Emma Hinchliffe and her editor Matt Schwartz go out of their way to find a way to cast doubt on the statement by Texas Senator and GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz’s statement that the “Democratic Party is getting smaller and smaller.”

What did Cruz mean by that?

Cruz’s campaign spokesman said Cruz based his statement on the losses the Democratic Party suffered in recent elections. “Cruz is referring to all the Senate seats, House seats, governors and state legislative seats lost during this administration,” said Rick Tyler, Cruz for President’s national spokesman.

Is Cruz right? Politifraud runs some numbers.

During Obama’s administration, Democrats have lost 13 U.S. Senate seats, 69 House seats, 11 governorships, and 910 state legislative seats.

How about how voters self-identify?

A Gallup poll measuring trends in party identification since 2004 found that 29 percent of Americans identified as Democrats in October 2015. In January 2004, when the poll data begins, 28 percent of Americans identified as Democrats. The 11-year high was 38 percent in March 2008 and March 2009.

So, since Obama’s been president, Democrat ID has dropped from 38 percent to 28 percent of Americans.

So, True? Mostly True?

No.

Mostly false.

How? Politifraud goes to some voter ID breakdown by generation and finds that younger people tend to ID more as Democrats. How exactly this poll finding jives with the ultimate substantive data we get at the actual polling station which has show GOP gains since 2010 at the federal and state levels, is unclear. I’m sure Debbie Wasserman Schultz is overjoyed at how many people ID as Democrats as she’s relegated to minority status in the House.

Politifraud also finds that the Democratic Party raises more money than the GOP as evidence that the party isn’t shrinking. Trying to reconcile the use of this benchmark in the wake of Democratic opposition to the Citizens United just might blow my mind. I mean, if you wanted to make the point that the Democratic Party is the party of the wealthy, then I could see why you’d want to use that benchmark. Otherwise…well, any shelter in a storm, right?

(You can read Cruz’s take on the “fact-check” here.)

Obama tells George Stephanopolous ISIS has been "contained."

Obama tells George Stephanopolous ISIS has been “contained.”

Contrast Cruz’s treatment with this fawning piece of “analysis” of President Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes (brother of CBS News president David Rhodes) regarding President Obama’s statement to ABC News’ (and former Clinton operative) George Stephanopolous that ISIS was “being contained” just hours before ISIS attacks in Paris killed more than 100.

Rhodes said Obama was talking about a particular aspect of containment that in no way dismissed the possibility of terrorist attacks in the West.

“The president was responding very specifically to the geographic expansion of ISIL in Iraq and Syria,” Rhodes said, using another acronym for the group. “A year ago, we saw them on the march in Iraq and Syria, taking more and more population centers. The fact is that we have been able to stop that geographic advance and take back significant amounts of territory in both northern Iraq and northern Syria. At the same time, that does not diminish the fact that there is a threat posed by ISIL, not just in those countries but in their aspirations to project power overseas.”

Politifraud then goes to the transcript.

Stephanopoulos: “Some of your critics say, even your friendly critics say, like Fareed Zakaria, that what you have on the ground now is not going to be enough. Every couple of months you’re going to be faced with the same choice of back down or double down.”

Obama: “I think what is true is that this has always been a multiyear project precisely because the governance structures in the Sunni areas of Iraq are weak, and there are none in Syria. And we don’t have ground forces there in sufficient numbers to simply march into Al-Raqqah in Syria and clean the whole place out. And as a consequence, we’ve always understood that our goal has to be militarily constraining ISIL’s capabilities, cutting off their supply lines, cutting off their financing at the same time as we’re putting a political track together in Syria and fortifying the best impulses in Baghdad so that we can, not just win militarily, but also win by improving governance.”

Stephanopoulos: “And that’s the strategy you’ve been following. But ISIS is gaining strength, aren’t they?”

Obama: “Well, no, I don’t think they’re gaining strength. What is true is that from the start, our goal has been first to contain, and we have contained them. They have not gained ground in Iraq. And in Syria they’ll come in, they’ll leave. But you don’t see this systematic march by ISIL across the terrain. What we have not yet been able to do is to completely decapitate their command and control structures. We’ve made some progress in trying to reduce the flow of foreign fighters.”

When Obama said “we have contained them,” it’s within a plainly defined scope: ISIS’s territorial ambitions in Iraq and Syria. This context is bolstered by the fact that Stephanopoulos asks Obama about the ground efforts in those two countries.

That’s correct as far as it goes. But containment has a meaning all its own as well, doesn’t it. Their territory in Iraq and Syria may have shrunk, but their reach has grown. It has reached the French capital. That hardly gives one the impression that they have been contained, no matter how Obama may frame it.

Now note that Politifraud has bolded that part of Obama’s second answer. Let me bold the part they should have bolded, but didn’t.

Obama: “I think what is true is that this has always been a multiyear project precisely because the governance structures in the Sunni areas of Iraq are weak, and there are none in Syria. And we don’t have ground forces there in sufficient numbers to simply march into Al-Raqqah in Syria and clean the whole place out. And as a consequence, we’ve always understood that our goal has to be militarily constraining ISIL’s capabilities, cutting off their supply lines, cutting off their financing at the same time as we’re putting a political track together in Syria and fortifying the best impulses in Baghdad so that we can, not just win militarily, but also win by improving governance.”

When Obama says ISIS has been “contained” isn’t he also suggesting that the part I bolded is becoming more successful as each day passes? Maybe the effort to constrain their capabilities, cut off their supply lines and cutting off their financing is working, but you wouldn’t know it from what happened Friday.

Rhodes’ defense of Obama’s statement was given a “True” by Politifraud, but I think a case can be made for any rating on down to “Mostly False.” The fact that I could make a case for a far worse rating demonstrates how subjective Politifact’s work is on a regular basis. They are not fact-checkers, they’re political operatives with bylines.

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