PolitiFact Knocks Conservative Group, Ignores Identical Claim by Liberal ACLU

Last December, Wisconsin-based conservative watchdog Media Trackers earned a special evaluation from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s PolitiFact team for an article detailing privacy and security concerns over information contained on public recall petitions. PolitiFact chose to evaluate the truthfulness of this Media Trackers statement from November 17, 2011:

With the signature gathering phase of the Recall Walker effort only three days old, a flaw in the security of the system has been discovered. Under Wisconsin law there are no privacy protections for those who sign a recall petition.

PolitiFact, a creation of the Tampa Bay Times, is a “fact-checking” column found in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and eight other newspapers around the country. The writers pick and choose statements made by elected officials, candidates, organizations, and advertisements in an effort to sort through the rhetoric and present only the facts. They make no bones about it, they intend to “call balls and strikes” utilizing their arbitrary ranking system that ranges from “True” to “Pants on Fire.”

On December 1, 2011 PolitiFact published it’s determination that Media Trackers’ statement was “Mostly False” citing the following conclusion:

Media Trackers said recall petition signers are vulnerable to crime or harassment because of two newly discovered provisions in Wisconsin’s recall process.

Neither provision is new, so it’s misleading to call them newly discovered. As for the risk to petition signers, Media Trackers provided no evidence that they have been victims of crime, although some have received phone calls from out-of-state telemarketers in the past.

But on January 19, 2012 after over one million signatures were turned in by organizers to recall Governor Scott Walker, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, and four Republican State Senators, a funny thing happened. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) raised concerns about the privacy of information published on public recall petitions.

Channel 12 WISN in Milwaukee first published the story detailing the ACLU’s concerns:

The American Civil Liberties Union is raising a concern with the ongoing recall petition verification process in Madison, saying that it could potentially jeopardize domestic violence and stalking victims.

Stalking and domestic violence victims can fill out a form to be put on a confidential voting list, where their name and address isn’t disclosed. However, there is no such list for the recall petitions, and the ACLU is raising concerns about the risks of a searchable database of people who signed the petitions.

And the ACLU’s concerns went beyond just domestic violence and stalking victims and included the possibility of “workplace retribution.” Channel 12 WISN’s report quoted the ACLU:

“For ACLU, it’s kind of a leap from being a public record to a searchable database,” said Chris Ahmuty, of the ACLU Milwaukee.

The GAB will enter the names and addresses into a database for cross-checking, but Ahmuty said the government should think twice about granting public access to a searchable list, in part because of risks to domestic violence victims or workplace retribution.

Given that a liberal organization like the ACLU, an organization with absolutely nothing in common politically with Media Trackers, voiced nearly identical concerns regarding the privacy of information on recall petitions lends significant credence to the original Media Trackers claim.

And while a number of media outlets around the state reported the ACLU’s privacy concerns, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was noticeably silent, failing to even report the story. Media Trackers even contacted PolitiFact reporter Tom Kertscher about the ACLU’s recent statements but received no response.

This story is just the latest in a series of inconsistencies and biased reporting from PolitiFact found nationwide. When a conservative organization made a claim, PolitiFact devoted significant time and energy to “disprove” the validity of their claims and slap them with a “Mostly False.” When a liberal organization made an identical claim just one month later, the newspaper, let alone PolitiFact, failed to even report the story and PolitiFact refused to devote time to a second evaluation or an update.

Once again, PolitiFact earns a “Mostly Biased” rating.

By Collin Roth