PolitiFact keeps falling short of its name

In his State of the Union address, President Obama noted an important observation that Americans may not be aware of: “In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.”

That’s true. America’s private sector has, in fact, created 3.13 million jobs over the last 22 months. What’s more, looking at the annual totals, 2011 was the best year for private-sector job growth since 2005, and the second best since 1999. That’s not spin; it’s just what happened.

PolitiFact, meanwhile, wasn’t satisfied with the claim, labeling it “half-true.”

In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs “before our policies were in full effect.” Then he describe [sic] the subsequent job increases, essentially taking credit for the job growth. But labor economists tell us that no mayor or governor or president deserves all the claim or all the credit for changes in employment.

I’ve been largely inclined to ignore PolitiFact since its “Lie of the Year” debacle in December, which for me, tarnished the site’s credibility in ways from which it will not soon recover. But if this SOTU analysis is evidence of where PolitiFact is headed, it appears the editors are making matters worse, not better.

The president made two observations: noting the number of private-sector jobs created since March 2010, and comparing 2011 job totals against recent years. What Obama said is literally, demonstrably accurate. He didn’t fudge the numbers; he didn’t exclude details or context; he didn’t even take credit for the data. The president, making a point about the improving national economy, simply highlighted statistics that are easily confirmed through arithmetic.

But the self-proclaimed fact-checking website wasn’t impressed.

When PolitiFact deems simple truths to be half accurate, it’s probably time for the site’s editors to reevaluate exactly what they hope to accomplish with this endeavor.

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