Ohio’s biggest daily newspapers have repeatedly used left-wing PolitiFact Ohio as an objective source, but now demonstrate no interest in reporting proof of PolitiFact Ohio’s liberal bias. Presented with evidence of said bias and asked whether the Toledo Blade would address the issue, Blade managing editor Dave Murray replied, “I’ve decided your concerns are not worth writing about.”
On September 11, Media Trackers also contacted the publishers and editors of The Plain Dealer, Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and Dayton Daily News. No representative of any of these newspapers has replied in the intervening week.
Murray indicated that because the March 30 Blade story cited in an email from Media Trackers did not rely on a ruling by extremely biased PolitiFact Ohio writer Tom Feran, concerns about the outlet’s credibility were irrelevant. He added, “when we look at Mr. Feran’s work for PolitiFact he criticizes [Republican U.S. Senate candidate Josh] Mandel as well as the Ohio Democratic Party.”
Media Trackers has analyzed all PolitiFact Ohio rulings, which have judged on a six-point scale a total of 230 Republican statements and 172 Democrat statements. Rulings have fallen into PolitiFact “Truth-o-Meter” categories at the rates listed in the following table, rounded to whole percentages.
Excluding “Half True” rulings, PolitiFact Ohio has found 55 percent of Democrat statements accurate and 29 percent inaccurate.
PolitiFact Ohio has ruled only 37 percent of Republican statements “True” or “Mostly True,” while describing 43 percent of Republican statements as more than half false.
Which seems more likely: that the work of liberal journalists skews to the left, or that Republicans in general are far more dishonest than Democrats in general? Even Plain Dealer reader representative Ted Diadiun has instructed readers to “ignore” the Truth-o-Meter, but an unbiased Truth-o-Meter is PolitiFact Ohio’s entire value proposition.
A look at the raw numbers provides additional perspective.
Although PolitiFact Ohio has ruled on 58 more Republican statements than Democrat statements, Republicans were given only 3 more “True” rulings. PolitiFact Ohio has given Democrats 13 more “Mostly True” rulings and 13 fewer “Pants on Fire” rulings than Republicans.
National Review Online and other conservative outlets have criticized PolitiFact Ohio’s national parent, which relies on the logic applied by Dave Murray at the Toledo Blade: if a writer occasionally debunks statements from Democrats, complaints of bias are unjustified. This rationale ignores the fact that PolitiFact staffers decide what statements to judge, what context to focus on, what evidence to include, and where to place the statement on the Truth-o-Meter.
At PolitiFact Ohio, where columns written by one of several Democrats or independents are reviewed by one of two Democrat editors, individual journalists’ opinions play a role in every step of the “fact checking” process. The outcomes of this process are displayed above.
As Media Trackers has reported, the liberal bias at PolitiFact Ohio is most apparent in coverage of the current U.S. Senate race. While PolitiFact Ohio has given Democrats 12 “Pants on Fire” rulings in more than two years, conservative Senate candidate Josh Mandel has been given 6 “Pants on Fire” rulings – including 3 from leftist Tom Feran over the course of just two months.
On a personal Twitter account, Feran wrote, “This says it all! Go-bama! New Deal!” with a link to a blog post which asserted, “The Radical Right is now going to try to destroy Obama and block every reform he tries to institute. We, the Progressive Netroots, must and will fight these dangerous radicals every step of the way.”
In addition to slamming Mandel with a flurry of “Pants on Fire” rulings this summer, Feran has written multiple Plain Dealer stories about Obama’s 2010 health law.
PolitiFact Ohio rulings – and Ohio journalists’ credulous reactions to PolitiFact Ohio rulings – now play a central role in the reelection campaign of Democrat senator Sherrod Brown. Nonetheless, newspaper reporters who have cited PolitiFact Ohio as unbiased in critical coverage of Mandel show no interest in reporting proof of PolitiFact Ohio’s liberal bias.
For detailed critiques of individual PolitiFact Ohio rulings, see Jon Cassidy’s “PolitiFact or Fiction” series at Ohio Watchdog.