Tag Archive: Politifact

Whitman Gets Fact Wrong, PolitiFact Calls It Mostly True

PolitiFact’s organizing principles are indeed, sometimes a mystery. Promoted by Rosi.

PolitiFact usually likes to nuance their “fact checks” to make whatever point they feel is the one they want to make, giving “half true” to Buono ads they say are factually correct and the same “half true” rating to Governor Christie ads that are mostly not factually correct.

But today they went all in.  Christie Todd Whitman, former Republican Governor of New Jersey, said the following:

“We haven’t had a Republican senator in Washington for … why, I think Clifford Case was our last Republican senator.”

This is, very simply, incorrect.  That’s no slight on Governor Whitman, who clearly was trying to recall a fact and got it wrong, something we all do.  But the last Republican to serve in the US Senate was Nicholas Brady.  He was appointed by Governor Tom Kean, Sr. to replace the disgraced Harrison Williams Jr. who got caught in the ABSCAM sting by the FBI.  Clifford Case left the Senate in January 1979, Williams in December 1982.

Here’s PolitiFact’s rating:

Since Whitman referred to the ‘last’ Republican senator to represent New Jersey, that title goes to Brady. We therefore rate the former governor’s claim Mostly True.

What?  Huh? I can’t read that any way other than, “Whitman asserted one fact which was demonstrably wrong, but we’ll call it Mostly True because … SQUIRREL!”

Politifact Gives “Disingenuous” Christie a Half True

Last week we looked at PolitifactNJ note that everything in a Barbara Buono commercial was true, but because it could have been spun differently they rated the ad Half True.

This week they call claims by Chris Christie that Buono is responsible for the entire four years of Corzine budgets, debt and unemployment “disingenuous” but because the numbers in the ad are accurate this also rates a Half True rating.

So, here we go.  Claim 1: Corzine “teamed up with Buono”:

We’re not sure how Corzine “teamed up” with Buono since she was already on her third term as a state senator when he was first elected to state government. Further, the chairmanship of legislative committees is determined by the president in the Senate and the speaker in the Assembly – not the governor. Also, Buono was neither Corzine’s Senate president nor his lieutenant governor, which would have made them more of a ‘team.’

So, that would be a false claim.  (We’ll leave aside that the Governor doesn’t have a Senate president (that’s not voted on by the Senate) and Corzine didn’t have a lieutenant governor.  Christie is the first governor to have a LG).

OK, now for the numbers.  Under Corzine debt increased by $13.4 million, taxes went up, unemployment rose.  But the numbers aren’t what should be fact checked, because Christie isn’t running against Corzine.  His is running against Buono and the important part of the ad is that he’s blaming Buono for these issues.

Repeatedly Politifact shoots down this claim, noting that Buono was one of many to vote for specific bills.

Buono was one of 22 senators to approve the increase … Buono has responsibility for these increases since she voted in favor of them, but she’s not the only legislator to do so …

As a side note, Politifact also gets the process for budgeting wrong, something that a fact check organization shouldn’t do.

Buono became chair of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee in January 2008 and served through 2009, meaning she led that panel in reviewing and editing a budget before submitting it to Corzine for approval. Buono voted in favor of the budget. Corzine had final approval over it. …

Wait.  The State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee reviews and edits a budget then submits it to the Governor? That’s how we get a budget?  We don’t have hearings in dozens of Senate committees, markups, amendments and a little thing called a floor vote of the full Senate?  And the Assembly appears to be magically missing in all this.  There’s no role for the Assembly?

As for the debt question, they kind of spin that one.  Sure, they say, Corzine presided over $13 million in added debt over four years but …

Christie calling her out for that is disingenuous since state debt has climbed an additional $13 million from 2010 — Christie’s first year in office — to 2012, according to the State Debt Report for Fiscal Year 2012.

Oh.  So, include this year’s debt load and Christie has added more debt?  Wow.  Not an incorrect fact, but certainly intentionally obfuscatory.

And the unemployment claims?  Politifact notes that the entire country was hemorrhaging jobs at that point (in no small measure the responsibility of President Bush, Christie’s boss at the time) and as such …

Consequently, one New Jersey senator can’t bare the full blame for an economic collapse that gripped the state and nation for several years.

Their conclusion?

Most of the ad’s claims are correct but imply that Buono is to blame for things such as a sales tax increase, billions in debt and skyrocketing unemployment in two years – during a recession, to boot. All of these resulted from the collective actions of a legislative body – not one person. Also, sharing a political affiliation and chairing a committee didn’t necessarily make Buono and Corzine a ‘team.’ Therefore, we rate the ad Half True.

So the fact points of the ad are mostly correct, but the underlying message is completely hairbrained.  And that rates a Half True.

Politifact: Everything Buono Said is Factual, So We Rate It Half True

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So in today’s PolitiFactNJ column the alleged fact checkers decided that Barbara Buono’s new ad is completely factual, has no fibs or spin, and therefore is only Half True.

Buono claims that New Jersey has 400,000 people out of work.  

The ad is correct that New Jersey has about 400,000 people unemployed, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for April 2013. Not mentioned? That figure is more than 42,000 fewer unemployed since Christie’s first full month in office, Feburary 2010, BLS data shows.

Buono’s point is that despite claiming a Jersey Comeback Christie has still presided over a terrible unemployment situation. The fact that some additional jobs exist is not relevant because that’s happening everywhere, and usually at a faster clip.  

Christie has been in office for 39 months, so on his watch the state is creating about 1,205 jobs a month.  In a state of almost nine million people that’s pretty paltry.  There’s no way this anemic growth goes against Buono’s point.

PolitiFact, Ingle Get It Wrong

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So Barbara Buono said on national TV:

“Governor Christie, his idea of jumpstarting the economy is to propose a trickle-down income tax cut last year and in his budget address this year, he stated his support for it again,” Buono said during the segment.

Christie did propose in 2012 a 10 percent across the board tax cut he believed would lead to a better state economy, and he has proposed it again.  Buono’s statement is simply not debatable, because she asserted two facts and both are based in reality.

Yet Politifact called this claim “mostly false” and Bob Ingle repeated that “fact check.”

But there’s one important person who supports Buono’s claim: Chris Christie. Here he is in his own words from the Feb. 13 budget address:

One last word on the subject of taxes. Last year, I proposed cutting our income tax by 10%. When some objected, in the spirit of compromise and conciliation, I agreed to the essence of the Senate plan on tax cuts. Then, in a fit of political partisanship, some in this chamber decided to deny New Jerseyans the tax cut they so desperately need and deserve.

It is clear to me that on this subject we simply disagree. …

So Chris Christie said the same thing as Buono: he proposed it last year, he supports it this year.  How is Buono repeating that “mostly false”?

Here’s what Politifact says:

PoltiFact Headline Mischaracterises Democrat

PolitiFact, an outlet that has expanded over the years from a national organization to local papers like the Star Ledger, has been regularly criticized for not actually dealing in facts and being unable to understand nuance.  But rarely are they as outrageously off base as they are this morning.

The headline reads (with my italics): “John Burzichelli says Chris Christie is promoting a tax cut plan that only benefits the wealthy”

Here’s what Burzichelli actually said (italics added):

Remember the governor is going around the state talking about [how] we should fund an income tax cut that will affect the higher earners in New Jersey in a higher way than it will the low earners, which will have no benefit for that.

Burzichelli is very clear that he is talking about something that benefits the rich more than the poor, not something that only benefits the rich. So we have a headline that doesn’t say the same thing as the quote.  In fact, a headline that completely changes the meaning of the statement.  

PolitiFact is supposed to be all about facts, all about ensuring that our political class tells the truth, at least the truth according to PolitiFact.  

To paraphrase a famous statement, Who fact checks the fact checkers?

Politifact Should Stick To Checking FACTS

When Politifact NJ actually checks facts, they often do good work. Unfortunately, they have a bad habit of conflating fact-checking with opinion-making.

Case in point:

As much as Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald would like to call it something else, a tax increase is still a tax increase.

A Democrat from Camden County, Greenwald has proposed raising the state income tax rate on taxable income exceeding $1 million, and then using that new revenue to offset property taxes for people earning up to $250,000.

But that’s not a tax increase, Greenwald claimed in a recent TV interview.

“First of all, it’s not a tax increase. A tax increase is when you increase a tax that brings in more revenue that you spend in government,” Greenwald said during a July 15 interview on “Inside Story” on Philadelphia-based 6abc.

“What we’ve offered is to take 16,000 people and have every penny that comes in from them offset property taxes up to 20 percent for 2.6 million filers, the other 8.8 million. So, it’s not a tax increase. It’s a tax shift.”

Greenwald’s claim doesn’t make any sense, PolitiFact New Jersey found.

So what’s the problem?

– Do 16,000 people pay tax on more than $1 million. Yes.

– Will Greenwald’s bills use that money to offset property taxes through the Homestead Benefit Program? Yes.

– Will Greenwald’s proposals mean that the total revenue the government takes in doesn’t change? Yes.

That’s not my fact-checking by the way; that’s all from Politifact. By their account, Greenwald’s bills would do exactly what he says they do. But he still earns a “Pants On Fire!” rating – complete with exclamation point! Why?

But despite how the money would be spent, raising any tax rates is clearly a tax increase. Calling such a measure a “tax shift” doesn’t make any sense, and Greenwald should know better.

Let’s be clear: that is a subjective statement. I happen to agree that tax expenditures should usually be thought of as spending; but whatever Politifact and I may think, it doesn’t change the fact that Greenwald is describing his bills correctly. And his logic is transparent: he is cutting taxes in one place to increase taxes in another. It is a tax expenditure, but it is also a shift; there’s no reason it can’t be thought of as both.

Put another way: if Greenwald’s bill cut the income tax by the same amount that it raised the gas tax, would that really be a tax increase? No, not really; it would be a shift. Is this so much different?

Again, Politifact and Greenwald can have a good faith argument about this. But saying Greenwald has his “Pants On Fire!” when he is accurately describing his bills is what really doesn’t make any sense; they are the ones who should know better.

Politifact, you’re better when you stick to the facts.

Pants on fire?

When Steve Rothman decided to move into the new 9th Congressional District to challenge Congressman Bill Pascrell, most political observers knew things would get nasty.  But no one knew the Rothman camp would resort to outright lies.  PolitiFact even went so far as give the Rothman campaign a “pants on fire” ruling for an outrageous distortion of Pascrell’s record on taxes.  Rothman will do and say whatever it costs to keep his seat in Congress – even if that means lying.

Voters aren’t going to be tricked into believing the lies coming from Rothman and his campaign.  Bill Pascrell has a strong record fighting for core Democratic values, protecting the middle class, and pushing back against Tea Party extremists.  Bill Pascrell didn’t run from the fight against the Tea Party, Steve Rothman did when he packed up and moved away from the fight against Scott Garrett in order to take on a Democrat.  The Star Ledger summed it up best: Rothman’s cheap shots are tarnishing his record.  Last week on The Brian Lehrer Show a former Rothman supporter expressed her frustrations, stating: “when it got cleared up, and I found out was really a kind of dirty politics the way he was saying these things about Pascrell, and each one can be explained, I’m voting for Pascrell.”  We need Bill Pascrell in Congress fighting for us like he has his whole career.  

Watch for yourself and don’t believe the lies coming from Rothman’s campaign:

Maybe we’d “just let it pass” if you didn’t keep misleading and exaggerating

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It looks like the Christie administration continues to operate under the assumption that what they say is fact and how dare anyone question, even when they’re completely full of it.  Take for example this latest example of lack of truthiness from our fair Governor:

“And in two years, what we’ve done is to protect the most vulnerable here, even when we had to cut 13 billion dollars in state spending over two years.”

What’s wrong with this statement? Oh so much. Follow me for the rest …

Hey Politifact – I’m Not Impressed (Part II)

(Here’s Part I of this series – including an update)

The trouble I have with with Politifact NJ isn’t so much that they get things wrong – they usually do a good job with specific facts. And it’s not necessarily the topics they choose, although that, obviously, is a matter of opinion.

No, the main issue I have with Politifact NJ is that they seem to have a hard time dealing with the big picture. It often appears that no one at Politifact takes a second to stop and ask themselves: “What’s important about this item? Why does this matter?”

Let me give another example to show what I mean:

Cheese Wars

When the state Democratic party started talking about cheese, Politifact NJ leapt into action:

Hey, Politifact: I’m Not Impressed (Part 1)

UPDATE BELOW

The Pulitzer-winning, fact-checking website politifact.com came to New Jersey with great fanfare this past spring. In a partnership with the Star-Ledger, PolitFact New Jersey claims:

Every day, reporters and researchers from the Star-Ledger examine statements by New Jersey elected officials and candidates and anyone else who speaks up on matters of public importance. We research their statements and then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter:

Sounds great – until you start reading the actual items. And I’ve got to tell you, PolitiFact NJ: I’m not very impressed.

I’ll be looking at several of Politifact NJ’s claims over the next several days. For today, let’s start with PolitiFact’s parsing of a statement by NJ Republican Senator Mike Dougherty on taxation:

“In 1976, New Jersey instituted a state income tax to provide sufficient funding for our public schools,” Doherty wrote. “After the income tax is collected, it is distributed to towns as school aid. New Jersey’s income tax rate is very progressive. The top 1 percent of income earners pay 40 percent of all state income taxes, and those at the bottom pay little or nothing.”

Doherty added in his column that New Jersey’s progressive tax structure accounts for economic differences among residents: those who earn more pay more, those who earn less pay less – one reason why those at the lower end of the income scale aren’t paying as much in income taxes.

PolitiFact New Jersey checked the statistic and found Doherty’s claim to be true.

Andy Pratt, a state Treasury Department spokesman, confirmed Doherty’s math for us.

Uh, excuse me? You got a Christie Administration spokesman to confirm this for you?! The same guys who claim that NJ is the highest-taxed state, even as your own paper reports that’s just not true?

Well, you must have contacted someone else about this; someone a little more neutral, right?