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The first six months of 2012: An accounting

at 06:02 AM ET, 07/05/2012






Every six months, we provide an accounting of The Fact Checker ratings.

We do this in response to persistent questions from readers: Do you rate more Republicans than Democrats? (Or vice versa). Which party gets the most Pinocchios? Our Pinocchio Tracker provide a daily update of the ratings of the presidential candidates, but not of the political parties.

We frankly have no idea until we sit down and do some calculations. Many of the columns are generated by what’s in the news. (Hence, in March, there were lots of columns about political hot air concerning rising gas prices.) We do not consciously choose to focus on one party or another, believing it will all even out in the end.

While some readers in both parties are convinced we are either a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican, depending on who we are dinging that day, the truth is that we pay little attention to party affiliation when evaluating a political statement. We have learned through long experience that both parties will twist the facts if they believe it will advance their political interests.

Still, it is clear that the average Pinocchio ratings this period have tended to be higher for Republicans than Democrats. We suspect it is because of the hard-fought primary battle on the Republican side, when many of our columns were about claims that Republicans made about each other. (Remember Newt Gingrich’s “King of Bain”? That was probably worse than anything the Obama campaign has thrown at Mitt Romney yet.)

The month of January, for instance, had 13 columns that resulted in Pinocchio ratings about Republican statements, compared to just four for Democrats—and that’s not even counting the debate round-ups. Things have evened out in recent months, with June featuring 11 Pinocchio-rated statements by Democrats and 10 by Republicans. Not all of our columns result in Pinocchio ratings, so those are not counted.

In the past six months, we had 80 Fact Checker columns that rated Republican statements, for an average rating of 2.5 Pinocchios, compared to 56 that rated statements of Democrats, for an average rating of 2.11.

For the last half of the six month period, after the GOP primary contest was decided, the number of columns rating Democrats and Republicans was about the same—31 columns focused on Democrats, and 34 on Republicans. In that period, the average ratings were 2.13 and 2.47, respectively.

This is slightly different than the results from 2011, the first year of the relaunched Fact Checker. In that year, Democrats and Republicans were closer, with Democrats having an average of 2.32 Pinocchios per statement, compared to 2.49 Pinocchios for Republicans.

Obviously, this is only a snapshot in time, and we still think the slightly higher average for Republicans is mostly due to the primary season.

In fairness, however, we should note that writer Chris Mooney, in an article for The Nation in May, counted up all of the ratings of The Fact Checker since its inception in 2007 and concluded that in general Republicans received a higher average Pinocchio rating than Democrats. (Out of a total of 315 ratings, he calculated an average of 2.12 for Democrats and 2.45 for Republicans.) He argues that this means Republican politicians are more often “egregiously wrong;” others might suggest this demonstrates some sort of liberal bias.

We respectively disagree with both analyses. The result is that both parties end up with an average above Two Pinocchios, which under our rating scale means “significant omissions and/or exaggerations.” That’s the big picture. Surely our politicians can do better than that. The record on both sides is pretty lousy, and neither side should feel good about their performance.

According to the Pinocchio Tracker, as of July 4, both President Obama (average rating of 1.95 from 61 columns) and Mitt Romney (average rating of 2.19 from 48 columns) are doing better than the average of their parties. But they still could do much better. They essentially are at the Two Pinocchio level as well.

We once again thank our readers for their contributions and suggestions. If you hear something dubious, please let us know.

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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