Why does Politifact pull punches?

I just read this article on a Trump tweet regarding ObamaCare.

It was evaluating this tweet:

The Tweet’s text is:

When Obamacare was signed into law, CBO estimated that 23 million people would be covered in Obamacare’s exchanges in 2017. They were off by more than 100% — only 10.3 million people are covered by Obamacare.

The Tweet itself adds:

FACT: when #Obamacare was signed, CBO estimated that 23M would be covered in 2017. They were off by 100%. Only 10.3M people are covered.

The overall Tweet is false. Where does Politifact get Half-True?

If you divide the tweet up into 5 idea-claims:

  • The math. (100%)
  • The initial CBO exchange estimate. (23M)
  • The number of people covered by Obamacare (10.3M)
  • The comparison of the 23 million vs the 10.3 million numbers.
  • The overall intent of the message is ambiguous because of the word “covered.” Either they meant (a) to imply 23 million people were predicted to have insurance coverage by Obamacare but only 10.3 million are actually covered OR (b) 23 million people were supposed to be enrolled in exchanges but only 10.3 million are actually enrolled.

Only 4 out of 5 of those are true. So it’s 1/5-True, not Half-True.

Even the one true statement is only half-true (so 1/10-True). The Obamacare exchanges don’t “cover” people. People are allowed to enroll in the exchanges.

If I have a blanket next to me but I don’t pull it over myself then I am not covered by the blanket but it’s not the blanket’s fault.

The White House description of Obamacare “coverage” that implies using a different blanket (Medicaid or employer insurance) or choosing no blanket at all is the same thing as not having access to a blanket.

Conflating “coverage” with what is voluntary enrollment is very misleading.

And if the word “cover” is supposed to mean “enroll” then you can’t use “coverage” to describe the 10.3 million or use it in the Tweet. (Unless they are trying to say literally only 10.3 million are covered by the Obamacare law, which is also false, it covers — as in, applies to — all Americans).

So here is my estimate of Truthiness:

The Math: to calculate difference in percentage you subtract 23–10.3 and then divide 12.7 by 23. That .55217 is the the 55.217% difference between those numbers. [FALSE]

The CBO 23M estimate from the March 2010 report (uh, why does Politifact link to an article about Leonardo Dicaprio moving to Florida instead of the actual report?).

Here is the table in question (with a real link to the PDF report):

The estimate is clearly 23 million using exchanges. But what kind of cherry picking is this? One number out of a table of dozens?

The statement, made on its own is true but given the context of the tweet and image it’s misleading so [TRUE].

The number of people covered by Obamacare is 10.3 million

This is false, all Americans are “covered” by Obamacare. Either through Medicaid and CHIP, Employer, or Exchanges.

Maybe they meant ONLY the number of people covered by exchanges? Well, maybe they did mean that, but that’s not what they said is it?

Maybe they meant the number of Americans without access to Healthcare through Medicaid, CHIP, employer insurance, self-purchased insurance, or Exchanges? Well, 10.3M doesn’t fit any of those numbers. So… [FALSE]

The comparison of the 10.3 million to 23 million.

If we make the best-case assumptions about this comparison (they were comparing the number of people predicted to enroll with the actual number enrolled in exchanges) then the overall message is misleading.

Obamacare was not only law on Exchanges and, in fact, the reason that number is off (according to Politifact) is because more people kept their insurance through their employer or they qualified for Medicaid.

So…. this is a false equivalence. Either they are criticizing the Obamacare law’s ability to provide healthcare using Exchange enrollment as the only metric or they’re criticizing the Exchanges without considering the total effect of the law (but claiming it shows the CBO can’t make accurate predictions).

Either way, they are intentionally misleading the reader. [FALSE]

The CBO is bad at predictions — that’s the clear overall intent of the message — the central premise or idea they want to communicate — they are really, really bad at predictions.

CBO may be bad at predictions but you need more than this one prediction to evaluate the art of making predictions. This makes the overall intent of the message to mislead people about the effectiveness of Obamacare to provide insurance coverage and the ability of the CBO to make accurate predictions.

This double-whammy is wrong and misleading, so they get a final foul. [FALSE]


Words matter.

Politifact should not ignore the fact that the messages are internally inconsistent. That is one of the more damning falsehoods because it implies either lying or ignorance is at the root.

That lie or ignorance is a greater problem in politics than mischaracterizing the predictions of the CBO because you can’t math the mathy math. I just don’t get why Politifact is all — nah, words are squishy, happy, whatever you want them to mean things — instead of evaluating what their communication actually says.

Call out that bullshit.

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