Fact Checking the Fact Checkers, Part 1
(Caption for Featured Image:Anthony Fremont banishing someone to the cornfield in the Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life.” We need someone like him to banish the bad fact checkers who have popped up everywhere.)
It is sadly the case that “fact checkers” are often more politically biased and factually flawed than the politicians they are critiquing. While politicians are held to intense scrutiny and electoral accountability, fact checkers are often obscure individuals who throw out claims with little substance.
Why is it that so many “reporters” ran with a story citing hilariously inaccurate claims that the salaries of philosophers coming from a user generated database? Why is it that none of them wondered why their source allowed for a self declared adjunct professor to claim a salary of $90,000 when such is absurdly impossible?
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Often, these bad claims come from those who are lazy, have no care about ethics, or just want to push a lie because they have never been challenged in the past. Most of these bad writers have no clue about facts, and if you ever scrutinize their articles, they either make up information or are merely copying and pasting (i. e. plagiarizing) the made up claims of others.
This piece at Poynter provides some great information regarding what processes should be in place to prevent bad incorrect fact checking. Unfortunately, these suggestions are rarely taken up. Among the most prominent of fact checkers, there is no proper review process that takes place before or after publication, and damaging claims are often seen by million while corrections are seen by hundreds.
Fact checkers would not have the horrible reputation they currently enjoy if the industry focused more on the reasons why someone made a claim instead of trying to figure out innovative ways to dismiss it. It is verbal bullying, no more and no less, and it turns off the majority of readers.
This will be a three part column, with the first analyzing an AP review of the Republican debate, the second to discuss how fact checkers discuss Republican candidates in general, and the third on major political issues and how they are reported.
Each fact checker seems to have their own gimmick to label something as false. Most of these labels are playfully derogatory, especially the Washington Post’s use of “Pinocchio.” However, there is need for someone to fact check the fact checkers because our guardian shepherds have revealed themselves as the wolves they truly are. So I will introduce my own standard, the Fremont Standard.
The Fremont Standard is named after Anthony Fremont from the famous “It’s a Good Life” episode of the Twilight Zone. In the episode, the 6 year old Anthony is an omnipotent being who rules his kingdom with an iron fist. Although he is prone to extremes, he has a child’s desire for truth from adults, and he tolerates no exceptions.
The Fremont Standard will be applied when supposedly objective journalists cross the ethic line. There will be no Pinnochios, no truthmeters, or anything of the such. Instead, they will be banished to the cornfield, never to be seen or heard from again. I lack the power, but there are many publishers and editors who should fire these individuals for crossing the ethical boundaries that are necessary for protecting the integrity of the field.
Let us start with that horrible AP “fact” check for the last debate.
AP Debate Fact Check
1. TED CRUZ: “You would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city.”
THE FACTS: The Texas senator’s conviction that the Islamic State group can be routed with an air campaign of overwhelming force is hard to square with the reality on the ground.
Fact Check: No. Cruz reveals his strategy, which is not a fact to be disputed. The AP response does not dispute any facts. It is a contradictory statement for the sake of being a contradictory statement.
2. DONALD TRUMP: “Our country is out of control. People are pouring through the southern border.”
THE FACTS: Arrest statistics are widely regarded as the best measure, if an imperfect one, of the flow of people crossing illegally into the U.S. And Trump’s suggestion that illegal immigration is increasing at the border is not supported by arrest statistics discussed in recent months by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
Fact Check: No. No one looks at arrest statistics because the administration has backed off from deportations in general. As a result, a higher percentage of illegals are never arrested or even stopped. This is not a proper response by the AP.
3. JEB BUSH: “We need to embed our forces, our troops, inside the Iraqi military.”
THE FACTS: The U.S. is already doing that.
Fact Check: No. Saying we are already doing something does not negate the need to do something. “We already drink water” is not a way to debunk someone who says “We need to drink water to live.”
Bonus: “His comment fits a pattern in the Republican race” This editorializing reveals a bias that is inappropriate for a fact checker.
4. PAUL: “Every terrorist attack we’ve had since 9/11 has been legal immigration.”
THE FACTS: Not so.
One of the San Bernardino, California, attackers was 28-year-old Syed Farook, who was born in Illinois. Nidal Hasan, who perpetrated the 2009 Fort Hood shootings that killed 13 people, was not only an American but an Army major.
Fact Check: No. Oddly enough, the AP contradicts the Presidential Administration’s label of the Fort Hood shooting was work place violence. Additionally, they ignore that the San Bernardino attack was done by two people, one who lied on a visa application to get into the country, thus making her an illegal immigrant.
5. CHRISTIE: “When I stand across from King Hussein of Jordan and I say to him, ‘You have a friend again sir, who will stand with you to fight this fight,’ he’ll change his mind.”
THE FACTS: He won’t, because he died in 1999. Jordan’s king now is Abdullah II.
Fact Check: No. Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein is King “Abdullah II,” but Western shorthand does not mean he is not talking about the correct individual, especially when his father’s name is part of his title. He was obviously referring to the King of Jordan regardless of the title. It isn’t a “fact check” but someone trying to way that you referred to the wrong George Bush when you don’t specify the “W” or “H. W.” At most, this is a silly technicality than an actual response.
6. CRUZ: “And even worse, President Obama and Hillary Clinton are proposing bringing tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to this country when the head of the FBI has told Congress they cannot vet those refugees.”
THE FACTS: Cruz repeated inflated estimates of how many Syrian refugees the Obama administration plans to admit to the United States. Obama has announced plans to resettle about 10,000 refugees in the next year.
Fact Check: No. If someone is bringing “10,000 refugees” in one year, then it is quite proper to say “tens of thousands” over multiple years. The AP is flat out wrong.
7. CARLY FIORINA, speaking of security threats to the U.S.: “We need the private sector’s help because the government is not innovating, technology is running ahead by leaps and bounds…They must be engaged and they must be asked. I will ask them.”
THE FACTS: They’ve been asked.
Fact Check: No. The implication is that an event that happened once in a past precludes it from being necessary in the future. This isn’t a fact check but the AP trying to find an excuse to deem every speaker as saying something that is incorrect.
8. CRUZ: “We didn’t monitor the Facebook page of the San Bernardino terrorist because DHS thought it would be inappropriate.”
THE FACTS: The Department of Homeland Security has authority to look at social media such as Facebook when evaluating visa applications, and the agency says it does so in some cases. But some experts say that scrutinizing social media accounts of every visa applicant would dramatically slow the approval process, including for tourist visas.
It’s also unclear whether looking at the Facebook pages of the shooters in the California attacks would have prevented the attacks.
Fact Check: No. At no time do they contradict Cruz’s statement nor do they provide anything but speculation.
9. CRUZ: “Moderate rebels end up being jihadists.”
THE FACTS: Cruz did not acknowledge in his blanket warning that moderate rebel groups in Syria have been fighting against the Islamic State group, the al-Qaida-aligned Nusra Front and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad since the start of that country’s civil war.
Fact Check: Again, they do not contradict anything Cruz said. Instead, they provide a statement that is completely off topic.
The AP has some of the worst “fact” checkers but clearly uses the best political pundits. If this AP article was all someone knew of the media then they could only conclude that journalism is dead.
There is no objectivity. There are no facts. As a result, the AP fact checkers should be banished to the cornfield, never to spread misinformation again.
The lack of editorial control preventing such inaccurate pieces from being released is even more egregious when a fact check affects an election. Part 2 of this series will look into ways “fact” checkers make misleading or inaccurate claims regarding candidates as part of a way to affect the election.