PolitiFact once again makes a case for its own uselessness (UPDATED)

In a world where “fact-checking” has somehow become a subset of “journalism” rather than, you know, the whole point, I can certainly see the need for something like PolitiFact to exist. That’s why it would be nice if the folks who run PolitiFact didn’t keep making good arguments as to why there’s simply no point to having them around. This time, PolitiFact took on Florida State Rep. Charles Van Zant’s declaration that Common Core will “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can,” which seems self-evidently false but OK, PolitiFact needs content, fine. They correctly awarded Van Zant no points, and may God have mercy on his soul their coveted “Pants on Fire” rating for his mouth-spew (which, by the way, he won’t repudiate, and good for him not letting “public ridicule” or “looking like a complete buffoon” sway his asinine convictions, you know?), but <Upworthy>The Reason They Did It May Surprise You</Upworthy>:

A firm hired to do Common Core testing in Florida will “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can,” Van Zant said.

The firm hired to do testing, AIR, separately provides information to entities that request it to help them assist LGBT students. Currently, the federal government accesses AIR’s information but the organization doesn’t have such a contract with the state of Florida or any Florida districts.

We found no evidence that when AIR administers tests in Florida that the testing process will involve recruiting students to become gay.

Van Zant takes a somewhat limited connection between the testing company and gay and lesbian issues and then blows it up into a wild claim that lacks evidence.

We rate this Pants on Fire.

So this Van Zant person, who by all rights should be spending his days shouting at passersby on a busy street corner, claims that Common Core standards as employed by the testing firm AIR will turn Florida kids gay, and PolitiFact checks…whether or not Florida is buying AIR’s special gay-recruitment material? Does anybody want to suggest another part of Van Zant’s mental breakdown that PolitiFact might have checked? Yes, ThinkProgress, you had your hand up:

This analysis seems to imply that if Florida were utilizing AIR’s LGBT youth resources, there might be some truth to the premise of Van Zant’s claim. However, there has never been any evidence collected to support the claim that there is any way to manipulate or change a person’s sexual orientation. Conservatives have claimed for decades that exposing young people to teachers who are gay, or even just to information about homosexuality, would make them more likely to be gay themselves. In 1978, activist Harvey Milk campaigned against California’s proposed Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay and gay-supportive teachers from the classroom, by joking, “If teachers are going to affect you as role models, there’d be a lot of nuns running around the streets today.”

Yes, well done! Instead of ignoring and thereby conceding Van Zant’s absurd and deeply harmful First Principle, that children actually can be “recruited” into homosexuality, and simply focusing on the nuts and bolts of his claim (what kinds of materials is Florida buying from AIR?), PolitiFact could have reached the same conclusion much more easily and in a way that would have been a lot more meaningful by simply pointing out that it’s impossible to turn someone gay.

In the interest of airing both sides of the story, let me include PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holans tweeted response to the ThinkProgress piece:

Which, yes, the fact that PolitiFact’s report NEVER said anything at all about the claim that children can be recruited into homosexuality is kind of the point. But Ms. Holan’s strange and inadequate defense is noted.

The last time I wrote about PolitiFact, I noted their tendency to approach claims in ways that both produce poorer results and make more work for the PolitiFact people. They could’ve handled Van Zant in one paragraph: “No, children can’t be turned gay, <insert any of a vast array of studies here>, and Charles Van Zant is an idiot whose pants should literally be set on fire right now.” But instead they take the long walk through AIR’s materials and Florida’s curriculum in order to arrive at the same conclusion, but while having ignored the much bigger problem with what Van Zant said.

UPDATE: The PolitiFact story now includes this passage:

We should note that our previous fact-checking shows people can’t be recruited to a particular sexual orientation. In 2011, GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said scientists are “in dispute” about whether being gay is a choice, and we rated that claim False. (Editor’s note: We added this point after our initial publication to address reader concerns.)

Here, we’ll explore Van Zant’s specific claim that a testing company was making the attempt.

This is nice, although I will note that it’s still pretty troubling that it took “reader concerns” to make PolitiFact add something as simple as a link to their own past writing on the subject. Why not just do that in the initial piece?


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