The fact checkers:
Angie Drobnic Holan: writer, researcher
Martha Hamilton: editor
Let's first review the way PolitiFact has initially framed this story:
Ken Buck wants to "outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape or incest."
Ken Buck opposes abortion, including cases of rape or incest
From where I sit, "wants to 'outlaw abortion'" does not seem entirely equivalent to "opposes abortion" (taking the subsequent qualifications into account in both cases). It is potentially equivalent but not necessarily equivalent, just as a bird potentially flies (think hummingbird) but does not necessarily fly (think ostrich). A proper fact check would distinguish whether the equivalency is justified in the context of the political claim.
Speaking of the political claim, the story presents it like so:
"Extreme beauty, extreme sports -- good extremes in Colorado," the ad says. "But what about Ken Buck's extreme ideas? Do we really want to privatize Social Security and risk it in the stock market? ... Are we ready to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape or incest? Extreme beauty is a good thing, but Colorado's no place for Buck's extreme ideas."Let's see where writer-researcher Angie Drobnic Holan takes it:
During a debate on NBC's Meet the Press on Oct. 17, moderator David Gregory asked Buck about waffling on issues like abortion, which made us wonder if Bennet's charge that Buck wants to "outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape or incest" was true. We want to be clear here that we're not checking whether Buck's views on abortion are "extreme" but only whether the Bennet ad accurately characterizes them.This is PolitiFact's selection bias in action. Judging whether Buck's view is "extreme" would probably constitute opinion rather than objective judgment. But for what it's worth the view is fairly common:
Skipping that judgment makes good sense. But Drobnic skips something else more important: the underlying argument. Note that the story will check only whether Ken Buck opposes abortion even in the case of incest or rape. But the ad asked Colorado voters if they were ready to see abortion outlawed. It's a classic slippery slope argument. President George W. Bush was opposed to abortion even in the case of incest or rape and worked with Republican majorities in Congress for much of his two terms. Yet the legality of abortion eroded little if at all. Bush signed into law a ban on "partial-birth" abortion but it was quickly overturned in the courts. Therefore it simply isn't realistic to anticipate an abortion ban even if Buck were elected president instead of merely to one of Colorado's two senate seats. The ad's underlying argument is a slippery slope fallacy as a result.(Angus Reid Global Monitor) – Almost half of adults in the United States consent to pregnancy termination in specific cases, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 46 per cent of respondents think abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances.In addition, 30 per cent of respondents want abortion to be legal under any circumstances, while 15 per cent believe the practice should always be illegal.
Fortunately for Michael Bennet, PolitiFact exhibits no interest at all in the fallacious reasoning displayed in his campaign ad.
It works something like this:
Socrates is a man.
All men are mortal.
Therefore Socrates is mortal.
We (PolitiFact) decided to skip the issue of whether all men are mortal to focus on the issue of whether Socrates is a man.
The focus on the individual premise ("Socrates is a man") takes the focus away from the overall argument, and the individual premise provides no valid route to the conclusion of the argument. "Therefore Socrates is mortal" represents the underlying argument of a politician. PolitiFact often lets a bad argument off the hook entirely through selection bias, as is the case with Bennet's ad.
In the case of Bennet's ad the problem is worse because, unlike the classic syllogism featuring Socrates, the ad's argument is the slippery slope fallacy rather than a valid deductive argument.
PolitiFact dutifully verified that Buck opposes abortion in the case of rape or incest. PolitiFact did not verify that Buck believes that the government ought to outlaw abortion but concluded that was Buck's belief anyway. And the issue of whether Buck was at all likely to be able to ban abortion except to protect the life of the mother was entirely avoided.
In reviewing the record, Buck has said he opposes abortion, even in the cases of rape or incest. We did not find any evidence of him changing position on that issue over the course of the campaign. So we rate Bennet's statement True.Bennet did not make any statement that could be ruled "True." Bennet's ad implied something about Bennet by asking a question. That question had as its premise the notion that Buck would outlaw abortion. As with a recent Chris Coons (D-Del.) fact check, PolitiFact alters/paraphrases (primarily the former) the candidate's statement in order to produce the desired fact check story.
"Are we ready to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape or incest?"
Can this story count as objective reporting? I don't see how. A question can't be true or false. A premise contained in the question might be true or false, but PolitiFact chose a dubious version of the premise for its fact check. As noted above, the opposition to abortion by a candidate need not result in a realistic chance of a corresponding restriction on abortion.
Angie Drobnic Holan: F
Martha Hamilton: F
Poor logic and the failure to achieve any resemblance to objectivity result in failing grades.
Oct. 23, 2010: Removed a redundant "a recent" in paragraph 14 of the Analysis.