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BLOG: Time for the Plain Dealer to dump PolitiFact

Tom Jackson • Jun 16, 2011 at 4:22 PM

It's time for the Cleveland Plain Dealer to admit that its PolitiFact feature is a waste of space. The paper should just get rid of it, and use the space on the front of its Metro section for more articles.

The latest affront to good journalism ran in today's PD, a long article criticizing a Tweet by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.

Portman Tweeted on May 17, "We're in a fiscal crisis, yet the Democrat led Senate has not passed a budget in 748 days." The paper rates this is "Half True" on its "Truth-O-Meter."

The PD article admits that the Tweet actually was true.

"We did some simple subtraction and got back to April 29, 2009 -- which was, according to the Congressional Research Service and news sources, when the Senate passed a budget resolution for fiscal 2010.

"None has passed since, so the time tally in the statements from Portman and the NRSC is accurate."

But the Tweet is partially false, anyway, because past Republican Congresses also were irresponsible, the PD article claims.

It's true that Republicans have not been responsible with money when they held power, so their criticisms seem hypocritical. Political hypocrisy, however, doesn't morph Portman's statement and make it false. To pick to another issue, it may be hypocritical for Republicans to say that President Obama is violating the War Powers Act -- there's no evidence they cared when a Republican was in the White House -- but it doesn't make the criticisms false. The statements have to stand or fall on their own merits.

If the PD won't drop PolitiFact, it should reform it by providing accountability and transparency to its decisions.

Right now, it's impossible to tell who's to blame for the worst articles. Thursday's article is bylined "Tom Feran," but an editor's note at the end of the article says that a "panel of editors" makes the decisions on whether a politician's statement is truthful. The editors aren't named.

The PD ought to consider assigning PolitiFact articles to a reporter, and letting him or her take sole credit (or blame) for the result. The articles can only improve if the reporter has to stand by his words, instead of saying, "The editors made me do it."

If the PD insists on using a panel of editors, it should name them. Who are these mysterious philosopher-editors, who meet behind closed doors and decide that a truthful statement is only "half true"? Publish their names. Better yet, publish how they voted on a particular ruling. Was the Portman ruling unanimous, or did some of the editors dissent?

My previous criticism of PolitiFact and the PD (when they beat up on a Democratic politician, even more egregiously) is here.

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