July 10, 2013

PolitiFact Ohio

Rachel Maddow’s claim that Ohio’s budget calls for a “mandatory vaginal probe at the insistence of the state” is not true, PolitiFact’s Ohio outfit says.

“Maddow was referring to a new requirement that women seeking abortions first receive ultrasounds to determine whether a fetal heartbeat is present,” PolitiFact and Plain Dealer reporter Henry J. Gomez writes. Gomez got his hands on the budget, which says “only that an examination shall be performed externally.”

“That puts Maddow’s ‘vaginal probe’ claim about as far as can be from the truth, into the realm of the ridiculous,” Gomez writes.

Maddow has harshly criticized PolitiFact — which is owned by Poynter’s Tampa Bay Times — in part because of gaps between the organization’s nuanced reporting and its blunter Truth-o-Meter ratings.

Maddow in fact does lay down some nuance down on her “vaginal probe” claim: “Actually, nobody knows if that is what they mean; it never got talked through or explained that well,” she says in the segment. PolitiFact notes others nonetheless picked up on her characterization.

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The “Truth-O-Meter can provide an easy source of criticism,” Tampa Bay Times critic Eric Deggans wrote for Poynter.org in May. But they’re a way of addressing the fact that “its rulings are an effort to go beyond the literal truth of a fact or set of facts to judge the overall impact of a statement.”

In politics, it is easy to lay out three true statements and reach a false conclusion; the subjective Truth-o-Meter rulings are a way of addressing this issue. And by laying out the facts it weighed in reaching a ruling, PolitiFact lets the reader make his or her own decision.

Maddow’s statement apparently made Gomez’s “Pants on Fire!” ruling pretty easy. Reached by email, PolitiFact Ohio Editor Jane Kahoun said Maddow’s history with PolitiFact didn’t occasion any special handling: “We approached it the same way we approach every PolitiFact Ohio item,” she writes. “There was no difference in the way this was handled.”

MSNBC didn’t respond to PolitiFact’s request for comment. Given Maddow’s enthusiasm for raking PolitiFact over hot coals on her show, I am duty-bound to rate that inaction “Completely Uncool™.”

Previously: Is Truth-O-Meter the real issue in Maddow’s latest blast at PolitiFact? | Wemple: In 2 of 3 spats, PolitiFact and Maddow are talking past each other

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Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

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