February 11 2019

Liar Liar Fact-Check-Liars: ‘Impartial’ Fact-Checkers are Revealing Their Partisanship Against Trump

If media wants to challenge the context and politics of Republican arguments, that’s their prerogative. There are plenty of legitimately…

If media wants to challenge the context and politics of Republican arguments, that’s their prerogative. There are plenty of legitimately misleading statements worthy of fact-checkers’ attention. Yet, with a veneer of impartiality, fact-checkers often engage in a uniquely dishonest style of partisanship. And State of Union coverage gave us an abundance of examples of how they do it:

Hyper-precision fact-checking that creates the impression that a Republican is misleading the public: For this, take Politico’s insinuation that Donald Trump was lying to the public about abuse of women at the border. During the State of the Union, Trump claimed: “one in three women is sexually assaulted on the long journey north.” This contention is only “partly true,” according to Politico, because a “2017 report by Doctors Without Borders” found that only 31 percent of female migrants and 17 percent of male migrants said they had been actually abused while traveling through Mexico.

Whether Doctors Without Borders’ scary statistic is accurate or not, is one thing. Trump, however, was being called out for asserting that “one in every three” illegal immigrants has been abused attempting to cross the border rather than “33.333 percent of women” — probably a rounding error in the poll. It is almost surely the case that every past president and every politician has used “one-third” or “one-half” rather than a specific fraction, and walked away without being fact-checked.

Fact-checking subjective political assertions: The New York Times provided a masterclass in bad faith fact-checking by taking political contentions offered by the president and subjecting them to a supposed impartial test of accuracy.

In his speech, Trump called the illegal border crossing “an urgent national crisis.” The New York Times says “this is false.” Why? Because illegal border crossings have been declining for two decades, they say. Customs and Border Protection agents, they go on to explain, had arrested around 50,000 people trying to illegally cross the southwestern border each of the last three months, which was only half of the arrests they had made in comparable months in the mid-2000s.

Even if those numbers are correct, there is no way to fact-check urgency. After all, a lessening crisis doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t a pressing one. We’ve seen a steep decline in gun violence over the past 30 years. Would The New York Times ever “fact-check” a Democrat who argued that gun violence was an “urgent crisis” of public safety? Of course not. But this fluctuating standard allows journalists to “fact-check” any subjective political contention they desire.

If I claim that socialism is the greatest threat to American freedom and prosperity, I may well be right. I may have a lot of historical and economic evidence to back up my assertion. You can argue that I’m wrong. You can lay out statistics that attempt to prove me wrong. You can call me crazy. But you can’t produce an unbiased “fact-check” establishing that my opinion is conclusively false. You’re just writing an op-ed piece.

Partisan talking point masquerading as a fact check: “FACT CHECK: President Trump praised the record number of women in Congress, but that’s almost entirely because of Democrats, not Trump’s party,” NPR tweeted, correcting the record on a statement that the president never made.

Here’s what Trump said: “And exactly one century after Congress passed the Constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote, we also have more women serving in Congress than at any time before. That’s great. Very great. And congratulations. That’s great.”

Trump was offering his rundown on the state of the union, not the Republican Party. It’s true that presidents take credit for all the good things that happen under their watch. Trump is no exception. In this rare case, however, Trump didn’t even take credit for electing the female politicians.

In fact, he congratulated them after they broke out into cheers over his comment. Some people have argued that NPR’s piece was providing context to the president’s comment. Perhaps. Still, their nitpicking created the impression that somehow Trump had misled the public. He did not.

Fact-checking meant to obscure actual facts: The Washington Post’s fact-checking page offered a number of egregious examples of outright misinformation. In one of them, reporter Meg Kelly claimed that, “Abortion legislation in New York wouldn’t do what Trump said.”

There are a number of words in her post intimating that Trump lied about the New York and Virginia late-term abortion bills, but none of her words debunk Trump’s core contention. Ramesh Ponnuru has a good rundown here.

Here’s what Trump said: “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful, babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world. And then, we had the case of the governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.”

As I’ve noted before, the biggest clue that you’re about to read a deceptive fact check on the abortion issue is an author mentioning that “only” few abortions of viable babies take place. (Read More)