George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs studied 100 PolitiFact fact-checks during President Obama’s second term. The organization “rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims,” a press release says.
PolitiFact rated 32% of Republican claims as “false” or “pants on fire,” compared to 11% of Democratic claims – a 3 to 1 margin. Conversely, Politifact rated 22% of Democratic claims as “entirely true” compared to 11% of Republican claims – a 2 to 1 margin.
A majority of Democratic statements (54%) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18% of Republican statements. Conversely, a majority of Republican statements (52%) were rated as mostly or entirely false, compared to only 24% of Democratic statements.
“PolitiFact rates the factual accuracy of specific claims; we do not seek to measure which party tells more falsehoods,” PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair wrote in an email to Poynter. “The authors of this press release seem to have counted up a small number of our Truth-O-Meter ratings over a few months, and then drew their own conclusions.” Adair, who is leaving the organization to become the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, added:
We’ve rated more than 7,000 statements since we started in 2007. We are journalists, not social scientists. We select statements to fact-check based on our news judgment — whether a statement is timely, provocative, whether it’s been repeated and whether readers would wonder if it is true.
I’ve asked CMPA to see a copy of the study. Last fall, CMPA said PolitiFact rated “statements by Mitt Romney and other Republicans as false twice as often as statements by President Obama and other Democrats.”
Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times, which owns PolitiFact. PolitiFact has proven to be a reliable punching bag for critics on the political left and right. Rachel Maddow has repeatedly lobbed criticism at the fact-checking organization. Last summer, Virginia GOP strategists said the site’s Virginia operation “has ruled disproportionately against Republicans and in favor of Democrats.” PolitiFact Virginia Editor Warren Fiske wrote in response that Republicans’ dominance of Virginia politics would explain any disparity.
Eric Deggans wrote earlier this month that PolitiFact’s trademark “Truth-O-Meter can provide an easy source of criticism,” while the site’s method of showing how it reached a conclusion “lets the reader make his or her own decision.”