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Checking the Fact-Checkers

The piece below by the Coalition’s Robert Chernin was originally published by The Daily Caller.

It’s election season, and self-anointed “fact checkers” are in overdrive offering their reviews of statements by candidates, Internet memes, TV pundits, and others. While they hope most readers will simply trust them at face value, it’s best to question whether they live up to their own standards as neutral umpires.

A deep dive into the largest fact checker, Politifact, reveals ties to leftwing activism and biased work.

Politifact’s executive director tweeted this spring that Politifact was partnering with the Joyce Foundation to offer “free training for journalists hoping to better cover the gun debate.” Left unsaid was that the Joyce Foundation is an activist organization that funds gun control efforts.

The idea that such a foundation could help provide “better” coverage for journalists is a joke. But that appears to be Politifact’s main utility: The appearance of a neutral third party, when it is anything but.

We can begin by looking at Politifact’s funding. Since 2013, Politifact has received more than $1,000,000 from the Democracy Fund, an organization founded by leftwing activist billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Politifact has also received substantial support from the Knight, Gates, and Craig Newmark Foundations, which also fund left-leaning causes.

Politifact also takes money from activist groups. One of them, Friends of the Earth, is a radical environmental group that spreads misinformation online about agricultural practices and fracking. The group even once suggested sand could cause cancer.

FOE’s campaigns would be a layup for “fact checkers”–but don’t count on it anytime soon. A new report by the Media Research Center analyzes Politifact and finds heavy bias in favor of the political left.

In Biden’s first 18 months, Politifact ran only 58 articles to fact-check President Biden–while publishing 338 pieces to fact-check his critics. That’s about 6 fact-checks of Biden’s critics for every fact-check of Biden.

(As of this writing, Politifact has not fact-checked Biden’s claim on Oct. 16 that “our economy’s strong as hell.”)

Digging deeper reveals more, such as Politifact’s deputy editor taking a petty swipe at former President Trump on social media. Referring to Trump’s comment that “fake news [is] the enemy of the people,” she posted a picture of a journalist who broke a major story with the snide remark, “Tell me again how journalists are the enemy of the people.”

Trump specified that he viewed “fake news” — not “journalists” generally — as a problem. Shouldn’t the deputy editor of a “fact check” website understand the difference?

It’s not just bias that infects fact checkers. Politifact doesn’t seems to commit logical fallacies when fact checking unproven (as opposed to false) claims.

In March, Politifact analyzed an emerging allegation that there were US-funded bioweapons labs in Ukraine. On Twitter, the organization snarkily tweeted, “Russia, China, and Tucker Carlson say Ukraine has bioweapon labs. No evidence backs that up.”

Now on its own, that would be fine – even if it’s an obvious attempt to tarnish a conservative TV host by putting him next to bad company.

But Politifact goes much further in its linked analysis, claiming “There are no U.S. run biolabs in the Ukraine.”

How would Politifact know? It offers no convincing evidence. The existence of such biolabs would be highly classified information that our government would have an incentive to deny (i.e., lie about) publicly.

Politifact violates the basic axiom that “absence of proof is not proof of absence.” If there’s no evidence of something existing, leave it at that. There is nothing wrong with saying “I don’t know.” One cannot conclude, however, that the thing doesn’t exist.

In fact, Politifact’s own founder once shared the reason the website decided against having an “Unsubstantiated” rating: “[B]ecause of fears that we’d end up rating many, many things ‘unsubstantiated.’”

In other words, Politifact was afraid of accurate ratings.

The late author Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park fame) had a profound insight into our relationship with the media. He called it Gell-Mann Amnesia.

Here’s how Crichton explained it: “You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well.…You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues.”

“In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read.”

Should we trust fact checkers? The backgrounds and work of Politifact staff suggest that it’s a refuge for younger, partisan journalists. Partisan organizations pay their bills so that they can make partisanship sound neutral. It’s far beyond time that we all start treating their work accordingly.

Gavel

Robert Chernin

Robert is a longtime entrepreneur, business leader, fundraiser, and former radio talk show host. He studied political science at McGill University in Montreal and has spent over 25 years deeply involved in civic affairs at all levels. Robert has consulted on a variety of federal and statewide campaigns at the gubernatorial, congressional, senatorial, and presidential level. He served in leadership roles in the presidential campaigns of President George W. Bush as well as McCain for President. He led Florida’s Victory 2004’s national Jewish outreach operations as Executive Director. In addition, he served on the President’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition.