Just a reminder: ‘Politifact’ is often more politics than facts

You may have run across Politifact before. It’s a feature of the St. Petersburg Times that purports to fact check political statements, rating them “true” or “false.” In 2009, Politifact won a Pulitzer prize, so people put a lot of a faith and credibility in what they say. However, rather than objectively weighing the facts, Politifact is hardly above employing highly-politicized context to render judgment. The latest example of this is their recent item on Rand Paul.

Here’s what Rand Paul said: “The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year.”

Here are the facts: “Federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data are the latest available.”

Here’s how Politifact rated Rand Paul’s statement: “False.”

Come again? The only way that Politifact can reach this conclusion is through a great deal of sophistry, which they lard on with abandon:

Since most people usually think about how much they, their spouses and their colleagues get paid in salary alone — not salary plus benefits — we think most people hearing this statement would assume that Paul means that the average federal employee gets paid a salary of $120,000. That’s simply not true.

So what they’re saying is not that what Paul said was literally false, but that according to how they think people will understand what he said, it’s not true. Come again? So let’s continue:

That said, there’s still a gap between federal and private-sector pay if you strip out the portion that’s in the form of benefits. BEA found that federal civilian employees earned $81,258 in salary, compared to $50,464 for private-sector workers. That cuts the federal pay advantage almost exactly in half, to nearly $31,000.

Okay, so what this means is that the average federal employee makes only $31,000 more a year in salary — but gets a benefits package worth four times what the average private sector worker gets. As taxpayer are you feeling any better about the comparative compensation vs. salary advantage for federal workers? So not only is what Paul saying true, even when you slice and dice the numbers the way Politifact would have you, it’s still an outrageous disparity.

Politifact does make one relevant point about the average private sector worker not being an apples-to-apples comparison to the average federal worker, but that has no bearing on what Paul actually said and hardly justifies the exorbitant compensation federal workers get. Politifact even concedes that government salaries have been increasing at a much higher rate than the private sector.

I sincerely hope Politifact ups the facts to politics quotient in the future.

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