Politifact vs. Facts (and Rick Perry)


Over the last few years, a number of (allegedly) non-partisan fact checking organizations have come out that purport to provide a neutral analysis of the claims of politicians. I’m at a loss as to what function these organizations are even supposed to provide – at least over and above what you could find for yourself through competent use of Google. In reality, of course, they mostly provide an excuse for marginally talented leftist hacks to criticize Republicans. None of these organizations fits that bill more than Politifact.


Today we have a pretty good example of the problem inherent in all these websites. In a speech he gave in June 2015, Rick Perry touted his “border surge” wherein he deployed the Texas National Guard to aid border control efforts on the border.

Now listen, everyone with a brain – even the Donald – understands that illegal immigration is a complex issue and that the solution to it will inevitably involve a complex and multifaceted approach. That being said, Rick Perry is not a college professor and he does not have several hours to give a dissertation defense as to the various possible effects of his “border surge” and the possible confounding factors in assessing the efficacy thereof. He is a politician and he has your attention for a few seconds at a time for each issue.

So in the course of giving this speech, he noted that one piece of evidence that supports his claim that the border surge worked is that border apprehensions dropped by 74% during the course of the surge.

Enter Politifact to evaluate this claim. Now, you might think that Politifact’s job in this sort of scenario would be to determine whether border apprehensions did, in fact, drop by 74% during the course of the border surge. And lo, they did exactly that! And guess what they found, Perry’s claim was 100% correct! Surely, a “True” rating is around the corner for Governor Perry, right?

Wrong. Politifact instead scored a statement that they admitted to be factually true as “mostly false.”


How did they reach this bizarre conclusion? Well, they basically interviewed people who offered their opinions that other factors might have been completely or partially responsible for the (admittedly factual!) 74% reduction in border apprehensions, including seasonal fluctuations, economic factors, actions taken by the Mexican government, etc. They also add, in news that is completely irrelevant to the claim actually made by Perry that they were supposed to be evaluating, that some people consider other metrics to be better indicators of border security than border apprehensions.

Look, whatever. I’m not an expert on immigration policy. I expect that probably there are a lot of factors that go into the rise and fall of border apprehensions, and for all I know there are lots of better ways to measure border security overall. However, none of that has a damn thing to do with what Politifact ostensibly exists for – which is to evaluate whether what Rick Perry said is true or not. Arguing about the causes for the fact in question or the policy significance of those causes is not the purview of alleged fact checkers, but rather of partisan pundits.

If Rick Perry says that border apprehensions dropped by 74% during a given time frame and the facts reveal that they did drop by 74%, then his statement is true. It does not become “mostly false” because he didn’t natter on during a stump speech about how that statistic didn’t control for other possible confounding factors or because there are other statistics that would have been better metrics for evaluating the policy he put forth. Memo to Politifact: a fact doesn’t become a falsehood simply because you prefer other facts.


Intuitively, what Rick Perry is setting forth makes sense. It stands to reason that a bunch of additional people watching the border would reduce the incidence of illegal border crossings by some amount, unless you believe that all illegal immigrants are somehow invisible to border patrol agents. Definitely that’s not the only possible solution to any multifaceted approach and no one (including Rick Perry) is suggesting that it is the end all be all of controlling the border, but the statistic he cited was, beyond caveat, factually true and at least probative (if not dispositive) of the success of his efforts.

The fact that Politifact can’t admit this is evidence that, really, they mainly have a problem with the facts – and Rick Perry.



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