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PolitiFact Ohio – the “fact checking” wing of the Cleveland Plain Dealer – faces proof of staffers’ liberal bias after two years of being cited as an authority by all six of Ohio’s major newspapers. Although a recent Media Trackers report debunked the outlet’s claim to objectivity, most of the state’s biggest dailies continue to treat PolitiFact Ohio as an objective source.
On August 16, Media Trackers published evidence that Plain Dealer writer Tom Feran “fact checks” conservative politicians for PolitiFact Ohio while calling conservatives “yahoos” and “wingnuts” on a personal Twitter account brimming with his far-left opinions.
Feran is a Democrat, based on voter registration records – and so are PolitiFact Ohio editors Robert Higgs and Jane Kahoun, as well as prominent PolitiFact Ohio contributors Henry Gomez, Aaron Marshall, and Reginald Fields.
Neither Feran’s leftism nor the partisan makeup of PolitiFact Ohio’s staff would have been difficult for Ohio’s major newspapers to uncover on their own.
Even absent the proof Media Trackers presented on August 16, the bias of the Plain Dealer’s left-wing researchers, writers, and editors is clear in coverage of the current Senate race. Republican candidate Josh Mandel faces Democrat incumbent Sherrod Brown, whose wife was a Plain Dealer columnist until she resigned in 2011 after being caught filming Mandel at a Tea Party event.
Of all Mandel statements judged by PolitiFact Ohio, three have been ruled “True” and six ruled “Pants on Fire.” Meanwhile, PolitiFact Ohio has ruled nine of Brown’s statements “True” and only one “Pants on Fire.” In other words, Brown tells the unvarnished truth three times as often as Mandel, and Mandel tells outrageous lies six times more often than Brown.
By PolitiFact Ohio’s standards, Mandel lies twice as often as he tells the truth, but Brown tells the truth nine times as often as he lies.
As the Akron Beacon-Journal editors put it in a June 18 editorial, “Mandel has hurled wild accusations against Brown, many deemed ‘false’ or ‘pants on fire’ by Politifact.” Steve Hoffman went a step further in an August 8 Beacon-Journal editorial, writing that Mandel “has had so many ‘pants on fire’ ratings from PolitiFact that he must wear asbestos underwear.”
Joe Hallett at The Columbus Dispatch called PolitiFact Ohio “The Plain Dealer’s respected campaign truth-o-meter” in an August 19 editorial slamming Mandel. Earlier in the year, Hallett contributed to a Dispatch news story citing PolitiFact Ohio rulings as evidence Mandel’s campaign was off to a “rocky start.”
An August 28 Beacon-Journal editorial described Madel as “a Saturday Night Live skit” because of his refusal to “abandon statements deemed ‘pants on fire’ by the respected Politifact column of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.”
In a September 5 story titled, “Brown says Mandel running campaign of lies,” the Dayton Daily News referred unquestioningly to Mandel’s “Pants on Fire” rulings from PolitiFact Ohio.
Building on its own reporters’ selection bias and skewed “fact checking,” the Plain Dealer itself has carried numerous editorials describing Mandel as a liar.
Henry Gomez began a March story titled, “Even in an age of fact checking, the whopper lives,” by insisting “Josh Mandel’s already casual relationship with the truth took a turn toward outright estrangement this month.”
Tom Feran, who assigned Mandel the “Pants on Fire crown” in a July 29 piece printed in the Plain Dealer, gave Mandel three “Pants on Fire” rulings in the two months from mid-June to mid-August. That’s three times as many “Pants on Fire” rulings as Sherrod Brown has received in two years, and one more “Pants on Fire” than Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been given by PolitiFact in five years.
By enabling the Plain Dealer to pass PolitiFact Ohio off as unbiased, the state’s major newspapers carry on a tradition of filtering out conservative voices. In his book Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance, Heritage Foundation visiting fellow and Opportunity Ohio founder Matt Mayer criticized Ohio’s “Journalists In Name Only,” explaining that the six big dailies routinely overlooked studies from the free-market Buckeye Institute during Mayer’s tenure as president.
Recently, Opportunity Ohio released a paper rebutting Governor John Kasich’s arguments for a tax hike on “fracking.” Like Media Trackers coverage of PolitiFact Ohio, this conservative perspective on an issue important to Ohioans was sent to reporters across the state – and reported by none of them.
On September 2, Ted Diadiun responded to a Plain Dealer reader complaint that PolitiFact Ohio’s trademark “Truth-O-Meter” flagged far more Republican than Democrat statements as untrue. “The PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter is an arbitrary rating that has the often impossible job of summing up an arduously reported, complicated and nuanced issue in one or two words,” Diadiun explained.
Diadiun continued, “Ignore it. Read the story, and you will have enough facts to draw your own conclusions.”
For detailed critiques of individual PolitiFact Ohio columns, see the Ohio Watchdog series “PolitiFact or Fiction.”
Cross-posted from Media Trackers Ohio.