PolitiFact does a correction–the wrong way

On May 5, 2022 at around 8:00 a.m. EDT, Zebra Fact Check sent a pair of correction requests to PolitiFact.

One of the correction requests concerned a false statement PolitiFact included as a subheading. PolitiFact claimed a trailer for a film about the 2020 presidential election, “2000 Mules,” based its case on “cell phone footage.” That claim contradicted the content of the trailer as well as PolitiFact’s fact check.

The Good News

Zebra Fact Check can happily report that PolitiFact made changes not long after our correction request.

The Bad News

Unfortunately, PolitiFact made changes to its story by the process known as “stealth editing.” That’s where the article offers readers no clue about when and how the story was altered.

PolitiFact’s statement of principles allows it to perform stealth edits for “minor errors” such as typos and punctuation errors:

Typos, grammatical errors, misspellings – We correct typos, grammatical errors, misspellings, transpositions and other small errors without a mark of correction or tag and as soon as they are brought to our attention.

How much space does PolitiFact jam into its definition of “minor errors”?

Count Zebra Fact Check as skeptical that a misstatement of fact qualifies as a “minor error” of the type PolitiFact described.

‘Errors of fact’

PolitiFact’s mistake looks like what PolitiFact should count as an error of fact, according to that description in its statement of principles:

Errors of fact – Errors of fact that do not impact the rating or do not change the general outlook of the fact-check receive a mark of correction at the bottom of the fact-check.

The text of the fact-check is updated with the new information. The correction states the correct information that has been added to the report. If necessary for clarity, it repeats the incorrect information. Corrected fact-checks receive a tag of “Corrections and updates.”

As we already noted, PolitiFact used stealth editing to correct its mistake. So the story had no “mark of correction at the bottom of the fact-check” and no tag of “Corrections and updates.”

Does PolitiFact follow its stated policy on corrections and updates? In this case it seems the answer is “no.”

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