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