Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Follow-Up on PolitiFact, Where Iran Deal Facts Only Sort Of Matter

Last month, the Tampa Bay Times' fact-checking site PolitiFact published an post debunking some outrageous claims made by presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz about the Iran deal. While PolitiFact's assessment of Cruz's claims were correct, a number of details about the deal itself, as presented in the article, were problematic.

So I wrote my own article addressing these errors and contacted PolitiFact editor Lou Jacobson, who co-authored the Ted Cruz piece, asking for a correction to be made. After all, considering PolitiFact is a valuable resource whose very existence - by definition - relies on and respects accuracy, it is vital they address the mistakes they themselves publish in their own fact-checks.

After corresponding briefly with Jacobson and his own editor, Aaron Sharockman, I was informed that PolitiFact would indeed be issuing a correction on its article. The erroneous PolitiFact claim that the deal compels "Iran to give up 97 percent of its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to make nuclear weapons," would be replaced with the less inaccurate statement that, under the deal, "Iran will be required to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 97 percent."

The update was also accompanied by an official correction:

Well, to be accurate, the "previous version" actually described the uranium differently, not so much the reduction. The original fact-check, as mentioned above, wrongly identified Iran's stockpile as containing "highly enriched uranium, the kind needed to make nuclear weapons." It does not. Iran has never ever enriched uranium to weapons-grade levels; all fissile material ever stockpiled in Iran has been low-enriched uranium, suitable only for reactor fuel and medical research.

Nevertheless, the correction is certainly a welcome change and my gratitude goes out to PolitiFact, Mr. Sharockman and Mr. Jacobson for addressing this mistake, even if the reason for the correction was deliberately obscured.

But that was only one of the many mistakes PolitiFact made that I wrote about. No other errors were corrected (or even acknowledged in my correspondence with the editors).

For instance, the PolitiFact claims that, by virtue of the multilateral agreement with the P5+1, Iran will "cease production of plutonium, the other element that can be used to build a bomb" and that "[k]nown nuclear sites would be monitored for 15 years to confirm compliance" remain untouched in the article, despite both being false and misleading.

Here are the facts:
  • Iran has never produced plutonium, doesn't have the facilities to do so, and has long declared its intention never to build such facilities. As such, it is not accurate to state that, under the agreement, Iran will "cease" doing something it's never done.
  • Iran's "known nuclear sites" are already under strict IAEA inspection and monitoring, and this will continue long after the terms of the JCPOA (the official name for the Iran deal) concludes - this extends far beyond the 15 years claimed by PolitiFact. IAEA safeguards agreements with Iran are permanent, and are separate from and not subject to stipulations of the deal. It is thus misleading to claim that declared, safeguarded sites will only be monitored "for 15 years to confirm compliance."
It remains incumbent upon PolitiFact to correct all of its errors if it wishes to live up to its own name.


1 comment:

Cyrus said...

Politi"fact" can't be bothered with facts, not when it comes to Iran. Instead they just mouth conventional wisdom like a parrot. Good job keeping them (sorta) honest.