Home Virginia Politics Was PolitiFact.com unfair to Terry McAuliffe?

Was PolitiFact.com unfair to Terry McAuliffe?


By Paul Goldman

While what is commonly called “Political Fact Check” is a terrific addition to the politics here in Virginia, their article today starts okay, but ends up very unfair to Terry McAuliffe and raises serious questions the organization should consider answering. Terry made an observation about Governor McDonnell’s job creation record – which has basically created a job for writing job-creation press releases about a non-existent job creation record – which PolitiFact.com found to be true. They found it to be true because it was true, and based on good research.

PolitiFact.com exists to do this kind of “fact checking” to improve the level of discourse in our politics. So far, on the purely fact-checking side of things, they seem to be even-handed, using their so-called “Truth-O-Meter” to praise/pan claims in a fair manner regardless of the claimer’s political persuasion.

That’s good and I applaud them.

But  they went further, not exactly “jumping the shark” but surely jumping a large swordfish. After finding that Terry had been telling the truth,  they ventured into the role of political pundit/commentator/GOP campaign operative with this conclusion:

To sum up:

McAuliffe said that since McDonnell became governor in January 2010, the state’s population growth has outpaced its job growth.

McDonnell is a Republican. McAuliffe does not note that the same trend existed when his fellow Democrat Tim Kaine was governor from from [sic] 2006 to 2010. Economists say governors have little control over economic conditions. …

Those points aside, McDonnell bills himself as a job-creating governor. McAuliffe accurately summarized one set of statistics about employment in Virginia during McDonnell’s term. We rate his statement True.” [Emphasis added.].

The Goldman sum-up-

“Those points aside” and “one set of statistics” makes the point  more eloquently than I ever could: As the Judge would say in a court of law, what exactly is your point there counselor? Those quoted words have both absolutely no place in their analysis nor any relevance. Terry addressed McDonnell’s record, a perfectly legitimate inquiry. PolitiFact, in effect, said it wasn’t fair for Terry to address the record as he did without mentioning Kaine in the same context or every possible related set of statistics: Why stop with Kaine under that theory, why not go all the way back to former Governor Wilder or George Allen, or Benjamin Franklin’s first almanac??

PolitiFact goes further by saying, “Economists say governors have little control over economic conditions.”

Oh really? Surely PolitiFact.com knows that taken to it’s logical conclusion, this suggests neither Governor McDonnell – nor a Governor McAuliffe – can have much Newtonian impact on key components of “economic conditions” like job creation except at the margins. So you get my drift here: They are basically mouthing the Cuccinelli line in a 2013 campaign against Terry, namely that any gubernatorial candidate claiming to have a lot of new government programs able to bring a lot of new jobs is just blowing smoke big time.

Why is PolitiFact.com entering the zone of GOP campaign consultant? Let the GOP make their claim if they want, it’s not PolitiFact.com’s job to mouth it or run it up the flag-pole to see if anyone salutes.

Their role – according to their own mission statement – is to determine whether what Terry said about Governor McDonnell is true or something lesser.

He had no obligation to mention Kaine or any other previous Governor: indeed, who says the situations are comparable to the McDonnell years for mathematical or any other analysis? He isn’t running for the head of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.    

I rate PolitiFact.com as having Set Itself on Fire.    

  • Dan Sullivan

    that may have started before the Pants On Fire evaluation of McAuliffe’s transportation debt statement. In that critique, while one may defend the loose use of the term “plan” to justify the assessment, one cannot reasonably let the “plan” itself pass muster.

    The $300 million a year bond “plan” was never envisioned for indirectly repaying unfunded retirement obligations using insurance premium taxes. That unfunded obligation did not pay for roads alone. It paid a political bill called on McDonnell. This is apples and oranges. In that story too, Tim Kaine is paraded out.

    When McAuliffe used hyperbole to make his point, he erred when he judged that anyone’s sense of reality would ground them enough to understand his meaning. Clearly, PolitiFact either missed it or had an agenda. My opinion was that they missed it because, like too often in the media, some business sense was missing. Now, Mr. Goldman has changed that opinion.

  • sspiker


  • sspiker

    First of all, I don’t know why you’re choosing to use this example to tell PolitiFact.com what their mission is supposed to be.

    Second, there’s a big difference between a statement being factually true and the point behind the reason the statement was made in the first place. Everyone here is involved in politics. Everyone here understands that difference.

    McAuliffe made a factually true statement, but he made it to try to make a point that is less legitimate. The fact that an organization like PolitiFact.com pointed that out doesn’t make it an undercover GOP operation, nor does the simple act of pointing out other facts make them non-credible.

    It seems to me that politicians on both sides routinely use every trick they can to mislead voters, when not outright lying, by only telling half the story or using misleading statistics that don’t actually mean what listeners are supposed to think they mean. An impartial observer that can look at “factually true” statements but provide a more reality-based context for that statement seems to be an invaluable service for voters. I’m sorry that you think they should shut up because in this one case it made someone on your “team” look bad.