WHAT? Snopes Has Had An Unethical Culture All These Years??

What a surprise.

You know, I hate to resort to mockery, sarcasm and “I told you so” on an ethics blog, but sometimes nothing else will do. Snopes fooled me for a while: in 2010, I described the fact-checking site as doing “a superb job tracking down and clarifying web hoaxes, rumors and other misinformation.”As late as early 2016 I was relying on Scopes, and then it began to dawn on me that, like most factchecking sites (Factcheck.com is better than the rest), Snopes miraculously only saw false stories when they either impugned conservatives, or were non-political, like the three-breasted woman. 2016 saw Snopes joining the mainstream news media in shilling for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, and the jig was up. After tracing many examples Snopes partisanship, I kissed the site off with this post, marking it as an Unethical Website Of The Month (July, 2016).

I wonder if I should contact all the furious commenters defending Snopes on that post and ask them their thoughts on today’s revelations.

A BuzzFeed News investigation found that David Mikkelson, the site’s co-founder and chief executive, authored and published dozens of articles plagiarized from other news outlets. His objective, we are told, was ” to scoop up web traffic.” Gee, you mean pandering to progressives and Democrats, doing regular hit-jobs on Republicans and issuing biased and dishonest “factchecks” with clickbait titles wasn’t enough? Fascinating.

The Snopes editorial staff is conducting an investigation of how many articles written by Mikkelson featured plagiarized content. Last week dozens of his articles were removed and retracted from the site. Yet Mikkelson, who owns 50% of Snopes Media Group will still be be Snopes’s chief executive! His ability to publish articles has been revoked, the Snopes CEO explained. Oh! Everything’s fixed, then! Carry on!

Snopes should do a factcheck on whether the fish really does rot from the head down. (Hint: it does.) Organizations founded by and led by unethical leaders cannot avoid nurturing unethical cultures: this is a basic truth of both leadership and organization ethics. Mikkelson has given out plenty of clues that he lacks functioning ethics alarms: when Snopes was again named Unethical Website of the Month here in December, 2018, Mikkelson defended an undeniably misleading photo it used in a factcheck by saying, “Our audience is intelligent enough to understand the difference between a literal representation and a symbolic one.” Funny, nobody let Presient Trump get away with that argument. My analysis concluded, “This unconscionable, Dan Rather-like “It’s true, just not accurate” argument should be sufficient, all by itself, to prove Snopes’ lack of trustworthiness.” So should the fact that its founder and leader cheated in order to get more traffic for his website. If he’ll do that, he’ll let others do that, and if others do that, then Snopes’ factchecks serve its own agenda, not truth, and not the public interest.

None of this comes as the slightest surprise here, not at all. Yet Facebook, among others, used this manipulative and partisan group to perform alleged factchecks to assist Facebook’s partisan censorship of “misinformation.” Snopes itself is misinformation: a factchecking website must be reliable, trustworthy and objective, and it is not.

Here’s the act of signature significance: allowing Mikkelson to keep his job. The message is clear: “We think you are so stupid that you’ll believe our articles even though our leader lied in his for years, because persoannly he won’t be in a position to steal content any more, though he”l still be in charge.” I’m trying to think of any organization that has done something like this. Maybe the closest is ACORN, the corrupt community organizing group, that discovered that its treasurer, Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN’s founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled $948,607.50 from the group and affiliated charitable organizations. Incredibly, Rathke was allowed to stay on as treasurer, because the group thought the truth would lose them contributions and members.

Snopes behaved like an unethical and untrustworthy organization, so Ethics Alarms flagged it as one. It wasn’t hard; the proof was right in front of everyone. Those who continued to rely on Snopes demonstrated, once again, that bias makes you stupid….or that they were just as corrupt as Snopes is.

7 thoughts on “WHAT? Snopes Has Had An Unethical Culture All These Years??

  1. Why is Snopes called Snopes? What does it have to do with the Snopes family in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County? Beuhler? Ben Stein?

    • Well, the Faulknerian Snopeses were a bunch of untrustworthy unethical low-lifes, so maybe the naming was an inadvertent presaging of things to come.

      • Hah. Well Wim, I always thought of the Snopeses as Faulkner’s depiction of the rising class of mercantile Southerners of the 20th Century, Post Civil War South. It’s probably why Faulkner is essentially reviled in the South.* I guess I find the Snopeses less caricatures than architypes. They’re more nuanced. They start out poor and ruthless but they become established very quickly and replace the venerable Old Guard. In certain respects, they’re necessary and almost respectable. Ironic, of course. I’d think of Bear Bryant as a Snopes. Of course, The Bear, he played the football his own self.
        *When I asked my American Lit. Professor friend whether he thought the Ole Miss football stadium was named “Hemingway Stadium” as a joke he replied, “No. Revenge.”

  2. Ideology and being “on the right side of history” trumps the truth. This is another thing we have learned, and in no small part, Snopes was instrumental in teaching us. Discovering their founder is an unrepentant plagiarist is only surprising to people who have no idea who Snopes is. Discovering that Snopes really doesn’t care is even less so.

    Perhaps Snopes is doing us a public service after all — exposing even to the left the bankruptcy of “everything is political, and politics trumps everything.” But the Left, it seems, doesn’t care about such things as long as your politics are correct.

  3. Coincidentally, a Snopes article appeared in my search results a couple days ago purporting to tell the “truth” about the criminal backgrounds of the three individuals who thought it was a good idea to attack a kid armed with a rifle during a riot.

    The byline claimed revealing the backgrounds was a “smear campaign”, and rated what should be a mostly-true social media post image as “mixture”. Snopes eventually writes one paragraph that entirely supports the “mixture” rated image.

    The rest of the article is completely dedicated to erecting and tearing down their own strawmen, and proceeds to do their own smear campaign by reading only the criminal complaint against Kyle as if it were fact, ignoring all the video available that reveals all kinds of things about the conflict they claimed isn’t known. (I would normally assume ignorance here but I have to go with malice because they directly mention the lawyer’s compilation video of the night’s events…I can only conclude they don’t source any video because none of it supports their interpretation).

    Sure, past criminal convictions aren’t usually warranted in a trial regarding a different criminal event and this is a luxury not afforded to the decedents. However, they’ve already been convicted and are not up for trial. Whatever happened to “alleged” when talking about a person who hasn’t even been to trial yet?

  4. Last night I happened upon a 1981 movie entitled “Absence of Malice.” It featured Sally Fields as a reporter who ruined the life of Paul Newman’s character by her unethical reporting. She put the narrative before the facts thus pushing another character to commit suicide. The movie begs the question, “has the news media ever had an ethical base from which they operate?”

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