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

Ethics Alarms Presents “Fake News” Friday! Episode I: Poynter’s Code of Principles

fake-news-sites

Poynter is a serious and justly respected  nonprofit school for journalism and journalism ethics organization. Naturally, it has been drawn into the “fake news” debate, which is unfortunate, since the issue itself has arisen not so much as part of a much-need effort to purge the new and old news media of biased and misleading news reporting, but as part of partisan attempt by the mainstream news media and others to find some explanation, any explanation, for Donald Trump’s election that doesn’t involve a genuine public rejection of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Poynter, as far as I’ve been able to determine, is scrupulously non-partisan, or perhaps hides its Democrat tilt better than the rest of its profession. Now it is being used by those who are not so trustworthy.

Poynter was in the news yesterday as a result of Facebook’s announcement that it will start “fact-checking, labeling, and burying fake news and hoaxes in its News Feed. Mark Zuckerberg announced that his social media platform will collaborate with a small list of media organizations, including Snopes, Factcheck.org, ABC News, and PolitiFact to accomplish this, and noted that these are part of an international fact-checking network under the guidance of Poynter.

Here’s a fact to check: Snopes, Factcheck.org, ABC News, the Associated Press, and PolitiFact are all partisan-biased operations to a greater or lesser extent. Facebook itself is a partisan biased organization. That Facebook would blandly cite three of these four to reassure anyone but the Democratic National Committee is proof positive that this is a cynical, untrustworthy exercise. Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: Bye-Bye Snopes…You’re Dead To Me Now [UPDATED 10/12/2016]

bye bye

Ethics Alarms has been tracking the increasing political bias exhibited by Snopes, once the definitive “Urban Legends” web source to identify false stories on the internet, e-mail hoaxes and other pollution of public information. The website has made the disastrous decision to wade into political topics and to hire some new social justice warriors and wanna-be Democratic Party operatives to cover them, resulting in the site becoming a bad imitation of PolitiFact.

The disturbing trend really established itself this month, but it was in evidence earlier. For example, Snopes rushed to defend Hillary Clinton when the story of her defense of a child rapist was used to smear her. (Ethics Alarms explained, correctly, unlike Snopes, what was unethical about the attacks on Clinton—all defendants deserve a zealous defense, no matter what the charge, and a lawyer isn’t endorsing or supporting a client’s crimes by doing her professional duty.) The Snopes defense, in contrast, was dishonest and misleading. Quoth Snopes, via its primary left-biased reporter, Kim LaCapria.

Claim: Hillary Clinton successfully defended an accused child rapist and later laughed about the case.

MOSTLY FALSE

WHAT’S TRUE: In 1975, young lawyer Hillary Rodham was appointed to represent a defendant charged with raping a 12-year-old girl. Clinton reluctantly took on the case, which ended with a plea bargain for the defendant.

WHAT’S FALSE: Hillary Clinton did not volunteer to be the defendant’s lawyer, she did not laugh about the the case’s outcome, she did not assert that the complainant “made up the rape story,” she did not claim she knew the defendant to be guilty, and she did not “free” the defendant.

Notice that the TRUE and FALSE sections don’t match the claim. That’s because Snopes is playing the logical fallacy game of moving the goalposts and using straw men. The claim, as stated by Snopes, is 100% true. Continue reading

(PSSST! Bill Nye Fans? Honorary Degrees Aren’t Real Credentials…)

bill-nye-the-science-guy

I detest  stupid debates. In college I watched a local TV debate in Boston between Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the infamous atheist, and a local Catholic wacko known as Mrs. Warren, who talked like Chico Marx, on the topic of the existence of God. I finally called into the fiasco as “Jehovah” and got through the screeners for the program, which was called “Cracker Barrel. I used a cardboard toilet paper tube to make my voice sound unworldly as I assured O’Hair that Jehovah approved of her challenging the faithful, and would not turn her into a pillar of salt. O’Hair and the host thought it was funny. Warren said she would pray for me.

The upcoming debate between TV’s “Science Guy” and Sarah Palin over climate change is a good bet to be even more stupid than that debate, and for some of the same reasons. Like that debate, there is zero chance that anybody who is silly enough to bother watching will have their minds changed by what transpires because they, like Palin and Nye, already have their minds made up and facts have little to do with their points of view. Like the “Cracker Barrel” debate, it will really be about faith, what the adversaries want to think is true, and who they prefer to believe. Do either Sarah Palin or Bill Nye know what the world’s climate will be like in 100 years? No. Can either say with certainty that any particular policy measures will or will not have a salutary effect on conditions a hundred years from now? No.

It’s a stupid debate.

Nevertheless, only Palin is being mocked for participating in it, because Sarah Palin could cure cancer and the news media would mock her. It’s ridiculous for her to presume to debate anyone about climate change, but what about the fool who thinks its worth anything to debate her, whether he “wins” or not? It’s like mocking a Labrador retriever for having the hubris to debate John Kerry on U.S. foreign policy. What’s Kerry’s excuse? Continue reading

The GOP’s Favorite Unethical Tactic: Deceptive Mailers

McConnell mailerIt’s not sufficient, apparently, that Senator Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky) Democratic opponent Allison Grimes has thoroughly disgraced herself (See here and here, and that’s not all, but I didn’t want to pick on her with so many other unethical candidates running under the banner of either political party) and probably squandered any chance she had of unseating the GOP Minority Leader. So  the Republican campaign geniuses decided to attack this not-ready-for-prime-time politician using a tactic out of former Republican Chairman Michael Steele’s playbook. That means unethical, for those of you who didn’t follow Steele’s slimy reign.

In 2010, Steele approved the GOP sending out mailers disguised as official U.S. Census documents twice, the second time after the House of Representatives had rebuked the despicable tactic and voted unanimously to make them illegal. Since then, the GOP has hectored those citizens foolish enough to contribute to a Republican candidate with mailings deceptively designed as renewal notices, as if something would expire if you didn’t send in another check. This is a sleazy method of inducing someone to open junk mail, and it shows how thoroughly mass mailing is dependent on influencing the dim, timid and too forgiving that such dishonestly packaged appeals work. Continue reading

Allison Grimes Ethics: Do Parties, Candidates And Citizens Really Think Lying Is A Legitimate Campaign Strategy?

Alison Lundergan Grimes

This is hard for me. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky)is among my least favorite U.S. Senators, and conservative hit man James O’Keefe defines unethical journalism. But O’Keefe’s sneaky tactics, the smug candor of McConnell opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes’ staff and supporters, and her own blatantly misleading statements make it obvious that she and the Kentucky Democrats think that it is acceptable to lie outright about a crucial policy issue to win an election. It isn’t. Any candidate who thinks that way is unqualified for office. I’d love to see McConnell lose to an ethical candidate on his merits. or lack of them. Grimes, however, is a liar, and apparently her staff and supporters are fine with that.

O’Keefe-produced videos show five employees of the Grimes campaign, local Democratic Party affiliates and a key supporter opining that Grimes is faking her support for the coal industry out of political expediency, and will default to the national party’s anti-coal stance the second she hits Washington. Continue reading

A Question For President Obama and His Campaign: Why Lie?

I have an iron-clad rule for all Presidents, regardless of party, ideology and political philosophy: Don’t use deception as a tool of governance. I have a related rule for Presidents who get elected by pledging honesty and transparency in government: Especially you!

The President’s health care law, a.k.a. “Obamacare,” whatever its merits, was probably the most dishonestly sold, packaged and passed major law in U.S. history (if someone has another candidate, please submit it.) Not all of the dishonesty was due to President Obama’s personal efforts–he didn’t tell its House and Senate not to bother to read the various versions of the bill, for example, or submit to the CBO patently manipulated assumptions to ensure its projection of a net budget surplus from the law immediately prior to its passage, assumptions that were substantially revised later. He is the one who pledged over and over again that if you liked your current coverage, nothing the law did would stop you from keeping it, a promise that seemed dubious at the time and that has in fact proven to be either mistaken or deliberately misleading.

Still…the law was passed. Utilitarian justifications and rationalizations for various tactics and maneuvers to get it passed are unnecessary now. So why does the President and his campaign team feel that they have to skirt the truth in their public relations and re-election efforts?

The Tom Hanks-narrated Obama campaign film “The Road We’ve Traveled” has already been charged with truth fouls by objective analysts on many points, including Obamacare. In the assessment of FactCheck.org, the best and most objective of the various political fact-checking websites, the film dissembles regarding, among other things... Continue reading