How Fact Checkers Handled the IG Report’s Finding on Political Bias
On Dec. 10, 2019 FactCheck.org published an article in response to the release of the IG report, titled “How Old Claims Compare to IG Report.”
The article listed four claims it reviewed in light of the IG report. The fourth dealt with the issue of political bias:
The IG report also debunked Trump’s claims that the investigation was motivated by political bias on the part of FBI staff. The report found no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation” influenced the opening of the investigation or decision-making during it.
As our reporting demonstrated, the IG report did not debunk claims that the investigation was motivated by political bias.
The report did say it found no “documentary or testimonial evidence” that political bias influenced the opening of the investigation, but that does not debunk claims that the investigation was influenced by political bias.
In the article’s section addressing the issue of bias, FactCheck.org focused on the opening of the investigation along with the roles played by Peter Stzok and Lisa Page, two FBI employees whose text messages showed an anti-Trump bias.
FactCheck.org’s article was silent on the ease with which the FBI can justify an investigation according to its traditional set of procedures. FactCheck.org did not address the FISA warrants on Carter Page in its section on political bias.
FactCheck.org erred. The IG report did not debunk the notion that political bias affected the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
PolitiFact’s treatment of the IG report’s handling of the political bias issue occurred when PolitiFact fact checked a statement from Attorney General William Barr. PolitiFact’s Dec. 11, 2019 fact check looked at Barr’s claim that “The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions.”
PolitiFact had this to say on the topic of political bias at the FBI:
The investigation was not politically motivated
The IG report … dismissed the notion that the investigation was politically motivated.
PolitiFact’s following paragraphs, as with the FactCheck.org article discussed above, focus on the opening of the investigation and on the roles played by Strzok and Lisa Page.
But even supposing PolitiFact limited its view of the FBI’s political bias to the opening of the investigation, the IG report does not support PolitiFact’s claim that “The investigation was not politically motivated.”
The methodology of the IG report would stop it from considering a role for political bias, absent “documentary or testimonial evidence to the contrary,” so long as the predicate for investigation met the FBI’s “low threshold.” When the IG report said it found “no documentary or testimonial evidence” of political bias, it was not ruling out the possibility that political bias affected the investigation.
The Washington Post Fact Checker
On Dec. 11, 2019 the Washington Post published an article by its fact checker, Glenn Kessler, titled “A guide to the misleading spin on the IG report.”
Kessler referred three times to “political bias.”
In the first instance, Kessler trimmed the IG report’s language describing the type of evidence it failed to find:
The report said: “This information provided the FBI with an articulable factual basis that, if true, reasonably indicated activity constituting either a federal crime or a threat to national security, or both, may have occurred or may be occurring.” The report added that investigators found no “evidence that political bias or improper motivation” influenced the decision to open the probe.
Was the Fact Checker justified in assuming that “no documentary or testimonial evidence” equals “no ‘evidence'”? We think the IG report would have said “no evidence” if that is what it meant.
In his second reference to “political bias,” Kessler more fully articulated a position that matches the form of the fallacy of appeal to ignorance:
In fact, as we noted, the IG found that political bias did not factor into the start of the probe.
Kessler’s interpretation has the IG report concluding that lack of evidence equals evidence of lack. But the IG report consistently stopped short of drawing any such conclusion. The Fact Checker took that one extra fallacious step.
Kessler’s third reference to “political bias” repeated his fallacious conclusion:
(Attorney General William) Barr, in an interview, dismissed the findings of no political bias but embraced the findings of what he called “gross abuses” of the FISA process.
The IG report, in fact, had no finding of “no political bias” for Barr to dismiss.
The Washington Post Fact Checker erred.
Fact Checkers Promptly Correct Their Mistakes, Right?
We contacted each of the “elite three” fact checkers to point out their errors and request corrections or clarifications.
Not one of the “elite three” has thus far acted to correct those errors or offer a defense of their conclusions.