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Politicians take heed: when attacking your rivals for not telling the truth, make certain you have your facts straight.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) wrote a post on the liberal blog Blue Jersey on Monday criticizing Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, both Republicans, for their lack of truthfulness. But in the process, she distorted some facts of her own.
"Politifact listed Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin as the Governor who told the most lies," Weinberg wrote. "Well not to be [outdone], our own ‘untruthful’ Governor Chris Christie made it into Politifact's top five of ‘Lie - en Governors.’ We’re so proud Mr. Christie. You should really put that accolade right under your ‘Jersey Comeback’ banner."
This claim surprised us: PolitiFact New Jersey never compiled such a list -- and neither did any of our fact-checking colleagues.
So what is Weinberg talking about?
The state senator’s statement was based on a list posted on the liberal blog Uppity Wisconsin.
The list ranked governors fact-checked at least five times by PolitiFact by the percentage of True and Mostly True ratings they received.
Walker had the lowest combined percentage of those two rulings, according to the June 1 blog post. The post concluded that "Walker is the #1 most dishonest governor in America."
Christie took fourth place among the "top five most dishonest governors in America" with 38 percent of his PolitiFact rulings earning True or Mostly True.
The blog’s tally of percentages of True and Mostly True rulings for governors in its top five list was mostly accurate at the time, but there’s several problems with the conclusions made from that data.
PolitiFact Editor Bill Adair called suggestions that a governor is "in the top five" for falsehoods "inaccurate -- and meaningless."
Overall, PolitiFact has checked 22 sitting governors. Only 10 of those governors have faced the Truth-O-Meter at least five times.
In a pool of 10, it’s not difficult to land a spot in the top five.
"It's fine if people want to use our report cards to compare the records of people we fact-check. But it's important to be accurate about what those report cards say and what they don't," Adair said. "The report cards provide a tally of the claims we chose to check. But it's not accurate to say the report cards indicate who ‘told the most lies.’ We are journalists who choose our fact-checks based on what is newsworthy. We are not social scientists and are not using any kind of random sample to select statements to check."
Jason Butkowski, a spokesman for the New Jersey Senate Democrats, acknowledged Weinberg erred in citing PolitiFact as the source of the ranking, but, he said in an e-mail, "that does not take away from the larger issue – that Governor Christie, who prides himself on his straight-talking Jersey guy demeanor, only scored truthful or mostly truthful an abysmal 38% of the time in the 37 statements analyzed by PolitiFact."
Obviously, PolitiFact doesn’t track every statement, nor do they track every Governor on an even playing field, so issuing any kind of quantitative ranking of public officials based on PolitiFact’s information doesn’t work. However, the people of New Jersey can, and should, expect more from Governor Christie when it comes to leveling with them on the big issues that matter most to our State."
Weinberg claimed PolitiFact listed Walker as the governor "who told the most lies" and Christie made it into PolitiFact’s "top five of ‘Lie - en Governors’."
Weinberg is wrong on both counts.
PolitiFact never ranked governors by their falsehoods. Though PolitiFact breaks down ratings by percentages, those figures represent how an individual’s statements have fared on the Truth-O-Meter. They do not show who "told the most lies."
We rate Weinberg’s claim False.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.
BlueJersey.com, Primary Day Tuesday: And Guess Who's Coming To Bergen?, June 4, 2012
Uppity Wisconsin, Politifact: Walker Most Dishonest Governor in America, June 1, 2012
Interview with Bill Adair, Editor of PolitiFact, June 4, 2012
E-mail interview with Jason Butkowski, spokesman for New Jersey Senate Democratic Office, June 5, 2012
PolitiFact.com, Browse by speaker, accessed June 5, 2012
PolitiFact New Jersey, Chris Christie’s file, accessed June 5, 2012
PolitiFact Wisconsin, Scott Walker’s file, accessed June 5, 2012
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