An Example of Fake Fact Checking

On January 12 POLITIFACT weighed in on the controversy discussed in my last post, “A Prime Example of Fake News.” (That post has been cussed and discussed on Facebook HERE and HERE.) This supposedly unbiased fact checker totally botched the job. As it so often does, it let its biases prevent it from telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Trump had tweeted: “Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars, Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”

Ultimately POLITIFACT concluded “Trump’s tweet blows past those [key details mentioned by POLITIFACT]. We rate this claim Mostly False.”

Let’s check out POLITIFACT’s “fact check.”

Trump made three basic claims as to why he was not going to London: 1) Obama sold the old embassy property, 2) the terms on which the old embassy property was sold was a “bad deal,” it was sold for less than fair market value, and 3) the combination of the location and the construction cost of the new embassy caused that deal to new embassy deal to be a bad one.

Let’s sort out what POLITIFACT said about those three claims.

1. Obama sold the embassy.

On this subject POLITIFACT said only this, “…Trump was off the mark in putting this deal on the shoulders of the Obama administration. The wheels started turning early in the second term of President George W. Bush, and the deal on a new location was announced Oct. 2, 2008, before Bush left office.
As was discussed in “A Prime Example of Fake News,” the fact that the “wheels started rolling earlier” does not come close to proving that when the wheels stopped at closing, the deal had not become an Obama deal. If the “agreement” was materially changed between Oct. 2, 2008 (when Bush signed onto the “agreement”) and the closing, then it would be accurate to say Obama sold the property. POLITIFACT does not even mention this possibility, much less provide proof that Obama did not materially change the deal before closing it.

Had there been facts to support POLITIFACT’s conclusions that Trump “was off the mark,” they surely would have provided them. The fact that they didn’t suggests that the information to check Trump’s claim are not publically available. We should not countenance a “fact checkers” drawing conclusions without having checked the relevant facts.

POLITIFACT then spent several paragraphs talking about the prudence of selling the old embassy. The presented facts with respect to prudence would have been true whether the old embassy was sold for $1 or $1 billion. In other words, all these facts are irrelevant to Trump’s claim and do not controvert Trump’s claim.

More important, Trump did not say that selling the old building was a bad idea. He didn’t even hint at that. All he said was that it was “finest embassy in London.” POLITIFACT did not contest that claim, and provided no information as to whether there were any finer embassies in London. Just because America’s old embassy could be the finest embassy in London but still be inadequate to meet America’s embassy needs in today’s world.

2. The Old Embassy Was Sold For Peanuts.

POLITIFACT said nothing definitive about this key Trump claim, i.e., POLITIFACT “blows by” perhaps the most claim of the tweet, despite the fact that POLITIFACT based its ruling on the fact that Trump’s tweet “blows by” details POLITIFACT claims are key.
The sole issue teed up by the tweet about the sales price of the old embassy is whether its sales price was a bad deal, i.e., was it sold for less than it was worth. The relevant question to test Trump’s claim is whether the following equation is true:

Embassy’s Sales Price Fair Market Value > or = Sales Price

If YES, then it was not a bad deal. If NO, it was a bad deal.
POLITIFACT said absolutely nothing about this key issue. It only (irrationally) discussed the sales price and a few qualities of the building. Not a word about the FMV of the building. Even if what POLITIFACT said about the sales price and building were true, those two factors constitute only one half of the necessary calculation to prove Trump’s tweet was false. POLITIFACT made its judgement without addressing the whole equation.
What POLITIFACT said about the sales price, however, makes no sense: “The final terms were not public, but a BBC report estimated the value at somewhere between £300 million and £500 million, or about $400 million to $680 million.”

POLITIFACT says there is no information available to the public (which, of course, includes the BBC) about the sales price, yet it quotes a BBC estimate (it would not have been an estimate had BBC had the facts) as support for its ruling. POLITIFACT, by its own admission, based its ruling on unverified “facts” that it was implicitly representing to a credulous public it had verified.

3. The Location and/or Cost of the New Building Rendered Them to Be Bad Deals.

a. As to the location, POLITIFACT said, “Whether the new embassy is in a good or bad location is matter of opinion.” This effectively says there are no facts to be checked with respect to the claim about Trumps location of the embassy.

Stated otherwise, “Move on, there’s nothing to see here.” Because POLITIFACT used that approach to dodge this issue, it is reasonable to assume that they chose to avoid taking about the location because it would confirm that Trump was right about this point.

b. As to cost of the new building, one should first note that Trump said nothing about either budgets or how the new embassy was funded. He said the cost of the embassy compared to what we got (not compared to a budget) was too high.

Yet the cost compared to a budget and the fact that the sales of other things funded the building are the only thing discussed by POLITICFACT with respect to Trump’s claim. Spinning the Trump’s claim into something that it isn’t and then beat up on the thing you falsely claim is the issue is a standard means by which the MSM generates fake news.
In short, POLITIFACT had nothing relevant to say about Trump’s claim about the cost of the new building.

Conclusion:

POLITIFACTs “fact check” did not confirm or deny any of the the facts underlying Trump’s claims, yet it somehow reached the conclusion it was looking for about Trump’s tweets, “Mostly False.”

THE VERDICT: POLITIFACT’s ruling was Fake Fact Checking.

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