PolitiFact Whiffs Again, Rates Accurate Romney Claim 'Half True'

It must be campaign season. Fact-checking gurus are rating accurate statements by the Romney campaign as "Mostly False" or "Half True" or – the best – "True but False," since they're correct but they apparently don't tell the whole story.

However, when President Obama made a factually-incorrect statement last week, he did not receive a "False" rating from the website PolitiFact, but benefitted from a grading curve since he "has a point" to make. Romney received the same "Half True" rating for a factually-correct statement.

CNN hosted the editor at this celebrated fact-checking outfit on Monday to "separate fact from fiction." He first tacked a Romney campaign statement, that the youth unemployment rate under President Obama is double the unemployment rate for all Americans.

The numbers match up. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for those of ages 16-24 indeed hovered close to 2 times more than the actual unemployment rate for all persons, from January of 2009 when Obama took office until March of 2012.

However, since the numbers under President Bush showed the same trend of youth unemployment doubling the overall unemployment rate, they rated a factually-correct statement "Half True" since that is the usual trend anyway.

To be fair, the numbers under both President Bush and President Clinton show the same consistency, where youth unemployment is double the overall unemployment. However, the campaign's claim still stands as true. It needs explanation for the proper context, but the factual statement is correct.

Meanwhile, during the same CNN segment PolitiFact revealed a statement by President Obama that "under Republican economic policies, the typical American family saw their income fall by about 6 percent." PolitiFact ran the numbers from 2002-2010 to more accurately gauge the record of President Bush. According to Census Bureau numbers, the inflation-adjusted median income for families fell by 3.6 percent – a far cry from Obama's claim of 6 percent.

And using the same numbers, if one begins with the first year of the Bush presidency in 2001 and ends at 2008, the overall income declined 2.6 percent. From 2000-2008, "typical" American families saw a 3 percent decline.

The numbers clearly show that Obama's claim is false and not even close to being accurate. Yet PolitiFact saw that Obama "has a point" that the typical family's income has declined, and so gave him a "Half True" rating.

A fact-checking outfit should be determining whether the facts match up with the truth, rating them "True" or "False" or "Half True" based on what facts are true, and then providing context – not simply brushing over factual statements as "Half True" because of their own explanation.

A transcript of the segment, which aired on April 30 on CNN Newsroom at 1:48 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

[1:48]

SUZANNE MALVEAUX: Let's start with this one. This is on Mitt Romney's web site. Romney says, "In the Obama economy, the youth unemployment is double the unemployment rate for all Americans." How does that statement measure up?

BILL ADAIR, Washington bureau chief, Tampa Bay Times & editor, PolitiFact.com: That one got a "Half True" on the Truth-O-Meter. This is a classic political half truth, the kind of thing we see a lot at PolitiFact. Yes, it's true, but it was also true under President Bush. We went back, we looked at the numbers under Bush. It's been consistently about double since 2001. So, yeah, true under Obama but that's not unique, so "Half True" on the Truth-O-Meter for that one.

MALVEAUX: What about this one. From President Obama, he says, "Under Republican economic policies, the typical American family saw their income fall by about 6 percent." True or false?

ADAIR: This one also gets a half true. And the reason is here he has -- he's wrong about the numbers. If you use the time frame that President Obama used in the speech, it's actually more like 3 percent. To get it to 6 percent, you have to really kind of cherry pick the begin and end dates. And one other element of this one is whether it's fair to blame Republican policies for much bigger forces in the economy. So overall, that one, too, gets a "Half True."

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014