Next, they ask whether they’ve contacted the person who made the statement, presumably in order to defend or explain it further. There’s a sense in some criticism that PolitiFact blindsides people with its ratings, so it’s important to note that the outlet does always attempt to speak to the person who made the statement being rated. “Did we contact Haley?” Adair asks. They did, and Haley’s spokesman, Rob Godfrey, insisted it was fair to hold Obama directly accountable for the NLRB’s actions, because the president appointed the board’s members. Finally, they ask a fourth question: “What is our jurisprudence on similar items?”—or, how has PolitiFact ruled in situations like this in the past. They don’t spend much time going through this, but apparently, similar items have received “Half True” ratings before.
After finishing with the checklist, Adair throws the item open to discussion: “How do we feel about ‘Half True’?”
“I think that’s right,” another editor says. “My reason would be that Obama doesn’t have his fingerprints on this at all.” The other editor concurs. “’Half True’ it is,” says Adair.
Adair realizes that a lot of people think PolitiFact’s journalists just rate things helter-skelter. They don’t. Still, “Half True” means different things to different people, and once you start trying to gauge relative levels of truth and falsehood, you leave yourself open to criticism from people whose scales are calibrated differently than yours. Sure, the “Truth-o-Meter” rating is just a way to draw people into the article, which examines the disputed claim in much greater depth. But no matter how methodical Adair and his team are, the ratings they use are still imprecise—and imprecision is a problem when you exist to judge the precision of other people’s statements.
Admirable as their intentions are, there are legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at PolitiFact and its peers. It’s important that those criticisms are rooted in an awareness of how their processes actually work. Because despite the Weekly Standard’s wishes, ignoring the factcheckers won’t make them go away.