PolitiFact, Humbled

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 25 2012 3:39 PM

PolitiFact, Humbled

PolitiFact charged out of the gate yesterday, adding to coverage of the State of the Union by catching President Obama in a "half true" statement. The president claimed that the economy added 3 million jobs since the bottom of the recession. Again: He said that "businesses" were responsible. PolitiFact's Lou Jacobson tsk-tsked the audacity.

In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs "before our policies were in full effect." Then he describe the subsequent job increases, essentially taking credit for the job growth. But labor economists tell us that no mayor or governor or president deserves all the claim or all the credit for changes in employment... he went too far when he implicitly credited his administration policies.
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The fact was true, but the president seemed to take some sort of credit. It made no sense. He was only implicitly implying that his policies helped. He was doing this in a speech about his policies and the state of the country. The most righteous, screw-this anger arrived on the blog of Jared Bernstein, former Obama economic adviser, now full-time critic of economic scolds. "This is not half true or two-thirds true," he snapped. "It is just true."

Half a day later, the PolitiFact item was changed.

Our original Half True rating was based on an interpretation that Obama was crediting his policies for the jobs increase. But we've concluded that he was not making that linkage as strongly as we initially believed and have decided to change the ruling to Mostly True.

I called Jacobson to divine the reason for the change; he defered to Bill Adair. "We got lots of feedback about the jobs claim and it prompted us to take a second look at our rating," he said. He's written a long item on how the call was made -- in a discussion between four editors, who "felt it was right on the line between the two ratings." They've been there before, of course. But this War of the Little Green Icon ended very differently than the battle over the "Lie of the Year."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.