A promising journalism watchdog website has come to my attention: Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC News). On the “About” page we learn that it
…is an independent online media outlet. MBFC News is dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices. MBFC News’ aim is to inspire action and a rejection of overtly biased media. We want to return to an era of straight forward news reporting….MBFC News follows a strict methodology for determining the biases of sources….MBFC News also provides occasional fact checks, original articles on media bias and breaking/important news stories, especially as it relates to USA politics…
This is a relatively new site, launched in 2015. It is unusual in that it aims to find both conservative and liberal bias alike. It will be interesting if it can keep to the middle of the road with all the crazy traffic coming at it from all directions. As Ethics Alarms can attest, this is harder than it looks.
The first example of MBFC News’s work (for me) is promising. As readers know, I distrust factcheck sites and fact-checkers, as well as the periodic fact-checking exercises by sources like CNN. While sometimes a particular fact-checker may be fair and responsible, the same source can be overwhelmed with bias in another instance, and use dishonest or misleading means to discredit some disliked politician, usually a Republican. Some prominent fact-checkers. like Snopes and Politifact, are routinely biased and exist primarily to make progressives smile. Others, like the Washington Post’s “The Fact-Checker,” Glenn Kessler, have good days and bad days. At least Kessler tries; like many of his breed, however, he never learned what a lie is.
My favorite of the fact-checker services has long been FactCheck.org., which also tries to be even-handed, and is more careful than Kessler. Thus I was impressed to see that when MBFC News set out to see how fair the fact-checkers were when they examined Donald Trump’s State of the Union Message, it examined the best. So did I, and was hunkering down as I prepared a post on what appears to be the Annenberg Foundation’s project’s capitulation to “the resistance.”
How I love it when someone else does my work for me, and does it well. In an article that factchecks the Factcheck.org factcheck (whew!) of the speech, Karen O’Connor Rubsam writes,
“First, there are some global observations regarding the Factcheck.org article. Factcheck.org seems only to identify what they perceive as incorrect statements. To be unbiased there should be some commentary on the entire address along with an overall assessment as to how much was “factual” versus “not-factual.” A more thorough reporting of the entire address can be found here. Additionally, as shown below, factcheck.org introduces opinion and “biased words” in much of their fact-checking. Further, there appears to be some bias in how factcheck.org transferred the salient points from their analysis to the Summary bullet points. Accurately reporting in the summary bullet points is important since many readers will just read the bullet points.”
Read it all at the site, which deserves the traffic, much as I would love to put up the whole thing. Two examples should suffice: when I read the Factcheck.org analysis, these points, far from the worst, caused me to conclude that the site had finally started playing typical factcheck games and gone over to the Dark Side, where bashing the President is deemed more important than being fair and truthful. (I promptly exiled it from the Ethics Alarms links):
- Factcheck.org: “Trump said cutting the corporate tax rate will “increase average family income by more than $4,000.” This is a rosy, long-term estimate from White House economic advisers based on questionable assumptions.
Yecchh. This is classic unethical fact-checking: that others disagree with a long-term projection does not make a projection dishonest or wrong. If the factcheck establishment wants to take the position that all estimates and projections stated as what “will” happen are misleading, fine: let them state that as a principle. But every bill has been and is announced by a claim what it “will” accomplish, and the fact that opponents are dubious doesn’t make that statement untrue when it is made. Every climate change projection is questionable in exactly the same way. Presumably intelligent people don’t have to be told that predictions and projections are always guesses, and when a President says something “will” happen, it means “unless it doesn’t.”
- Factcheck.org: “The President wrongly said that the U.S. is “an exporter of energy to the world.” The Energy Information Administration estimates the U.S. won’t be a net exporter of energy until 2026.”
What? The President said that the U.S. “an exporter of energy to the world,” and it is an exporter of energy to the world. If he had said, which he didn’t, the U.S. is “a net exporter of energy to the world,” then this critique would be fair. He didn’t.
Pointer: Michael McMurphy