While PolitiFact masquerades as a neutral fact-checking forum, its funding and fact-checks lean decidedly left. Now that it partners with social media networks like Facebook and Instagram to fact-check content, that bias has more reach than ever before. It even has the ability to influence elections.
PolitiFact often slaps conservatives with “false” ratings for lack of context when it doesn't agree with conclusions drawn from indisputable facts. It also loves to attack President Donald Trump. PolitiFact uses its Truth-o-Meter to call out Trump whenever possible and flags his remarks far more than other politicians. While the president does like to boast, Americans understand political rhetoric, hyperbole and exaggeration. It doesn’t always require fact-checking. The group also fact-checks opinions, which have no business being fact-checked.
The MRC found that between Jan. 1, 2019, and June 30, 2020, PolitiFact evaluated Trump 172 times compared to just 51 checks on his opponent: former Vice President Joe Biden. It gave Trump “Mostly False” or worse ratings 132 times, compared to Biden’s 23. PolitiFact showed the same tendency to fact-check Trump far more than Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. With a gap that wide, it’s difficult to believe selection bias isn’t a problem at PolitiFact. Many argue this bias has existed for years.
PolitiFact originated as a project of the Tampa Bay Times and was acquired in 2018 by Poynter Institute for Media Studies — a huge, liberal journalism nonprofit. Poynter oversees and certifies fact-checkers through its International Fact-Checking Network. IFCN is funded by liberal foundations including George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the Omidyar Network, Google and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. PolitiFact is one of 10 IFCN fact-checkers Facebook (and by extension Instagram) has relied on in the United States. Google and YouTube also rely on these fact-checkers through its IFCN partnership
Mark Hemingway had it right in 2011 when he wrote in The Weekly Standard that “Media fact-checking operations aren’t about checking facts so much as they are about a rearguard action to keep inconvenient truths out of the conversation.” PolitiFact has continued to keep proving him right.
- Just months away from the 2020 election Vice President Mike Pence accurately said Joe Biden had called police “an enemy” and “absolutely” supported taking away funding. Instead of admitting it was true, PolitiFact declared it “Mostly False.”
- Accusing the GOP of “trying to get away with murder,” specifically the murder of George Floyd, was a whopper. But Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said it and got a free pass when PolitFact refused to rate her claim.
- Pro-life news outlet LifeNews was slapped with a “False” information label in May 2020, for accurately reporting Pelosi’s attempt to include coronavirus funding for abortion (by skirting the Hyde Amendment).
- PolitiFact is obsessed with Trump. It fact-checked Trump 25 times more often than Pelosi in 2017-2018. The site also fact-checked Trump more than Biden during the 2020 campaign and more than Clinton in the 2016 campaign.
- During the campaign, Trump highlighted an obvious Biden gaffe where the former vice president said “we can only re-elect Donald Trump.” He used the partial quote in a video, but PolitiFact cried “Mostly False” over the kind of editing used by media and pundits.
- The site also rated Trump’s comments “Pants on Fire” and called them “ridiculous” in 2019 for referring to impeachment as a “coup,” even though liberals used the term during Clinton’s impeachment.
- The Washington Post shamed PolitiFact in October 2019, when it tried to condemn Trump remarks about Obama and DACA. Within minutes of PolitiFact’s Twitter attack on Trump The Post disproved it. Others also dug up a previous “Mostly True” assessment.
- In an effort to protect Biden, Politifact rated a real photograph of Biden holding hands with former KKK member Robert Byrd as “Mostly False.”
- When conservatives state facts that PolitiFact doesn’t like, it has taken aim over a lack of context. It did that to black, conservative radio host Larry Elder over statistics about unarmed white and black people killed by police. His numbers came from The Washington Post, but Elder was slapped with “Mostly False.”
- In a clear attempt to spin for the left, Politifact called Florida Republican Sen. Rick Scott “False” for citing actual Green New Deal documents indicating a desire to end air travel.
- In 2017, PolitiFact claimed it couldn't find a single error in Clinton’s book What Happened?
- In June 2016, the MRC found Trump received False/Mostly False/Pants on Fire labels from PolitiFact 77 percent of the time. Clinton received False/Mostly False (and no Pants on Fire) 26 percent of the time.
- When GOP candidate Mitt Romney ran a 2012 campaign ad about Jeeps being made in China because of the Obama administration’s demands on Chrysler (which was sold to Fiat), PolitiFact made it the “Lie of the Year,” followed by a long-winded explanation that proved Romney was right all along. Fiat-owned Chrysler would start making Jeeps in other countries in addition to the U.S.
- Proving that its fact-checkers nitpick true statements from Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul was rated “false” for using round numbers to discuss government versus private sector income. PolitiFact complained that he failed to stipulate if the numbers were salary or salary plus benefits. His numbers, and the larger point were true.
- University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs examined PolitiFact ratings in 2010-2011 and found “current and former Republican officeholders have been assigned substantially harsher grades by the news organization than their Democratic counterparts.” It also found “a supermajority of falsehoods documented by PolitiFact over the last year – 76 percent – were attributed to Republicans, with just 22 percent of such statements coming from Democrats.”
- One of PolitiFact’s worst ratings bungles was when it gave Obama a “True” rating for “If you’ve got a health plan you like, you can keep it,” in 2008. It had to do an about-face in 2013, and admit they’d gotten it so wrong — the same claim was “Lie Of the Year.”