Tag Archives: fact-checks

Ethics Dunce Who Exemplifies Why This Anti-Gun Freakout Won’t Be Any More Successful Than The Last One: Senator Bernie Sanders

Bernie is still the presumptive leader in the 2020 Democratic Presidential sweepstakes, right? No wonder Democrats are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Senator Sanders said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last week  that “We have to end the absurdity of the gun show loophole. Forty percent of the guns in this country are sold without any background checks.”

This is a fake stat that has been disproved many times. Obama used it. As always happens, the anti-gun advocates simply won’t play fair and try to win this policy debate using facts and reason. They always default to emotionalism, fear-mongering, dishonest journalism (I’ll be writing about CNN’s disastrous “town meeting” later), lies, distortions, and fake statistics. When the emotional rush of the particular tragedy is over, and non-substantive cries like “Never again!”, “Your right to own a gun shouldn’t trump a child’s right to live!”, “Do something!” and “Kill the NRA!” lose their power to persuade people no longer in grade school, sufficient numbers of citizens stop and think, “You know what? We can’t trust these people! They lie.”

And so they do.

As some wags have said today, when the Washington Post can’t even resist pointing out that your anti-gun claims are nonsense, you’re really in trouble.

Glenn Kessler, the Post’s Factchecker, made short work of Bernie, hitting him with four Pinocchios and calling his “gun show loophole” a “zombie claim, false facts that keep getting repeated, no matter how often we fact-check them.” Continue reading

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How The Fact Checkers Cheat: A Case Study

“AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!”

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): Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 1/16/18: “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” The Institution Of The Presidency, And Thought Control

Good Morning, Ethics World!

1 “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” Yesterday, finding myself in desperate straits thanks to our recent decision that premium cable TV stations were not worth the money, I watched the film version of “Murder at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.” How time flies! The always excellent Diane Lane was still playing ingenues, instead of the unusually lovely mothers she plays now. Wesley Snipes still had a career.

And this: after a bloodily murdered young woman is discovered in a White House bathroom, the head of security explains to the police why it is crucial to shield the President from any speculation or hint of scandal, saying,

“You won’t question the President! The Presidency is an institution, not a person.  And that institution will be protected at all costs.”

Gee, how old IS that movie? I just checked: it’s 20 years old. The novel was written by one-time first daughter Margaret Truman, who once lived at at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with her Democratic President father. The quote wasn’t considered remarkable at the time: it didn’t even make it into the IMDB’s quotes page for the film. The quote is certainly striking today. All it took was 20 years, a shocking upset and a President who “breaches norms” to make the Democrats, Republicans, the news media and much of the public forget that is in our interests as a nation to protect and respect the institution, and that the person occupying it is secondary.

I knew there was a reason I liked that movie, other than Diane Lane.

There’s another interesting quote from the film too:

“I think President Teddy Roosevelt said it best: ‘If I must choose between righteousness and peace, I choose righteousness.'” 

Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 10/19/2017: #MeToo, A Fact-Denying Fact-Check, And A “Resistance” Hit Job

Good Morning to you!

1 The contrived anti-Trump controversy over his conversation with a Gold Star widow is so disgusting and cynical that I hesitate to comment on it. This was so obviously a set-up: an anti-Trump woman, angry and grieving over the death of her husband, allowed a virulently anti-Trump Democratic Congresswoman to listen in on the call, then collaborated to make the accusation that Trump’s words that her husband “knew what he was signing up for” were a calculated insult. The New York Times somehow found this worthy of an above the fold article. No other President would ever be subjected to this kind of despicable “gotcha!” attack. No matter how clumsy Trump’s words might have been, and we can only take the word of two women who were predisposed to interpret them in the worst light imaginable, a President must be accorded a presumption of good will in such a situation. This, however, has been withheld from him in all situations by major segments of the Left from the beginning. Representative Fredricka Wilson (D-Fla) boycotted the President’s inauguration, and has made her motives and character explicit by laughing about how this latest controversy has made her a “rock star.” Well, maybe in “the resistance”–I have a somewhat different description for her. Now she’s race-baiting too, calling John Kelly a racist for referring to her, in his defense of the President, as an “empty barrel” who “makes noise.” Yup, I remember hearing stories about Klansmen calling blacks “Empty barrels.”

What did the wife of La David Johnson expect such a partisan, vicious hack like Wilson to do when she chose her to listen to the conversation with the President? It was another episode in the fake “the President is a white supremicist” pageant, and to anyone with a scintilla of objectivity, a blatant one. The Washington Post’s resident race-baiter, affirmative action Pulitzer Prize winner Eugene Robinson, wrote an unforgivable column calling Trump’s comment “mindless cruelty”he never never made a genuine case that there is anything wrong with what Trump said…because, you see, there isn’t. If the wife of a soldier doesn’t understand that when he enlisted in the armed services he was putting his life on the line for his country and knew it, then that’s her misconception. My father, who had his foot blown up in World War II, made this point more than once: if you enlist to fight, you can’t say you didn’t know that the possibility of being killed or wounded wasn’t part of the decision. If it wasn’t, there would be no innate courage in volunteering for service. This, like so much else that the President does and says, is only wrong because it is him saying it. This is the plan. This is how “the resistance,’ Democrats and their core seeks to cripple the government and undermine the President of the United States. They don’t even hesitate to politicize a simple condolence call and the death of a soldier toward that un-American end.

I think my favorite part of the negative spin put on Trump’s conversation with Mrs. Johnson was that “he appeared not to know the name” of the fallen soldier. Any parent who can’t resist excessive creativity and who names a boy “La David” has condemned him to having everyone hesitate to say his name for the rest of his life, as “Wait, this can’t be right…” locks their brains. This is Naming Ethics. Similarly, don’t name your girl “Mister Nancy.”

Accolades are due to another Gold Star widow, Natasha De Alencar, who has released the audio of a call the President made to her in April after her husband, a  member of the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) became the first American killed in combat in Afghanistan this year. That conversation shows the President as compassionate and willing to spend all the time necessary to express his respect—and she and her were Hispanic, and we all know that Trump just hates Hispanics. That call alone should ensure the President the benefit of any doubt regarding whether he would “insult” a military widow, but it won’t; not for those who want to assume the worst, and want to  make as many people as possible believe that the President of the United States is a monster.

This was an unconscionable hit job. The Democrats and the news media seem incapable of comprehending that the more ruthless, unjust and vicious they behave in their opposition to Trump, the more those who are not already incurable Trump-haters will conclude that their cure is worse than the disease. Continue reading

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Let Us Praise The Even-Handed Fact Checker

pinocchio_4

Glenn Kessler, as I have noted before, tries. The primary Washington Post fact checker leans to the left, and often his biases get the better of him, but he tries. His bias showed up recently when he balked at directly calling the oft repeated propaganda that Obama had an administration that was “historically free of scandal,” the falsehood that it is, but I give him credit for touching the issue, which has become cant in his world of partisan loyalists. Kessler refused to give the claim a rating, saying that there were arguments for and against the proposition.

Kessler brushed up against reality when he wrote, “One thing that is apparent is that Obama has benefited from the fact that the independent counsel law lapsed in 1999, since in another era some of the controversies that have enveloped his administration might have resulted in an independent prosecutor.” Right. And that’s because there were many scandals—the IRS, Fast and Furious, Clinton’s e-mails, the Bowe Bergdahl exchange, the  pay-off for Iran hostages and its cover-up, the VA—that a complicit press didn’t pursue, and a political Justice Department allowed to fade away. Kessler’s job is to debunk false partisan narratives, and that’s is a whopper of one. He blinked.

He did come through last week with a post on Obama’s biggest lies, Four Pinocchios in Kessler-speak. And today, Kessler chose one of the many, many absurd assertions made at the Women’s March, by one of the truly embarrassing members of Congress. Maxine Waters (D-Ca), who said regarding Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos,

“What about that Betsy DeVos? A billionaire who he is picking to head Education who has never seen the inside of a classroom. She has no experience, she has no background. That’s dangerous for our children.”

Kessler takes the gloves off and not only festoons Waters with Pinocchios, he calls her statement “ridiculous,” which it is. Continue reading

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Ethics Observations On President-Elect Trump’s First News Conference

presser

1. I watched the introductions and about half of Trump’s opening remarks, and had to bail. I just had to. Not that Trump’s manner and speaking style were any worse than before; it’s just that the thought that young people will see this as acceptable public presentation and speaking clarity was too horrible to bear. Even with the verbalization-challenged Bushes, the level of basic language skills and vocabulary wasn’t nearly this bad.

I had to watch an old video of JFK wittily fencing with reporters to get the thought out of my head:

2. Thus this discussion is based on the transcript. I had to search a bit to find an online transcript that wasn’t constantly interrupted by editorial comments and “fact-checks.” These contained a lot of nit-picking and suggestions of deception (and some useful clarifications).  It seems to me that the “fact-checks” of Trump feel adversarial, while the recent fact-check of President Obama’s final speech were consistently friendly, and voluntarily refused to take issue with genuinely misleading statements. For example, Obama said, “If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.”  NPR’s annotation:

“Via The New Republic: “From 2000 to 2010, a decade during which the white population as a whole grew by just 1.2 percent, the number of white children in the United States declined by 4.3 million. Meanwhile the child populations of Hispanics, Asians, and people of two or more races were increasing.”

But that’s not the fact to check. Who says that anyone is “unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants just because they don’t look like us“? That’s a straw man, and should have been called out (I threw a pillow at the TV screen) as one. Clear-thinking citizens are unwilling to invest in the children of illegal immigrants because they shouldn’t be here, and the more we “invest” in them, the more encouragement we give to foreign citizens to break our laws.

But NPR likes illegal immigration, so this wouldn’t occur to them, I guess.

3. I think it’s fair to say that no previous POTUS or PEOTUS press conference began with a frontal assault on the press for publishing fake news. That’s how this one began, with Sean Spicer attacking the already infamous Buzzfeed story. He also attacked CNN for reporting on Buzzfeed’s report. Here was NPR’s annotation, in part:

“BuzzFeed and CNN both reported on Tuesday about documents alleging that “Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump,” as CNN reported, though the two news organizations presented the information in vastly different ways. CNN mostly focused on who had seen the documents and when, citing unnamed sources and U.S. officials in different places. However, CNN said that while it had reviewed the “35-page compilation of the memos” alleging that link, it was “not reporting on details of the memos, as it has not independently corroborated the specific allegations.”

NPR’s distinction doesn’t excuse CNN. The news media does this kind of thing all the time, it’s true: it reports the fact that an irresponsible news source has reported a rumor, unsourced claim, ora lie, and thus further circulates an account that never should have been published in the first place. Later, Trump was asked about his tweet asking if we were now living in Nazi Germany. (It’s cute to see my Facebook friends fuming about that tweet, when they have been absurdly calling Trump a Nazi for months. Has anyone contacted Harry Belafonte for his comments?) Trump’s response:

“I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public. As far as BuzzFeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences. They already are.”

Crude, but fair. It would be been nice if Trump had the wit and historical perspective to remind the assembled, and perhaps teach his audience,  what the Big Lie technique championed by Josef Goebbels was and how the Buzzfeed-CNN handoff would have pleased him. I’ve got to learned to lower my expectations. Nevertheless, the Nazi reference in that context was well-earned. It is disgraceful that the dossier was leaked by U.S. intelligence personnel. “Failing pile of garbage”  is not Presidential rhetoric (sigh) but the sentiment is correct. CNN capped a week of neon-bright biased and inaccurate reporting across the news spectrum by giving this slimy story greater visibility, thus advancing a Big Lie. CNN deserved its comeuppance, which was soon to come. Continue reading

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Signature Significance: President Obama’s Farewell Speech Jumbo

jumbo-film

“Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say.”

It’s funny: when I was searching Google after entering this quote, I found one site the had as a headline, “2o Quotes From President Obama’s Farewell Speech That Will Melt Your…” and that’s where it cut off.  Which was it, I wondered, “heart” or “brain”? It was heart….and the 20 also included the quote about race relations.

I also checked the Washington Post, which “fact-checks” major speeches with annotations. In the transcript, that line was indeed highlighted—I thought there was a 50-50 chance, knowing the Post’s pro-Obama bias, that it would let that whopper slide. The annotation by reporter Aaron Blake in its entirety:

Obama has seen the polls. A July Washington Post-ABC News poll [showed 6 in 10 thought race relations were bad, and a majority thought they were getting worse](Poll: Majority of Americans think race relations are getting worse)

Now that’s a tentative fact-check! Obama has seen the polls, so …he must know something we don’t? Obama has seen the polls, so…he’s basing this certitude on his own impeccable wisdom? Obama has seen the polls, so….he’s having a little fun with us? Obama has seen the polls, so…he’s lying through his teeth? What is the Post saying?

For this is rather significantly counter-factual. Yet demonstrating the hard-hitting investigative reporting that the Post is renowned for, the paper recently launched an investigation into whether Donald Trump was LYING when he told the Times, in one of his typical, off-hand, “this just popped into my head” moments, “There will be plenty of movie and entertainment stars [at the Inauguration] All the dress shops are sold out in Washington. It’s hard to find a great dress for this inauguration.” AHA!  This is NOT TRUE! This is further proof that the man is NOT FIT TO BE PRESIDENT! And EEEEVIL!!! A Post reporter actually interviewed multiple dress shop owners, and concluded,

“It’s hard to imagine how Trump came to his conclusion, and a transition team spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But for all of the president-elect’s promises about economic stimulus, it doesn’t seem that he’s making Washington dress-shopping great again.”

In contrast, when the first African-American President of the United States, having seen his performance lead to the devastation of his party and the installment of a new President so antithetical to his world view as to risk the two of them exploding if they shake hands, makes a completely ridiculous assertion about a crucial American problem like race relations, we get a 27 word shrug and a link.

American journalism in 2017. Continue reading

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