PolitiFact Ohio still cited as objective despite questions of bias

PolitiFact Ohio — the “fact-checking” wing of the Cleveland Plain Dealer — has been cited as an authority by all six of Ohio’s major papers, but now faces proof of staffers’ liberal bias. And even after the outlet’s claim to objectivity was debunked in an Aug. 16 report from conservative watchdog Media Trackers Ohio, the Plain Dealer, The Columbus Dispatch and the Dayton Daily News continue treating PolitiFact Ohio as an objective source.

The criticisms launched by Media Trackers Ohio include far-left statements by PolitiFact Ohio writer Tom Feran, who writes “fact checks” of conservative politicians for PolitiFact Ohio while calling conservatives “yahoos” and “wingnuts” on his personal Twitter account.

Besides cheerleading for President Barack Obama and writing “This says it all!” with a link to a blog post titled “The Cancer of Conservatism,” Feran also once compared “auto racing on Memorial Day weekend during the Deepwater [oil] catastrophe” to “commemorating Kristalnacht with a barbecue.” During the 1938 Kristallnacht riots, Nazis in Austria and Germany killed nearly 100 Jews, imprisoned tens of thousands more, and burned thousands of Jewish synagogues and businesses.

Media Trackers also reported that, based on voter registration records, PolitiFact Ohio editors Robert Higgs and Jane Kahoun are both Democrats. Prominent PolitiFact Ohio contributors Feran, Henry Gomez, Aaron Marshall and Reginald Fields are registered Democrats as well, but this has not prompted any skepticism at the state’s major newspapers.

Matt Mayer, founder of conservative think tank Opportunity Ohio and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, expressed no surprise that reporters are ignoring PolitiFact Ohio’s conflicts of interest, just as they routinely overlooked studies from the free-market Buckeye Institute during his tenure as president. In his book Taxpayers Don’t Stand a Chance, Mayer described an Ohio media populated with “JINOs” — Journalists In Name Only.

In an Aug. 19 editorial slamming Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Joe Hallett at The Columbus Dispatch called PolitiFact Ohio “The Plain Dealer’s respected campaign truth-o-meter.” This spring, Hallett contributed to a news story using PolitiFact Ohio rulings as evidence that Mandel’s campaign was off to a “rocky start.”

An Akron Beacon-Journal editorial published June 18 stated, “Mandel has hurled wild accusations against [Sen. Sherrod] Brown, many deemed ‘false’ or ‘pants on fire’ by PolitiFact.” In an Aug. 8 Beacon-Journal editorial, Steve Hoffman wrote that Mandel “has had so many ‘pants on fire’ ratings from PolitiFact that he must wear asbestos underwear.”

Nowhere is a conflict of interest with the Plain Dealer’s stable of left-wing researchers, writers and editors more striking than in coverage of the current Senate race: Josh Mandel faces a Democrat incumbent whose wife was a Plain Dealer columnist until 2011, when she resigned after she was caught filming Mandel at a tea party event.

Of all Mandel’s statements judged by PolitiFact Ohio, three have been ruled “True” and six have been ruled “Pants on Fire.” Meanwhile, PolitiFact Ohio has ruled nine of incumbent Sherrod Brown’s statements “True” and only one “Pants on Fire.”

For detailed critiques of individual PolitiFact Ohio columns, see the Ohio Watchdog series “PolitiFact or Fiction.”

Henry Gomez began a March story titled, “Even in an age of fact checking, the whopper lives,” by charging that “Josh Mandel’s already casual relationship with the truth took a turn toward outright estrangement this month.”