I realize it's a small point and that I'm weeks late to this absurdity, but I've decided to call attention to it anyway because it further underscores the ludicrousness of treating Politifact like a nonpartisan fact-checker. I sometimes take issue with determinations made by the Washington Post or FactCheck.org's truth-assessing outfits, but they at least seem interested in impartiality. Politifact is a different story, having earned a reputation as a liberal, anti-Republican institution. Evidence of this has arisen time and again, and now there's another laugher to add to their rap sheet. In the course researching this post about vulnerable 2018 Senate Democrats on Thursday, I was looking for a link to North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp high-fiving Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer after casting an extreme vote on abortion. A Politifact analysis popped up as the top result in my web search, producing a rating of this claim -- used by Republicans to criticize Heitkamp -- as "false." False? I read on, quickly discovering that their justification for this rating was comically stupid:
The footage shows Heitkamp walking into the chamber as she converses with Cory Booker, D-N.J.. She responds to the clerk’s roll call in the negative, and resumes chatting. As they speak, Schumer approaches Booker and Heitkamp, and Heitkamp catches his eye. They each wave hello with their hands up, and Heitkamp reaches her hand out to meet Schumer’s as he lands at their side. They clasp hands, exchange a few inaudible words, and let go as Booker pats Schumer’s shoulder. The vote was about halfway through, so the hand clasp was not in reaction to a final tally. Typical high fives involve slapping of two hands in celebration. This was a very gradual meeting of awkwardly waving hands.
The piece goes on to quote Democratic spokespeople denying that the high five was related to the abortion vote. Ergo, "false!" How ridiculous. Watch the clip for yourself here:
Senator Heidi Heitkamp High-Fives Sen Chuck Schumer after she votes NO on the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” Do you feel this NO vote represents the people of North Dakota? pic.twitter.com/NceBgAuknj— Chris Berg (@chrisbergPOVNOW) January 30, 2018
What happens isn't terribly ambiguous: Heitkamp marches onto the floor signals that she's voting 'no.' "Ms. Heitkamp, no," the clerk says. Instantaneously, Schumer changes direction and makes his way over to greet Heitkamp, holding his hand up in a "high five" position -- all within five seconds of her vote being cast. She waves, then holds her hand out to receive the high five. The two hands meet as Schumer arrives next to her, then they clasp. The two Senators begin to converse, with Sen. Cory Booker standing alongside. This all happens within the span of ten seconds. It was not "very gradual." Sure, it was a bit awkward, but high fives can be pretty awkward sometimes, especially among "old white people," as the preposterously fact-checked conservative blogger snarks. Also, the argument that "the hand clasp was not in reaction to the final tally" because the voting period was still active is absolutely irrelevant. She voted on the controversial issue, immediately after which Schumer went out of his way to greet her with a high five. The fact that other Senators were still voting means nothing. She did what she did, and he reacted.
Now, it's certainly possible that Schumer's thoughts weren't preoccupied with what issue the Senate happened to be voting on at that precise moment, or that he wanted to discuss a separate topic with her. It may have just been a case of unfortunate timing and optics for Heitkamp. But situational awareness is important for elected officials, and perhaps a Senator from a pro-life state should realize that doling out warm greetings and high fives within seconds of voting to kill a sixth-month elective abortion restriction isn't a good look. Politifact's Zapruder-film breakdown of the non-high-five, um, high five is risible. But its red herring about the vote remaining open is the real 'tell' here; they could have probably gotten away with a "half true" verdict, weighing the competing claims. But they wanted to give Heitkamp cover for her PR problem, and the best way to achieve that partisan end was by declaring the opposition's absolutely defensible assertion to be "false."
Politifact is a pro-Democrat organization masquerading as an independent fact-checker and should be regarded as such. If and when it rules against Democrats and leftists, as it occasionally does, those rulings should be trumpeted not as negative fact checks, but as something more powerful: Statements against interest.