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Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas says in "A Time for Truth," his new book, that while the people generally "see right through the media’s bias," PolitiFact poses special dangers.
Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, writes: "There is, however, a new, particularly noxious species of yellow journalism that is beginning to infect what passes for modern political discourse. It’s called ‘PolitiFact.’ Through this website, left-wing editorial writers frequently dress up their liberal views as ‘facts’ and conclude that anyone who does not agree with their view of the world is objectively lying. Then, left-wing hacks immediately run out and say, ‘Look! The conservative said something that PolitiFact calls a lie. He wouldn’t know the truth if it him with a two-by-four!’"
Hey, at least he got our name right.
Cruz’s first gripe with fact-checking efforts like ours is "their heavy selection bias. They pick and choose what to check and what not to check."
That’s true, in that we do pick what to put to our Truth-O-Meter. We choose items that make us wonder whether a politician’s factual-sounding statement is true. Many of the statements we check come to our attention from curious readers wondering the same.
As an example of selection bias, Cruz points to our 2013 fact check into his statement that Americans "invented ‘Pong,’ ‘Space Invaders’ and the iPhone." He says we rated it Mostly False. Actually, we found Cruz’s claim to be Half True. A Japanese programmer is credited with developing "Space Invaders."
If we’d checked a whole paragraph of his remarks, Cruz says, or the whole speech, the rating would have been Mostly True. "The rating," he says, "was entirely a function of the initial selection."
Cruz writes that a bigger problem is that PolitiFact often labels statements by conservatives "false" because the statements criticize liberals. "I recall that PolitiFact labeled as a ‘pants on fire’ lie my statement that President Obama began his presidential administration by going on a worldwide apology tour." In 2012, Cruz indeed drew a Pants on Fire for this claim, which didn’t have a basis in anything said by Obama. We found that the president’s speeches abroad contained criticisms of past U.S. actions but no full-throated apology.
In his book, Cruz says the biggest problem with PolitiFact is "they regularly define left-wing opinion as an objective ‘fact.’ Anyone who disagrees with left-wing opinion is therefore a liar. So, behind a robe of objectiveness and truth-telling, they label as ‘false’ my oft-repeated statement that ‘the greatest lie in politics is that the Republicans are the party of the rich.’" That wasn’t us. In 2014, another fact-checking endeavor, the FactChecker at the Washington Post, gave three Pinocchios to that Cruz statement.
We won’t let Cruz’s criticism keep us from the rest of his book. More fact checks ahead.