Snopes’ Credibility Death Spiral: Presenting The Straw Man Fact-Check

Apparently the recent example of Snopes resorting to proving a “claim” false that nobody serious was claiming wasn’t an anomaly, but a new strategy. Here, Ethics Alarms commenter Tippy Scales discussed the struggling urban-legend-turned-partisan-hack-site post in defense of ESPN’s ridiculous removal of Asian -American Robert Lee from a football broadcast because he shared a first and last name with Robert E. Lee. Its spin: the accusation that “ESPN Fired Announcer Robert Lee Because His Name Sounds Like the Confederate General’s? was wrong! Except that was not what happened, nor what critics of ESPM were objecting to.

Why would Snopes do this?  Tippy  opined that Snopes “couldn’t stand having to confirm something that went against their worldview, so they invented a reason to avoid it.” The real reason appears to be even worse than that. Snopes’ current game is to mislead readers by convincing them that criticism from the right is dishonest and absurd, by searching for self-evidently idiotic accusations and then disproving them…which isn’t difficult when the accusations were dredged up from the social media swamp by Snopes specifically to debunk.

Today’s example is hilarious. Snopes:

Fact Check: Was Barack Obama President During Hurricane Katrina?

Twitter users tried to pin the blame for Katrina relief issues on Obama, though he wasn’t even president when it hit New Orleans.

CLAIM: Barack Obama was president when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005.

ORIGIN: As damage from Hurricane Harvey continued to grow in Texas in late August 2017, some Twitter users sought to defend President Donald Trump’s response to the disaster by criticizing the actions of his predecessor, Barack Obama during similarly pervasive flooding in Louisiana in 2016. Other users took that argument even further, knocking Obama for not “doing enough” to help Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina.

Correct me if I am wrong, Snopes, you pathetic fools, but I thought the idea behind your once respected website was to research and factcheck prominent rumors, hoaxes and widespread misconceptions spreading like wildfire through the public, not to cherry-pick the dumbest junk on Twitter, and engage in gratuitous and unnecessary reminders that the Moon isn’t made out of cheese, that Bill Clinton really did have sex with that woman and that Paul Bunyan isn’t real.

The gimmick behind straw man arguments is that an unethical advocate ducks the real issue under debate to “prove” a related fact that nobody disputes, while pretending that it is the real issue. In this case, Snopes is also using a false false claim ( sure, someone somewhere has said almost anything imaginable on Twitter, but anyone making this mistake is placing a metaphorical “I am too dumb and lazy to participate in public discourse” sign on his or her head in neon) to attack the last Republican President. “No, Barack Obama wasn’t the President who screwed up Katrina. Who was that? Oh! Right! President Bush was!”

(CLAIM: President Bush screwed up the Katrina response. RATING: False. But I digress…)

Or perhaps Snopes, being caught multiple times of late fudging its data and lying to disprove serious claims has now decided to aim low, and only tackle questions that any 8-year old with access to Google  could answer in 10 seconds or less.

Here’s one for you, Snopes:

Fact Check: Did the Germans attack Pearl Harbor?

Check it out.

27 thoughts on “Snopes’ Credibility Death Spiral: Presenting The Straw Man Fact-Check

  1. Never underestimate the stupidity of people.

    It’s possible that some of those accounts are fake, but most seem to be actual Trump supporters who thought it was Obama’s job to respond after Hurricane Katrina.

    I’m not sure if there were enough of these to justify Snopes’ fact check, but they’ve checked equally ludicrous and trivial rumors from the left. I mean, on their homepage right now they have articles debunking the rumor that Melania wore heels to Houston and that Paul Ryan endorsed antifa.

    So if it’s a problem that Snopes is fact-checking issues that are too dumb or too under the radar to bother with, it doesn’t seem like it’s a partisan problem, and the statement that they are doing this “to mislead readers by convincing them that criticism from the right is dishonest and absurd, by searching for self-evidently idiotic accusations and then disproving them” seems unfair given that they are also fact-checking self-evidently idiotic accusations from the left against the right.

    • There’s a category all it’s own for articles in which Snopes debunks a “claim”, that is so similar sounding to the real event, that for the average reader, arguer, commenter, listener, etc it’s close enough that if they hear someone comment negatively on the REAL event, someone would easily shut things down by stating “no, Snopes disproved that”.

      I think this Robert Lee article lands in that category.

    • “Melania wore heels to Houston and that Paul Ryan endorsed antifa.” Those are rumors regarding recent events, not complete ignorance of published and undeniable historical fact.

      You’re spinning. And Snopes is ridiculous, as well as biased beyond dispute.

      • Or maybe you’re not thinking. If I trusted Snopes, and gave a damn whether Melania wore heels, I might have to check the site on that issue. But who in the world would be dumb enough to think Obama was President during Katrina AND curious enough to check it on fact-check site, BUT too stupid to just look up when Katrina was?

        There could be no legitimate reason for that post.

  2. “Fact Check: Did the Germans attack Pearl Harbor?” Hmm . . . the way statues are being removed here in the U.S.A., I would not be surprised to read a tweet suggesting that not only was Doenitz involved, but Lee and Columbus played key roles in this act of oppression.

  3. In the original Snopes post, they did not mention that Obama was in fact president during another period of Louisiana flooding. It originally said:

    “As damage from Hurricane Harvey continued to grow in Texas in late August 2017, some Twitter users sought to defend President Donald Trump’s response to the disaster by criticizing the actions of his predecessor, Barack Obama:”

    They later added:

    “during similarly pervasive flooding in Louisiana in 2016. Other users took that argument even further, knocking Obama for not “doing enough” to help Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina.”

  4. Jack,

    “… not to cherry-pick the dumbest junk on Twitter …”

    I’m not defending snopes — your take there is correct. What’s disheartening, however, is that this “rumor” isn’t even the dumbest example they could have cherry-picked. I saw dozens of mentions of Obama’s failing during Katrina before someone who could count pointed out that didn’t make sense.

    Is snopes dumb? Yes. Is the general public even dumber? You better believe it.

    • I feel similar. In an environment where people are going to assume that Obama was in charge during Katrina, we can either have a world where a fact-checking website either corrects it or one where it doesn’t. If asinine ideas like this can spread, no matter how dumb, I’d rather have everyone on the ground fighting it. Yes, it’s undignified to have to correct something like this, but… the time they let one slide is when some insidious lie burrows into the public consciousness and refuses to let go.

      What if they’d written something about whether or not Michael Brown said what was attributed to him? Maybe it wouldn’t have taken off. And maybe I could wish myself to Magical Horsie Land with a gumdrop wand and a pocketful of fairy dust, but my point is: I don’t see the harm in them publishing this correction. They are undeniably correct this time.

      • Except no news source, no legitimate blog, nobody is saying this, Jeff! This isn’t even at “the CIA invented AIDS” level, or Jon Podest and Hillary were running a sex ring. It can’t get traction, because it not just history, it’s recent history. Is Snopes really going to debunk the dumbest thing anyone says on Twitter? Of course not; even they aren’t that stupid. This was a choice, and it was not because it needed to be debunked.

        • The choice was to project something abjectly stupid onto all Obama opponents, because hey, if snopes is covering it, a vast swath of eeeeeevil rightwingerzzzzz must believe it!!!! Gads those conservatives sure are stupid for believing that, which they must believe otherwise reliable snopes wouldn’t cover it.

            • I’m sure if I tried, I could find something similarly “abjectly stupid” that liberals have posted that has also been debunked by Snopes.

              Have either of you looked? Or are you just assuming bias here?

              • I used to follow Snopes pretty regularly when they were respectable. You’re welcome to look; I meant it when I said the site was dead to me after the Hillary Clinton spin orgy. “abjectly stupid” isn’t the comparison. Find an example of Snopes taking a column to debunk a false belief in a historical fact that a fool could clear up with a mouse click. I wasn’t kidding about Bluto’s claim either: that’s exactly what this was. (By the way, I bet a lot of people think the Germans bombed Pearly Harbor. Not: “Claim: Robert Kennedy had Marilyn Monroe murdered.” That’s a conspiracy theory that has no genuine evidence to prove it or even fairly suggest it, but it can’t be DISproved, and there are websites and rumor sites that promote the story. No website is about Obama and Katrina. Obama and Katrina is factually false AND nobody who writes about it seriously could fail to know that.

                Find me a Snopes post that debunks the “belief” that Dean Martin signed the Declaration, or that the South won the Civil War, or that Nazi Germany was led by Bugs Bunny, or that Oregon is on the East Coast. Those would be more like the Obama post.

            • We reported here at in 2013 the results of a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. When a pool of Republican primary voters in Louisiana was asked, “Who do you think was more responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina: George W. Bush or Barack Obama?,” 29 percent answered Obama.

              • Really, so what? That’s an unethical poll. You’ll also get respondents who who blame the Easter Bunny. A poll that intentionally suggests a factually impossible answer to make a group look stupid is unprofessional and untrustworthy, and that’s what I’ll take from THAT poll.

                  • They should have, no question.

                    But then, if the proportion of answers were significantly different, they may get reasonably accused of trying to make Republicans look stupid.

                    Or Democrats it even more of those got it wrong. I myself wouldn’t bet more than 2:1 that fewer Democrats are fools in this matter, and would happily accept odds of 1:10 in some others. Plastic Turkey anyone?

                    The point is a substantial proportion of Americans believe that nonsense, so Snopes has every reason to debunk it.

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