Twisted Truth-o-Meter: PolitiFact gives bumbling defense of Liz Warren Puff Piece

PolitiChicks.comRecently, PolitiFact targeted me when it publicly labeled “Mostly False” a social media Meme I created that mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren. My PolitiChicks article exposed PolitiFact’s dishonest smear against the Meme and me. I then sent a detailed letter to PolitiFact’s editors explaining why I was right and PolitiFact was wrong. That letter (reproduced below) provoked a condescending and huffy response from PolitiFact (read it for yourself below) doubling down on its misrepresentations and sloppy journalism, using small words in hopes little women like me might understand true journalists’ factual finesse.

What was especially dumbfounding was PolitiFact’s response that “we would have been happy to respond to your concerns” but for the fact that “11 days” had passed since publishing the article. Spoken in Elizabeth Warren parlance, PolitiFact won’t smoke-em peace pipe with Paleface PolitiChick.

In Bizzaro-PolitiFact-world, fact checking my six month-old Meme is timely, but fact-checking its own 11 day-old article is not timely. Odd too is that PolitiFact emailed me about its article just five hours before publishing it, as if that were sufficient notice to respond (sorry, PolitiFact, but Wednesday afternoons I have three separate school pick-ups followed by kids’ karate lessons).

This short notice highlights another issue: the article’s not-so-accidental timing. With the midterms a week away, PolitiFact was swamped fact-checking hundreds of Congressional and Senatorial elections, yet it felt an urgent need to publish this article on five hours’ notice. Not so accidental when you consider (a) Liberals and everyone else sensed the impending Democrat shellacking, and (b) Liberals were already planning past the midterms and they view Elizabeth Warren as a savior for the Democrat Party, far more so than Grandma Hillary. Politico notes this liberal bandwagon pushing Warren toward Senate leadership. “Adding Warren, Democrats say, would bring in a nationally known name who could help sharpen the Democrat message” and that she could “inject fresh blood into a team reeling from significant midterm election losses.”

But before the Cherokee Princess Warren can “sharpen” any Democrat message or “inject fresh blood”, her image as a lying, cheating, Indian-faking, hypocritical one-percenter needs Nancy Pelosi level cosmetic surgery. In an ironic twist, PolitiFact rides like cavalry to Chief Warren’s rescue and gives no quarter to the truth of satire.

For the record, here’s my email to PolitiFact:

To: PolitiFact
Re: 10/29/14 article “Critics say Elizabeth Warren Lives in a $5.4 million mansion”

This regards the article authored by Louis Jacobson on October 29, 2014 entitled “Critics say Elizabeth Warren ‘lives in a $5.4 million mansion'” and which concludes as “Mostly False” a Facebook Meme I created approximately six months ago. Because this conclusion is false and misleading, and a disparagement of me, I request that PolitiFact either retract or correct its story to reflect the truth.

Preliminarily, PolitiFact’s website includes a section entitled “The Principles of PolitiFact, PunditFact and the Truth-O-Meter” and claiming to be an “overview of our procedures and the principles for Truth-O-Meter rulings.” This section includes statements such as (a) “Because we can’t possibly check all claims, we select the most newsworthy and significant ones” and (b) “We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole”. The section contains a subsection titled “Statements can be right and wrong” that states “We sometimes rate compound statements that contain two or more factual assertions. In these cases, we rate the overall accuracy after looking at the individual pieces.”

The PolitiFact article is false and misleading and violates these “principles” in its review of my Meme.

(1) The article cherry picks a single fact in the Meme, then smears the entire Meme as “Mostly False” (“the meme overshoots the facts of the case”) based on its assessment of that single fact.

This is deceitful and a knowing violation of PolitiFact’s written guidelines for reporting. The article acknowledges that the Meme is a “compound statement that contain[s] two or more factual assertions,” yet violates the written principal that “[i]n these cases, we rate the overall accuracy after looking at the individual pieces.” Instead, after setting forth the Meme with its various facts, the article states, “That’s a lot to chew on, so we’ll limit our analysis to the claim that Warren ‘lives in a $5.4 million mansion’.”

As a Pulitizer Prize-winning journalism site, PolitiFact cannot reasonably plead unsophistication and laziness of having “a lot to chew on” as an excuse for violating its own written standards for reviewing compound statements. The reasonable conclusion is that PolitiFact intentionally ignored the Meme’s other facts, not because they were “a lot to chew on”, but because they were true. By ignoring the other facts in the Meme and instead cherry picking a single fact, the reasonable conclusion is that PolitiFact dishonestly created a pretext to declare my Meme “Mostly False”. In doing so, PolitiFact states a knowing and intentional falsehood whose specific purpose is to disparage me.

(2) The article labels my Meme “Mostly False”, yet admits that it is based on a sworn statement by Senator Warren.

In her financial statement that you linked in your article, Senator Warren stated her home value as between $1 million and $5 million. Your article purports to disprove the $5 million valuation, and instead claim the value to be roughly one-half that, by citing and relying on a Zillow estimate and an assessed value. As you know, neither a Zillow estimate nor an assessment is court-admissible evidence of the value of real property. On the other hand, Senator Warren’s sworn opinion of value would be legally admissible evidence in a judicial proceeding, and that valuation is $1 million to $5 million. Your “Mostly False” conclusion relies on finding and choosing judicially inadmissible valuations over a judicially admissible valuation. This is unreasonable and further supports the conclusion that PolitiFact created a false pretext for reaching its “Mostly False” conclusion.

(3) The article refutes that Senator Warren’s property is a “mansion”, saying it would be “a stretch”.

The point of that statement is unclear. First, PolitiFact’s written guidelines say “We don’t check opinions”, yet the article does precisely that, and then labels that opinion “a stretch” in the same sentence as it declares the entire Meme “Mostly False”. PolitiFact’s conscious decision to violate its written standards by commenting in this fashion on the “mansion” opinion again suggests a pretext for attacking the Meme. And, frankly, it is not a “stretch” to call a mansion a property worth $5 million (by Senator Warren) or $2.4 million (by PolitiFact) when the median home value in the United States in 2014 was approximately $188,000.

(4) The article acknowledges that major media sites such as Huffington Post reported this $5 million value of Senator Warren’s home, yet the article focuses instead solely on my Meme.

This violates PolitiFact’s own written guideline of checking only claims that are the “most newsworthy and significant”. PolitiFact could have fact-checked a major media site that has a reputation for being politically liberal, but instead fact-checked a Facebook meme that had dramatically less exposure and distribution to the public, and one that clearly was less “newsworthy and significant”. Given that the Huffington Post article preceded my Meme, and given that the Huffington Post article clearly was more “newsworthy and significant”, the reasonable conclusion is that PolitiFact did not want its “Mostly False” attribution against a liberal media site, and instead attacked an obscure Meme critical of Senator Warren. This will allow Senator Warren and others to point to this PolitiFact article and decry “mostly false” attacks by political critics, rather than by likely political sympathizers. In violating its own written standards, PolitiFact creates at minimum the appearance that published this disparaging article with partisan political motivation.

(5) The article perverts PolitiFact’s self-styled role of exposing false attacks.

By its own admission, the purportedly “false” fact derived from a financial statement that Senator Warren signed under penalty of perjury. However, rather than calling Senator Warren “mostly false”, or her sworn financial statement “mostly false”, or other news media reporting of it “mostly false”, PolitiFact attacks the messenger that created a satirical Meme based on Senator Warren’s sworn statement. This is disingenuous and deceitful reporting. If Senator Warren’s reputation needs rehabilitation, as PolitiFact apparently believes, the solution lies with her clarifying her financial statement, not with your unfairly and dishonestly attacking a Meme that merely reported the content of that statement.

Based on the foregoing, I request that PolitiFact issue a retraction or amendment of its article to reflect the truth.

Susan Swift

And for the record, read PolitiFact’s response to my email:

From: <[email protected]>
Date: Mon, Nov 10, 2014 at 11:35 AM
Subject: Re: Question on a Facebook meme

Dear Ms. Swift,
We received your email regarding our fact-check of your meme, along with your blog post, and would like to respond. We see this situation differently than you do.

You write that our article “smears the entire Meme as ‘Mostly False.’ ” This is incorrect. Our longstanding policy is that the rating refers only to the quotation listed at the top of the article in the box. In fact, we state explicitly in the story that “we’ll limit our analysis here to the claim that Warren ‘lives in a $5.4 million mansion.’” We have no opinion at this point on whether anything else in the meme is correct or incorrect; the ruling simply refers to the part about the $5.4 million mansion.

On the matter of the home’s value, you write that our article “purports to disprove the $5 million valuation” that Warren herself made. However, your claim is based on a misunderstanding of how the Senate’s financial disclosure system works.

The form in question does not seek a specific valuation. Rather, it asks senators and candidates to check one box out of a series of boxes that show ranges of value for a given asset. In this case, the range offered by the form was $1 million to $5 million. If the actual valuation at the time was between $2 million and $2.5 million (as our reporting suggests) then the box Warren checked was the only appropriate one she could have chosen.

Her signature on this form does not mean that Warren swore that the value was $5 million; rather, she swore that the value was somewhere between $1 million and $5 million. As a result, there is no need for Warren to be “clarifying her financial statement,” as you suggest. Warren’s form is accurate; what needed clarification are claims that ignore that the $5 million figure is an upper bound, rather than a precise valuation. (Moreover, the figure your meme used is $5.4 million, which exceeds even the maximum amount cited on the disclosure form.)

You also ask why we checked your meme rather than a Huffington Post story. We did so because a reader asked us to. Many of our items are reader-suggested. In particular, we have made a concerted effort to check Facebook memes (both from the right and the left) because our readers often tell us they are interested in learning whether they are true or not. All told, we have checked 66 Facebook memes since we began a few years ago. We hardly covered up the fact that the Huffington Post got this wrong when we checked the meme; we mentioned that they were wrong and linked to the incorrect claim.

Finally, we would have been happy to respond to your concerns while we were researching our fact-check; we emailed you then, but you did not respond to us until 11 days after it ran.

The editors

As a post-script, I thank the editor of PolitiChicks for the platform from which to challenge such media bias.

Susan Swift

California PolitiChick Susan Swift is a lawyer, author, wife and one conservative mother of seven children. She is currently the Director of Outreach and Engagement at the Right to Life League, American's first pro-life organization. Susan is addicted to the politics of today and always looking out for her little ones' futures. Susan is tough as nails...proud Texan, loves Guns, Freedom, and her right to use Free Speech how she sees fit. And, as a former actress in Hollywood, she always has an opinion about the politics running that town. For more on Susan visit her website at Follow on social media @RealSusanSwift

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