Pants on Fire!
Democratic Party of Wisconsin
Says Gov. Scott Walker "has been rated America’s most factually-challenged politician."  

Democratic Party of Wisconsin on Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 in a website post

Has PolitiFact rated Scott Walker the nation's "most factually-challenged" politician?

Gov. Scott Walker was one of the speakers on Feb. 26, 2015 at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. (AP photo)

The Wisconsin Democratic Party posted a statement on its website March 17, 2015 that criticizes Gov. Scott Walker's state budget proposal -- and claims Walker "has been rated America’s most factually-challenged politician."

A belittling label, even coming from the opposing party, for a Republican who is formulating a 2016 run for the White House.

Since we’re in the fact-checking business, we wondered what the party was using as its source.

Turns out it's us.

Flattering. But we’ve never done that kind of rating. And the party’s analysis has some big holes in it.

Ratings

The party’s statement links to a post on its website from October 2014.

That earlier post cites a January 2014 article by PolitiFact National about the 10 most-fact-checked people on the Truth-O-Meter at the time. The article tallied all PolitiFact fact checks -- those done by PolitiFact National (since 2007), as well as PolitiFact Wisconsin (since 2010) and the other PolitiFact state operations.

President Barack Obama topped the list, with 500 fact checks. Coming in ninth, with 85 fact checks, was Walker -- just behind Hillary Clinton and ahead of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.

The Democratic Party said that, based on the tallies, 54 percent of the 85 Walker statements had been rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire -- and that that percentage was higher than anyone else on the top 10 list.

OK. But there are several problems with using our ratings to make the claim the party did.

The first is obvious. The Democrats based their claim on only the top 10 list, which -- as one might expect -- was dominated by politicians who ran for president or were from states that had PolitiFact operations.  

That ignores all of the other office holders, former office holders and candidates around the country that PolitiFact has fact checked -- including more than 130 such politicians in Wisconsin alone.

More importantly, we don't rate politicians in the way the Democratic Party's claim suggests. We don’t rate every single claim a person makes. Rather, we choose a statement based largely on whether it is interesting and timely, and we give it a rating based on our research and reporting.

And those ratings apply to the individual statements. We don't make sweeping generalizations about a politician's overall facility with the facts.

Some notes before we close.

To date, PolitiFact has fact-checked 130 Walker statements. Just over 51 percent of them have been rated True, Mostly True or Half True; nearly 49 percent have been rated Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire.

Meanwhile, we have previously rated 18 claims from the Wisconsin Democratic Party. One was rated True and one was rated Half True; the other 16 were rated Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire.

A few days ago, PolitiFact National put in one snapshot a summary of the Truth-O-Meter records of Walker and nine other likely presidential candidates for 2016. Check it out.

Our rating

The state Democratic Party said Walker "has been rated America’s most factually-challenged politician."

But the party misuses our data to claim we said something we never did.

For a statement that is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim, our rating is Pants on Fire. 

To comment on this item, go to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s web page.

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