6/21/16 PolitiFact Ain’t Fact

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The other day we told you the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an additional 11 million people were “not in the labor force” as of last month than during the worst point in 2009.  A viewer took exception to the report, citing PolitiFact.com to back-up his claim.

Here’s what’s happening behind the headlines.

We examined the PolitiFact article.  There’s a detailed report [PolitiFact false claims] on our website if you care to examine it.  Here’s the thumbnail version.

PolitiFact attacked a statement made by Senator Ted Cruz in early 2015. Cruz referenced the BLS statistic of 92 million people listed as “not in the labor force.”  A true and factual statement.  PolitiFact rated Cruz’s statement as “Mostly False.”

It did so by studiously ignoring the BLS category of “not in the labor force” while citing other categories and statistics from the same jobs report Cruz apparently referenced.

PolitiFact created categories and definitions that are at odds with BLS.  Politifact’s categories and definitions conveniently support its analysis.  There were numerous examples of PolitiFact making statements and implying facts that don’t square with the official BLS data.

At best, PolitiFact was sloppy in its analysis.  At worst, it was intentionally misleading.  You can reach your own conclusion.

Neither PolitiFact nor the author of the original article responded to multiple requests for comment.

PolitiFact, we rate your creative analysis as “Mostly False.”

To comment go to Behind the Headlines dot net.

I’m Mark Hyman.

Here’s the link to the Behind the Headlines segment challenged by the viewer.
http://www.behindtheheadlines.net/sections/videos/vid_501.shtml
Here’s the link to the PolitiFact article cited by the viewer.
http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/feb/10/ted-cruz/ted-cruz-says-92-million-americans-arent-working/

Following is the language of the actual request for comment sent to both PoltiFact.com and the author of the PolitiFact article, Louis Jacobson.  Comments to PolitiFact .com can be made at http://www.politifact.com/contact/.  Mr. Jacobson can be reached via email at ljacobson@politifact.com
This is a media request.

A viewer cited your article (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2015/feb/10/ted-cruz/ted-cruz-says-92-million-americans-arent-working/) in which you rated a statement by Senator Ted Cruz as “Mostly False.”

In a February 2015 cable news appearance, Cruz cited the figure of 92 million as not working.  Because you cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics you knew or should have known Cruz drew his number from the BLS January 2015 employment report “not in the labor force” (NILF) category (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/empsit_02062015.pdf).  In fact, you conveniently make no mention of this category while citing other employment-related categories and figures from this very same report.

In your analysis, you cited the 92 million figure (from the NILF category) as “[not] especially meaningful” even though BLS has used this category for many years and it makes for very meaningful apples-to-apples comparisons between different periods of time.  In addition, the criteria for NILF are firmly established by BLS and not open to interpretation.

Instead, you offered your own creative analysis that runs counter to the actual categories and statistics offered by BLS.  For example, you make broad generalizations that are not based in fact (e.g. “age 20 to 24 . . . are in college or graduate school”) implying they should not be included in the unemployment calculations.  While some aged 20 to 24 are in college or graduate school, others are not.  Some are included in the employment calculations, while others are included in the NILF category.  This is based on whether they are actually in school.

You further imply that employment statistics do not take into account that some people who are not working because they are “taking care of children fulltime or have gone back to school.”  Yet, as you knew or should have known, the NILF category actually includes these individuals (http://www.bls.gov/cps/lfcharacteristics.htm#nlf).

Valid arguments can be made regarding whether BLS should include everyone aged 16 and older in its employment calculations.  Similarly, not everyone aged 65 and older is retired as you implied in your analysis.  Yet, these are the currently established categories, definitions and figures offered by BLS.  To arbitrarily change these categories and definitions on your own is both misleading and disingenuous. But you do just that in your article.

Question: Was your analysis the result of sloppy work or was it an effort to create a desired outcome (“Mostly False”) and leave readers with false and misleading statements?

 

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