PolitiFact Makes an Extraordinary Claim About Hillary Clinton and the FBI
The late, great film critic Roger Ebert used to grumble about being forced to provide star ratings for the movies he reviewed, saying there was no way to accurately characterize his thoughts on any given movie using such a restrictive system. When readers would complain about one star rating Ebert gave compared to another, he would implore them to ignore the stars as best they could and instead focus on what he had actually written about the films.
That’s not only good advice when it comes to movie reviews; it’s good advice when it comes to reading PolitiFact.
The difference being that you wouldn’t read a scathing Ebert review and then scroll to the bottom of the page to see he’d given the movie in question four stars. To one degree or another, the rating he slapped on the film would be consistent with the text. There was an internal logic to it.
That’s not the case with PolitiFact. Regardless of whether or not you agree with their partisan views – which are undeniably liberal – you should at least be able to discern their Truth-O-Meter rating from their own text on a given question. All too often, however, that’s not the case. And a recent fact-check illustrates the problem perfectly.
The fact to be checked? Donald Trump’s December 4th contention: “Hillary Clinton lied many times to the FBI.”
Here’s some of what PolitiFact had to say about that claim:
“Clinton exclusively used personal email when she was secretary of state between 2009 and 2013, the New York Times revealed, choosing to rely on two email servers in the basement of her home in Chappaqua, N.Y,” they wrote. “Clinton repeatedly claimed she did not have any classified emails on her server from time at the State Department, but an FBI investigation found some classified information ended up on her private server, which was an unclassified system.”
This is called a lie.
Okay, but the claim is not that she lied to the American people but that she lied to the FBI, a point PolitiFact later highlights.
“The distinction between what Clinton told the FBI and what she told the public is important,” they wrote. “Clinton earned a Pants on Fire for claiming that, regarding the presence of classified information in her email, ‘Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people.’”
Here, without any evidence at all, they are making the following case: That Hillary lied to the American people and then lied AGAIN by telling them that she told the FBI the same thing. But PolitiFact themselves admit that they have no idea what she told the FBI: “There is no transcript of the interview that FBI agents had with Clinton on July 2, 2016, about her email usage.”
Furthermore: “[FBI Director James] Comey was not present for the discussion.”
Mmm-hmm. So how do we end up with this conclusion?
“We at PolitiFact don’t know exactly what Clinton told FBI investigators. We also know, however, that Trump failed to back up his allegation. Former FBI director Comey in congressional testimony said there was no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI. We rate Trump’s claim False.”
This isn’t “fact checking.” This is choosing to believe one individual who wasn’t present for Clinton’s interrogation over another individual who wasn’t present for Clinton’s interrogation. Worse, it is choosing to ignore the one person – Clinton – who WAS present and insists that what she told the FBI was consistent with what she told the public. And what she told the public was not “inaccurate”…was not “misleading”…but was an outright LIE.
We can’t say with any more certainty than PolitiFact whether or not Clinton lied to the FBI during that soft, just-to-say-we-did-it interview last summer; the FBI probably didn’t even question her hard enough to make it necessary. But we can say that PolitFact did NOT prove that what Trump said was “false” by any stretch of the imagination. And that earns them the Fix This Nation Truth-O-Meter rating of FAKE NEWS.