March 13, 2011

Quoth the Meter, "Neverwrong": Once Rated, "The Truth" Cannot be Corrected

Monique Chartier

So, yesterday, in addition to highlighting a much needed new website, PolitiFact Bias, and announcing A.R.'s excellent new subject category, Justin revealed that, at the ProJo, a sort of Truth Board is in charge of determining PolitiFact "Truth"-O-Meter ratings participates in the selection of statements for the "Truth"-O-Meter as well as the determination of its rating after reviewing evidence gathered by a reporter. After making a determination, only then does the Board send forth a reporter to gather evidence for the pre-determined rating, in what appears to be an upending (conclusion first, gather evidence second) of the proper way to search for Truth. [Justin advises that I stretched his description of the role of the Truth Board. I am pleased to "rehash"; i.e., correct, my original conclusion.]

Under that post, former RI rep and Congressional candidate John Loughlin describes yet another aspect of PolitiFact's loosie-goosie attitude towards the truth: their inability to correct a rating when indisputable evidence emerges that it was wrong.

Politi-Fact has no credibility with me what so ever.

On July 20, 2010, I was given a "pants-on-fire liar" rating for relaying the information given to me by Arizona law enforcement that those being human trafficked across the US / Mexico board are often force to carry narcotics as a price of passage. It is extremely difficult to prove this, however this is what I was told by law enforcement on the ground in Arizona (Governor Jan Brewer said the same thing). Subsequent to piece's publication it was reported in the same Providence Journal that 72 Guatemalans were gunned down by the cartels for refusing to carry the drugs. Then the Interior Minister of Mexico made a speech outlining that the human traffickers were being forced to carry drugs.

I presented all of this exculpatory evidence to Politi-Fact and was told "well, we already covered that story so we don't want to go back and re-hash it." These low-lifes called me a liar and didn't have the guts to go back and correct their error. I can only conclude it was because Politi-Fact is agenda driven journalism at its very worst.

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Though I am extremely sympathetic to Loughlin, given the shabby treatment he received from PolitiFact on at least two occasions, the tone of his post erodes his credibility with skeptics.
I hope he'll be willing to substantiate his claims with solid evidence of the sort that moves the undecided or the skeptic.

Posted by: Bryan White at March 13, 2011 2:45 PM

Don't you think, Bryan, that it was incumbent, rather, upon the state's largest newspaper to get "solid evidence" before rating his - or any - statement with the corresponding blaring (and erroneous) headline?

The point of this post is not that the facts are in question; they are not. What's so troubling is the ProJo's refusal to correct their blatantly erroneous report and rating after Loughlin's statement was proven true. This is a serious disservice to the people of Rhode Island by an important member of the state's media.

Posted by: Monique at March 13, 2011 4:21 PM

Wouldn't you think that if you're a journalist checking a statement of fact from someone that, oh I don't know, maybe you'd go to the person who made the statement and ask them for more background evidence on which you based your statements? Especially if you're going to call him a liar.

Posted by: Patrick at March 13, 2011 4:53 PM

This from the BBC, August 10, 2010, after the Politi-Fact story...

...also put captured migrants "in a situation of forced labour, of slavery," crime expert Samuel Gonzalez Ruiz told the BBC.

Kidnapped migrants are also used for drug smuggling and even to attract new victims at the refuges run by religious or civil organizations.

And the fear of being deported silences them.

This from the LA Times...

After U.S. officials stepped up border enforcement after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the price of passage increased and the cartels got more directly involved, using the routes they have long used for smuggling drugs north and cash and weapons south, authorities said.

Sometimes they loaded up their human cargo with backpacks full of marijuana. In many cases, they smuggled illegal immigrants between the two marijuana-growing seasons, authorities said.

And lastly,this from Human Rights Watch in a letter to the US State Department...

Diana O. was 17 when she came from Honduras to Mexico. In Mexico, she was held by the Zetas drug cartel before being taken across the border into the US. Found abandoned in a trailer in Texas by Border Patrol, she had been raped repeatedly by people paying money to her traffickers and had been forced to carry drugs.

All of this, and other exculpatory evidence was ignored by Politi-Fact for what can only be in support of an agenda. I guess that means the BBC, The LA Times and Human Rights Watch deserve the liar rating as well?

Posted by: Rep. John Loughlin at March 13, 2011 5:33 PM

This drug smuggling via coerced immigrants is something the politi-fact people should just stay away from. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff?

Without doubt drug smuggling has been accomplished by coercion. But criminals of all stripes have long known to offer "I was forced to do it" as an excuse. So, the script writes itself.

All illegals seeking to remain in the country know that they can claim "refugee" status and request asylum. This requires maltreatment in their home country. So, "I was abused and forced to smuggle drugs. If I go home I will be killed."

Perhaps this is sometimes true. But I would wager that it is frequently invesnted.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at March 13, 2011 6:11 PM

Warrington Faust,

I was indeed very surprised that Politi-Fact choose this topic as a line of attack. In July, I traveled to Arizona and met with Sheriff Paul Babeu and Sheriff Larry Dever. I toured Pinal County by air and walked the border along Cochise County with several, experienced members of Arizona law enforcement. All told me the exact same thing, specifically that the drug cartels use victims of human trafficking to smuggle drugs as a price of admission. What the paper ignored was the broader points about a failed US border policy and the increasing sophistication, in terms of weapons and tactics used by the cartels in recent history. The point of even posting to this blog was to highlight what I believe is the agenda of Politic-Fact, specifically find fault in smaller supporting arguments of those whom they dis-agree with to obfuscate the broader truth.

Posted by: Rep. John Loughlin at March 13, 2011 6:32 PM

Bryan, Loughlin cited verifiable facts in his first post on the topic. Your arrogant assertion that this isn't good enough for you says nothing about him, but volumes about you.

Posted by: BobN at March 13, 2011 6:35 PM

Rep. Loughlin

Thank you for your posts here. Your emphasis on human rights is what I take notice of rather than party affiliation.

Posted by: Phil at March 13, 2011 7:54 PM


Thank you for your comments. One popular misconception is that to be tough on border security and illegal immigration in general is somehow lacking in compassion or an inability to experience empathy for those just seeking a better life. The reverse is the case. We, the "compassionate" have created magnets for those who seek to come here illegally, at a cost of untold human suffering. The employers who face little or no consequences for exploiting illegals with substandard compensation and unsafe working conditions, benefit from this false compassion. By ignoring illegal emigration we encourage untold millions to make the perilous journey - that's not compassion its irresponsible. What parent wouldn't risk life and limb to make a better life for their children? So when we put in place polices providing for tuition breaks for children of illegal emigrants, we encourage even more seeking a better life. We need secure borders - its what I said during the campaign, its what I am still saying and based on the inaction coming from Washington it may, unfortunately be what I'll say during the 2012 campaign.

Posted by: Rep. John Loughlin at March 13, 2011 8:10 PM

Monique queried: "Don't you think, Bryan, that it was incumbent, rather, upon the state's largest newspaper to get "solid evidence" before rating his - or any - statement with the corresponding blaring (and erroneous) headline?"

Definitely. I may be PolitiFact's most dogged critic. But PolitiFact has better branding than Loughlin nationally, so the typical person who reads his comments is going to write him off as a bitter sore loser. Given a more polished presentation (apologies, good Mr. Loughlin) and the hard evidence supporting his account (texts of e-mails, for example), his story could serve as a devastating example further undermining PolitiFact's credibility.

I know journalists (and I'm *very* familiar with PolitiFact), so I'm quite inclined to believe Loughlin's account. But I wouldn't use it to convince a skeptic. It wouldn't work.

Posted by: Bryan White at March 13, 2011 9:47 PM

Particularly a "skeptic" who is intent on spreading Lefty falsehoods as part of an agenda-driven propaganda campaign.

Posted by: BobN at March 14, 2011 7:48 AM


Regarding claims supported with evidence: I was talking about Loughlin's claims wrt his interactions with PolitiFact. The only evidence we have of that is Loughlin's account delivered in company with insults. Loughlin would have served himself better with a dispassionate account of his interactions with PolitiFact, followed up with the evidence such as email he received from PolitiFact staffers.

If you think I'm spreading liberal lies (I don't quite know what to make of your most recent post) then you're operating under a case of mistaken identity.

Posted by: Bryan White at March 14, 2011 11:31 AM


So let me get this straight, The Providence Journal can publicly proclaim with a banner headline that a 26-year Army Officer and a Eagle Scout is a liar, and I am out of line when I call them out on it?



Posted by: Rep. John Loughlin at March 14, 2011 2:58 PM

Rep. Loughlin wrote:

"(L)et me get this straight, The Providence Journal can publicly proclaim with a banner headline that a 26-year Army Officer and a Eagle Scout is a liar, and I am out of line when I call them out on it?"

I'd say that's not very straight.

I think PolitiFact is often irresponsible and that the organization should be called out in the strongest possible terms and with the strongest arguments available.

I think that when you take your case to a blog discussion thread and use name-calling in your account it weakens your case. PolitiFact may well deserve the name you pinned on them. But regardless of that, it weakens your case. And when you provide an account of your communications with PolitiFact without the evidence on which it is based, it is likewise a weak argument.

Here's how to have it straight: If your account of your communications with PolitiFact is accurate (I trust that it is) then it might be used as a very powerful argument against PolitiFact if presented skillfully and with the right sort of evidence.

If you never get around to strengthening your case with a complete presentation then your story may satisfy the choir. But it's not going to win many converts.

If you want to see PolitiFact held to account in the public eye then it's going to take compelling arguments and skillful presentation.

Posted by: Bryan White at March 15, 2011 5:08 AM

Bryan, how would Rep Loughlin do that if:

1) the newspaper (the largest one in the state) that printed the original lie refuses to correct their mistake and

2) by your own assertion, it "weakens" his case - and is, therefore, pointless - to post the rebuttal on a blog?

It's interesting, Bryan, how you keep trying to get our eyes off of the real problem and the real culprit here: a newspaper which prints blatant lies about a candidate and then, breathtakingly, refuses to correct or retract those lies. Why? Why are you trying to distract everyone from the highly unjournalistic and unprofessional behavior of the Providence Journal in this matter?

Posted by: Monique at March 15, 2011 7:04 PM

1) The ProJo's refusal to correct its mistake is no bar to producing an well-constructed rebuttal, nor does it bar exposing the language ProJo representatives used in refusing to issue a correction or clarification.

2) I did not assert that posting a rebuttal to a blog weakens his case. My position is that indulging in name-calling and the failure to (at least at some point) produce evidence to support the assertions weakens the case. Rep. Loughlin could have posted an effective criticism of the ProJo's response to his entreaty even in a blog discussion thread (by refraining from name-calling and by being ready to produce evidence in support of his assertions).

Posted by: Bryan White at March 16, 2011 3:43 AM

Oops, Monique wasn't done.

"It's interesting, Bryan, how you keep trying to get our eyes off of the real problem and the real culprit here: a newspaper which prints blatant lies about a candidate and then, breathtakingly, refuses to correct or retract those lies. Why?"

Monique, that's a bit of a "Have you stopped beating your wife?" question. I spend hours every week writing about the problems at PolitiFact and trying to publicize their leftward bias. If Rep. Loughlin has evidence to back up his report then it focus considerable attention on the ProJo's treatment of Rep. Loughlin. Without that evidence it is easy for people to dismiss. So, again, I can sympathize with Loughlin having received similar treatment from PolitiFact writers and editors. But I can't use his story effectively against PolitiFact. It carries no real weight without the evidence supporting evidence. If he has the email saying that the ProJo isn't interested in rehashing the story then I'd be delighted to help publicize the story to the shame of PolitiFact.

"Why are you trying to distract everyone from the highly unjournalistic and unprofessional behavior of the Providence Journal in this matter?"

I think I'm trying to obtain information that would *augment* the attention given to poor journalistic practices at PolitiFact. I realize I may have offended Rep. Loughlin by pointing out that his message about PolitiFact, as given, was easy for a skeptic to dismiss as sour grapes. Sorry about that, but the truth hurts asometimes. What I wrote is true: He has a stronger argument without the name-calling and with the evidence that substantiates his claims. Yes of course PolitiFact is a horrible product and deserves criticism. Let's make it the best possible criticism.

Posted by: Bryan White at March 16, 2011 4:03 AM
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