Conservative media outlets have repeatedly asserted that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) - federal legislation that would ban employment discrimination against LGBT workers - discriminates against Christian businesses, but a new report from PolitiFact has rated that claim "False."
On December 16, PolitiFact evaluated a fundraising email from the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) which claimed that ENDA would unfairly punish Christian businesses. PolitiFact rated TVC's claim "false," noting that ENDA includes religious exemptions that are actually more generous than those contained in other federal non-discrimination laws.
PolitiFact also noted that non-religious businesses operated by religious individuals have to comply with the law regardless of the business owner's faith (emphasis added):
Under Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964], and therefore under ENDA, religious organizations, which need not be church-run, would be exempt. Additionally, all businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt, whether they're religious or not.
Nelson Tebbe, a professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in religious liberty, said ENDA's religious exemption exceeds Title VII's.
"It's broader because the religious exemption in Title VII only allows religious organizations to discriminate [against LGBT individuals] on the basis of religion," he said. But it doesn't allow religious groups to discriminate based on factors like an employee's gender or race.
So by permitting religious organizations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, ENDA allows them more flexibility than Title VII.
The bill's religious exemption indicates that churches, church-run initiatives and other religious businesses need not comply by employing people of all sexualities and gender identities. And there's no special negative treatment for Christians.
Businesses of any religion could qualify for the exemption. Individuals of any faith who oppose sexuality would have to abide by the law, so no religion is singled out.
We rate this claim False.
The myth that ENDA would discriminate against Christian businesses has been widely debunked, but that hasn't stopped the lie from gaining prominence among right-wing media outlets.
Media outlets are ramping up their pushback against a highly questionable PolitiFact Virginia analysis of the proposed elimination of no-fault divorce law supported by Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia and favorite of "father's rights" groups.
PolitiFact ignored Mitt Romney's repeated statements about the auto industry to criticize President Obama for saying during the third presidential debate that Romney opposed government assistance for U.S. auto companies.
During the debate, Obama said to Romney, "You were very clear that you would not provide government assistance to the U.S. auto companies even if they went through bankruptcy. You said that they could get it in the private marketplace. That wasn't true."
PolitiFact declared Obama's statement "mostly false." In its analysis, PolitiFact spent a great deal of time trying to parse a phrase from Romney's widely discussed 2008 New York Times op-ed on the subject of the auto industry rescue. In the op-ed, Romney stated: "The federal government should provide guarantees for post-bankruptcy financing."
But PolitiFact ignored other remarks from Romney on the subject. As The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn noted, Romney clearly stated in a November 2011 Republican primary debate that the auto industries should have been forced to go bankrupt without any government involvement.
When asked by CNBC's John Harwood about his op-ed, Romney responded, in part:
My view with regards to the bailout was that whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go. I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process.
We have capital markets and bankruptcy, it works in the U.S. The idea of billions of dollars being wasted initially then finally they adopted the managed bankruptcy, I was among others that said we ought to do that.
My plan, we would have had a private sector bailout with the private sector restructuring and bankruptcy with the private sector guiding the direction as opposed to what we had with government playing its heavy hand. [emphasis added]
Likewise, in a February Detroit News op-ed attacking the auto industry rescue, Romney portrayed government intervention as having been forced onto GM and Chrysler, rather than something they were in dire need of. Romney wrote positively of managed bankruptcies for the companies, but then said, "Before the companies were allowed to enter and exit bankruptcy, the U.S. government swept in with an $85 billion sweetheart deal disguised as a rescue plan. By the spring of 2009, instead of the free market doing what it does best, we got a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style."
Romney also once told reporters that it "would have been best had the auto companies gone through the bankruptcy process without having taken $17 billion from government."
In reality, government intervention is the only thing that kept the companies alive. Many experts, including the chief economist for the industry's think tank, the Center for Automotive Research, have said that a bankruptcy could have meant liquidation for the auto companies because a private restructuring was impossible. When the rescue was taking place during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, credit markets were frozen and private financing was unavailable.
Fox News is distorting President Obama's economic agenda by pushing the straw-man argument that taxing the entirety of millionaires' incomes would fund the government for less than three months. In fact, Obama has proposed no such thing, and this Republican talking point obscures the billions in revenue that would be generated from letting the Bush tax cuts expire for wealthy households.
Politifact, the St.Petersburg Times fact-checking organization, has unveiled its annual "lie of the year" for 2011: the statement that "Republicans voted to end Medicare." This designation is deeply flawed, given that the assertion that "Republicans voted to end Medicare" is arguably a true statement.
But that isn't all that was wrong with Politifact's decision. Politifact's Editor Bill Adair wrote an editor's note trying to explain why Politifact's editors did not choose something else as their "lie of the year." And the explanation rings hollow.
Regarding the false claim that the stimulus created "zero jobs" (the winner in Politifact's reader poll), Politifact stated that "it was more a falsehood from last year." Similarly, regarding the false claim that Obama has traveled the world and "apologized for America," Adair noted that Romney says this repeatedly but claimed that "it wasn't picked up much by other candidates and didn't reach critical mass."
When asked about his explanation about the "zero jobs" lie by Media Matters' Joe Strupp, Adair said that the Lie of the Year "is a subjective decision of Politifact editors. ... [I]t's not based on data points."
Given how often the lies about the stimulus and the Obama apology tour were repeated by conservatives, it may have been helpful for Politifact to look at "data points" rather than just their editors' "subjective" sense of how widespread the lie was.
From the December 21 edition of Fox News' America Live
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In naming as its 2011 "Lie of the Year" a statement that is, at worst, arguably true, Politifact has inadvertently said more about itself and the media's failure to adequately combat the lies and deception that act as a cancer on American democracy.
Politifact's assertion that it is a lie to say "Republicans voted to end Medicare" -- and that this is the most important lie of the year -- suffers from some basic flaws: Republicans did, in fact, vote to end Medicare; and Politifact overlooked actual lies that have had and continue to have a profound and debilitating effect on the nation's attempts to come out of lingering economic troubles.
Politifact's "Lie of the Year" announcement provides little in the way of actual evidence that the claim is a lie, instead referring readers to previous efforts for its substantive case, such as it is. The weakness of Politifact's ruling that the House GOP budget written by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) did not "end Medicare" can be seen in its April 20, 2011, explanation:
One of the its major features is dramatically restructuring Medicare, the government-run health insurance program for those 65 and older. Right now, Medicare pays doctors and hospitals set fees for the care beneficiaries receive. [...] In 2022 [under the GOP plan] new beneficiaries would receive "premium support," which means they would buy plans from private insurance companies with financial assistance from the government. [...]the Republican plan would be a huge change to the current program, and seniors would have to pay more for their health plans if it becomes law. [...] Both Republicans and Democrats would no doubt agree that Ryan's plan for Medicare is a dramatic change of course. But we don't agree with the ad's contention that the proposal ends Medicare.
So, according to Politifact, the House Republican plan constitutes a "dramatic restructuring" of Medicare, a "huge change to the current program," and a "dramatic change of course" by ending the direct payment of fees for service and replacing it with a voucher program. In its "Lie of the Year" write-up, Politifact again concedes the GOP plan "dramatically changed the program [for people currently under age 55] by privatizing it and providing government subsidies." That's ending Medicare, just as replacing the armed services with government vouchers for private bodyguards would be ending the U.S. military. As Igor Volsky wrote earlier this month, "closing the traditional fee-for-service program, and forcing seniors to enroll in new private coverage, ends Medicare by eliminating everything that has defined the program for the last 46 years."
But Politifact concluded in April that "we don't agree [...] that the proposal ends Medicare." That should set off some alarm bells: As fact-checks go, "we don't agree" is remarkably weak tea. As justification for naming something the "Lie of the Year," it's an embarrassment.
Paul Krugman and Dan Kennedy and Steve Benen and Jonathan Cohn and Jonathan Chait and Matthew Yglesias and David Weigel, among countless others, have debunked Politifact's ruling, which holds that as long as something called "Medicare" has something to do with health care for the elderly, it's a lie to say the program has ended, no matter how "dramatic" the "change of course" has been. Even Robert VerBruggen of the conservative National Review has written that Politifact "does not make a good case" and that the Democratic claim does not "rise to the level of 'lie,' much less 'Lie of the Year.'"
The incoherence of Politifact's ruling is driven home by its repeated statements that the claim "end Medicare as we know it" is significantly different from -- and more justifiable than -- the statement "end Medicare." This is nonsensical hair-splitting. Medicare isn't a broad concept; it's a specific, concrete program. Ending it "as we know it" is ending it. Otherwise, ending it would require ending it as we don't know it, which would be a neat trick. (Revealingly, Politifact has been confused by their own hair-splitting: After having declared "as we know it" a crucial qualifier on multiple occasions, they shifted course and claimed "the GOP proposal does not 'end Medicare as we know it.'")
As part of the network's ongoing attempt to defend the richest Americans from paying even a penny more in taxes, Fox personalities have described Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) proposed surtax on the rich as "class warfare." At the same time, Fox is hyping Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan, which would raise taxes on poor and middle-income families.
Fox & Friends promoted a GOP-backed effort to repeal sections of a 2007 law setting efficiency standards for light bulbs, falsely suggesting that the law bans incandescent bulbs and featuring on-screen screen text that stated: "Don't touch our bulbs!" In fact, the law only restricts the sale of inefficient incandescent light bulbs, not all incandescent bulbs, as Fox & Friends suggested.
The Urban Institute recently published a report contradicting the claim often pushed by Fox News that the health care reform law will "kill jobs." But Fox's Bill Hemmer nevertheless used the institute's report to attack health care reform and its "effect on jobs."
Two recent PolitiFact assessments of statements about Wisconsin public workers are badly flawed -- both in ways that lend support to critics of public workers and unions.
On Sunday, PolitiFact awarded a dubious "True" rating to George Will's statement that Wisconsin public employees would be better off than their private sector counterparts even after Governor Scott Walker's proposed benefit cuts. Here's PolitiFact's conclusion:
[I]t's important to consider an employee's total package of wages and benefits when comparing public and private sector compensation. But that's not the issue before us here. Will clearly stated that he was talking about just the benefits side of the equation. And with regard to the changes Walker has proposed -- requiring greater employee contributions to pension and health care -- Will is right that they would still leave public employees "better off" than those in the private sector. We rate Will's comment True.
So, PolitiFact's True rating is based on the belief that "Will clearly stated that he was talking about just the benefits side of the equation." But he didn't. Here's Will's statement, as quoted by PolitiFact:
Will responded, "Donna, what you call the grassroots is a tiny minority of this tiny minority of Wisconsin people who work for the government. Three hundred thousand public employees in Wisconsin went to work -- while the teachers were clutching their little signs that say it's all about the kids, they're abandoning their classrooms, lying to their supervisors, saying they were sick, and going off to protest in defense of perquisites, which if the governor cuts them as much as he plans to do, would still leave them better off than their private sector" counterparts.
Will said that cutting state workers "perquisites … would still leave them better off than their private sector" counterparts. The simplest reading of that sentence is that the word "them" refers to workers, not perquisites. In which case, Will was not "talking about just the benefits side of the equation" -- he was saying even if the benefits are cut, the workers will be better off than their counterparts. You can, I suppose, argue that the word "them" referred to "perquisites," though the word "they" had twice been used to refer to teachers in the same sentence, and though it would be odd for a wordsmith of Will's calibre to describe "perquisites" as "better off." You can argue that was Will's intent -- but it certainly isn't "clear," as PolitiFact claims.
So, basically, the entire premise of PolitiFact's assessment is flawed. There's little reason to reason to give Will the benefit of the doubt that he was referring to how well off workers are in terms of benefits only. And there's no reason to think he was "clearly" doing so. Finally, even if he was doing so, he was being misleading -- as PolitiFact notes, "[I]t's important to consider an employee's total package of wages and benefits when comparing public and private sector compensation." In so noting, PolitiFact refers to a previous fact-check by its Wisconsin bureau, which indicates that when considering both wages and benefits, state employees make less than private sector counterparts.
That PolitiFact Wisconsin entry was deeply flawed, too -- and also in a way that benefited critics of unions. PolitiFact Wisconsin awarded an entirely unjustified "false" rating to Wisconsin AFT president Bryan Kennedy's statement that state workers earn less than comparable private sector employees. We needn't go into much detail here -- a simple glance at PolitiFact's conclusion is enough to see that it is not justified:
In sum, Kennedy did not provide evidence that supports his claim, which itself provides only a partial look at the debate. If any more evidence emerges, we'll review it. In the meantime, we rate Kennedy's claim False.
That paragraph makes clear that, at worst, Politifact should declare Kennedy's claim unproven, not "false." Indeed, by PolitiFact's standards, its assessment of Kennedy's statement is itself false. See, PolitiFact did not prove its claim, therefore -- by PolitiFact's logic -- its claim is false. But I reject PolitiFact's flawed logic, so I won't declare it's assessment "false." Just unjustified.
But that isn't the only flaw in PolitiFact's reasoning. Let's take a look at Kennedy's statement, as presented by PolitiFact:
On the "Upfront with Mike Gousha" public affairs program, Gousha asked Kennedy if state employee unions "have a perception problem with the general public."
"Well, I think that there's been talking points used by those who don't like government to continually bash us and make us look as if we're the haves and we're really not," Kennedy replied during the Dec. 5, 2010 show.
"If you look across the board, we're averaging about 8 percent less than if we all worked in the private sector. Some of our people make half or a third as much as they could make if they worked in the private sector."
Now, here's PolitiFact's summary of Kennedy's statement and the supporting evidence he provided PolitiFact:
He said Wisconsin state employees are "averaging about 8 percent less" in pay than if they worked in the private sector. But the figure he relied on was from a national study that combined pay and benefits.
Notice that the words "in pay" aren't in quotes? That's because Kennedy didn't say them. PolitiFact is hitting Kennedy for supporting a specific comment about "pay" by providing information relating to "pay and benefits" -- but Kennedy's statement did not specify that he was referring only to pay. PolitiFact just inserted that on its own. Here, let's look back at the Kennedy statement in question, as quoted by PolitiFact:
"If you look across the board, we're averaging about 8 percent less than if we all worked in the private sector."
See? He didn't specify "pay" as opposed to "pay and benefits."
Finally, PolitiFact complains that though Kennedy provided a study showing that state workers make 7.6 percent less in pay and benefits than comparable private sector employees, and 11 percent less in pay alone, the study was national in scope. Ok… but Kennedy never said the 8 percent figure referred to Wisconsin state employees alone, rather than national figures for state employees.
In short: PolitiFact altered Kennedy's actual statement, pretending he was more specific than he actually was. Then it completely failed to disprove even that altered statement. And then it declared the altered statement to be false, based on an apparent belief that "unproven" and "false" are synonymous.
Note also that both PolitiFact pieces baselessly narrowed the scope of discussion to a portion of compensation rather than total compensation, even though it acknowledges that it is more useful to compare total compensation, and even though it wasn't clear in either case that the statement being fact-checked referred to only a portion of compensation. In other words, PolitiFact assessed less relevent claims than the ones actually made. Weird.
Fox News promoted Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's claim that the federal government has failed to "do its job" on border security without mentioning that border security efforts have increased measurably under President Obama: Deportations, drug seizures, and the number of Border Patrol agents have all increased.
I've written in the past about the media's tendency to behave as though the top tax bracket is the only one that matters when discussing tax policy. PolitiFact's new round-up of Reagan-related fact-checks links a perfect example I missed a the time: A September 20, 2010 piece about President Obama's statement that "Our tax rates are lower now than they were under Ronald Reagan," the validity of which PolitiFact assessed by looking only at top marginal rates (and getting the data wrong in the process.)
We thought that claim was worth a run through the Truth-O-Meter.
The most obvious way to make the comparison is to use income tax rates paid by people in various tax brackets. Due to the complexity of comparing a dozen or more income ranges that each need to be adjusted for inflation, economists most frequently compare just the top rate.
As PolitiFact noted, the "most obvious" way to compare tax rates now versus tax rates under Ronald Reagan "is to use income tax rates paid by people in various tax brackets." But PolitiFact didn't do that. It used income tax rates paid by people in one tax bracket: The highest. And its approach was a factual, as well as conceptual, train-wreck:
Today, the top income tax rate is 35 percent, starting at $186,825 for individuals and $373,650 for couples.
In 1981, Reagan's first year, the top tax rate was 70 percent, hitting individuals earning $107,100 and couples earning $215,400. The top rate dropped immediately to 50 percent in 1982 and stayed there through 1986. In 1987, the top rate fell again to 38.5 percent, and in 1988, it fell to 28 percent, kicking in at $113,300 for married individuals and $149,250 for married couples. (The 1988 incomes would be equivalent to $209,000 and $275,000 today.)
So, for one year of the Reagan presidency, the top rate was lower than it is now under Obama. For the other seven years, it was higher.
First off, let's note that PolitiFact was simply wrong about the tax rates. According to the Tax Foundation document it links, the current top rate doesn't kick in for individuals at $186,825, it kicks in at $373,650. The $186,825 threshold is for people who are married but filing separately. And in 1988, the 28 percent marginal rate applied to single people making more than $17,850 and married couples making at least $29,750 -- far lower than the threshold PolitiFact claimed. Again: I'm basing this on the same Tax Foundation document PolitiFact relied on. PolitiFact just read it wrong.
So PolitiFact's assertion that "the top rate was lower than it is now" is technically correct, but it's also a deeply absurd way to assess the overall tax picture. For single people in 1988, income above $17,850 was taxed at 28 percent. For single people in 2010, only income above $373,650 was taxed at 35 percent. Obviously, comparing a top rate that kicks in at $17,850 to a top rate that kicks in at $373,650 is pointless. But that's what PolitiFact did.