Fact, Fiction and Politics
Those seeking factual truths to support their political views face two main impediments:
- You can’t believe any facts you hear or read from biased media or from biased political sources.
- All media and political sources are biased.
Politicians distort facts. Radio talk show hosts distort facts. Political commentators in the mainstream media distort facts. The President distorts facts. The President’s opponents distort facts. The President’s supporters distort facts. Democrats distort facts. Republicans distort facts. Liberals distort facts. Conservatives distort facts.
In politics, everyone misrepresents factual truth to support their own political viewpoint. Nobody is unbiased.
Here is a typical featured example from yesterday:
“Hannity Distorts Economic Data to Conceal Economic Growth“ – Nation of Change, Media Matters, 8/28/2011
Today you’ll see how facts are distorted and misrepresented and then you’ll get some tips to help you separate fact from political fiction.
Some Indicators Of Biased Reporting
- Originates from any political source
- Facts are unreferenced or poorly documented
- Facts are exaggerated
- Facts are cherry picked to support a slanted point of view
- Claimants make apples-to-oranges comparisons
- Documented facts and their meaning are misrepresented
- Supporting links do not have the data that supports the claims being made
- An article’s primary intent is to discredit or slander a political opponent
The above article meets all these bias criteria.
It comes from a biased liberal source, Nation of Change, who reprints word-for-word from another even more biased liberal source, Media Matters For America. The primary intent of the article is to discredit popular conservative radio and TV political talk show host, Sean Hannity.
Media Matters For America links to the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS), a valid government information source, to prove their assertions. However, one of two link references is to an hours worked converted to job statistics instead of to an actual job numbers report. The other link is to a BLS menu page but not to any specific job report at all. As we shall soon see, most of their claims are faulty.
Hannity’s claim that we are losing 400,000 jobs a month is undocumented and we shall soon see he, too, is incorrect. Hannity is exaggerating facts.
Media Matter For America’s Factual Errors
In their article Media Matters makes these four claims:
- The economy has added jobs every month over the last 10 months
- The economy has added 2.4 million private sector jobs in the last 17 months
- The economy has added 2.5 million jobs since March 2007
- Sean Hannity is lying about losing 400,000 jobs a month
Media Matters chooses a BLS report of non-comprehensive job hours converted to job numbers to support their point of view. In others words, Media Matters cherry picked their data. Their 2nd link doesn’t even properly go to a report.
Many people think that if you are going to talk about job numbers that you should chose the most complete monthly BLS job statistics report they offer.
Here is that BLS jobs report:
“Employment Level – Civilian Labor Force – LNS12000000“ – BLS, jobs by month 2001-2011, 8/28/2011
According to this BLS report of total civilian employment for those 16 and older:
- Over the last 10 months there have been 5 months of job growth and 5 months of job loss
- 7,038,000 jobs have been LOST since March 2007
- 598,000 jobs have been CREATED in the last 17 months
From the above report three claims made by Media Matters – that jobs have been added to the economy every month over the last 10 months, that 2.5 million private sector jobs have been added to the economy in the last 17 months and that 2.4 million jobs have been created since March 2007 – are DISPROVED by BLS data. Media Matters exaggerates job growth over the last 17 months by 5 times.
Media Matters does correctly point out that conservative media personality Sean Hannity is wrong about losing 400,000 jobs a month.
The Hannity Exaggeration
Hannity neither specifically identifies his information source nor the time frame for the job losses that he is claiming though he said he had the BLS report in his hands at the time he made the claim.
Using the above table and the three time frames mentioned in the Media Matters article we find:
- In the last 17 months there has been average job growth of 35,000 a month.
- Since March 2007 there has been average job losses of 135,000 a month.
- In the last 10 months there has been average job losses of 82,000 a month.
Over the last 4 months, from March 2011 to present we have lost 568,000 jobs. That is an average of 142,000 jobs lost a month. Hannity may have been overstating those job loss figures.
No matter what, though, there is no support for 400,000 jobs being lost a month.
If referring only to the last 4 months then Hannity has exaggerated job losses by about 3 times what they really were.
Both conservative and liberal radio and TV personalities are guilty of exaggerations literally every day.
Tips For Spotting Misinformation
Here are some things you can do to help detect political misinformation:
- Consider the political bias of an information source
- Be skeptical of everything you are told, even from the mainstream media
- Verify for yourself what you hear on the radio or on TV when possible
- Use credible non-political sources for verification
- For information you can’t independently verify then judge its credibility based on the past known performance of its source.
In the Media Matters article above liberals appear to have won the battle of exaggerations.
When it comes to politics you cannot simply accept verbatim what you read or hear. That has become abundantly clear in the increasingly polarized political environment we find ourselves in.
All news media sources, including the so-called mainstream media, take sides. We can’t even trust the basic facts we hear bandied about.
All politicians, up through and including the President, will say anything to convince us to vote for them in 2012. Our job is to separate rhetoric from performance and let actions and factual truth speak louder than words.
Therefore, as responsible voters, it is up to us to do our part to separate fact from political fiction to make more informed choices at the ballot box in 2012.