Bryan W. White

Updated Jan. 15, 2020; old version here.

Now a graduate of the Mass Media Studies program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Bryan W. White started writing criticism of the fact-checking organization PolitiFact in 2007.

PolitiFactBias.com

In 2011, Bryan partnered with Jeff D, another critic of PolitiFact, to start the PolitiFact Bias website. PolitiFact Bias aimed to collect the best criticism of PolitiFact in one place and supplement that with original material.

We hoped the criticism would improve PolitiFact.

Bryan went on to create research methods using PolitiFact’s subjective ‘Truth-O-Meter” ratings to detect patterns of ideological bias. Many of those research ideas remain unpublished but are still in the works.

Years of finding fault with PolitiFact led to ideas that might improve fact-checking. In 2012, Bryan started Zebra Fact Check to road test those ideas.

Zebra Fact Check

Zebra Fact Check has helped innovate fact-checking with the following:

  1. Zebra Fact Check, to our knowledge, was the first and perhaps still the only fact-checker to implement the Report an Error (website sadly dormant) system. Each web page at zebrafactcheck.com features a button readers may use to report details of any errors they encounter at the website.
  2. Zebra Fact Check created the first fact checker rating system that uses concrete findings as the core of its ratings. ZFC ratings emphasize the commission of implicit or explicit fallacies. ZFC owes a debt to YourLogicalFallacyIs.com for coming up with graphic representations of fallacies that would otherwise have required development from scratch. We use their graphics with permission and with a deep sense of gratitude.
  3. Zebra Fact Check has always advocated authorial transparency. The fact check audience deserves disclosure regarding the bias of fact check authors. Bryan is a conservative.
  4. Zebra Fact Check, with a hat tip to W. Gardner Selby, former editor of PolitiFact Texas, led all fact checkers in publishing all email correspondence with interview sources. We remain unaware of any other fact-checking service that has adopted the practice across the board. Selby published return correspondence often at PolitiFact Texas. Our disclosure expands on that to include the questions we put to the experts.
  5. Zebra Fact Check stands second to none in aggressively publicizing its own corrections. Visitors to the main page of the website can find a prominent tab labeled “Corrections” that leads to a list of posts detailing all major corrections. Those posts share equal billing with other material in the ZFC story feed.
  6. Zebra Fact Check advocates using politically polarized fact-checking teams to help neutralize ideological bias in fact checks.
  7. Zebra Fact Check, in keeping with the above, advocates radical transparency as the most honest and sensible method journalists can use to earn readers’ trust.

An Evolving Mission

In recent years Zebra Fact Check publishes fact checks only rarely.

When fact checkers created the International Fact-Checking Network in 2015 to advocate for and provide a consistent set of standards for fact-checking, Bryan saw the need for a new media watchdog. After all, the International Fact-Checking Network shared ownership (and later a roof) with PolitiFact, one of its member organizations. How would the IFCN balance its advocacy and accountability roles?

Instead of focusing on new fact check content, Zebra Fact Check has taken to advocating improved methods for all fact checkers while pushing the IFCN to vigorously embrace its role in the enforcement of high fact-checking standards.

Notable Stories

A short-ish list of the most memorable content from ZFC:

Romney wrong about Jeeps to China?

ZFC pointed out the problems with the mainstream fact checkers claim that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney falsely said that Fiat-Chrysler would build Jeeps in China.

George Washington and the Second Amendment: Unsettling the question with expert opinions

ZFC took a deep dive into George Washington’s view of the Second Amendment, which required adjudicating between divided groups of experts. The story links to extensive interview material, thanks to the experts who graciously responded.

Louis D. Brandeis, wealth and democracy: checking a common quotation (Updated)

A ZFC attempt to track down the origins of a quotation attributed to Justice Brandeis led us down the same path a Brandeis researcher, Peter Scott Campbell of the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, was already following. Campbell graciously served as the key source for the story, offering a preview of sorts of his article later published in the law journal The Green Bag.

FactCheck.org says federal spending has increased ‘far more slowly’ under Obama than under Bush

Mainstream fact checkers, including venerable Annenberg Fact Check, peddled the false notion that Obama grew federal spending slowly. The mainstream fact checkers were snookered by President Obama’s front-loaded spending. Obama spent more than the competition but created the illusion of a slow spending increase by decreasing spending following the first three profligate years.

‘The Newsroom’ speech: Is America not the greatest country in the world?

Yes, we fact checked a speech by a fictional character from an HBO show about television journalism, mostly because people were quoting it. It remains our most-visited page by far.

Obama and “what we said was”

Was Zebra Fact Check the only fact checker to defend Obama after he tried to explain the rule-making process that led to the Affordable Care Act, leading to the cancellation of millions of insurance policies?

ZFC got it right in spite of its conservatism.

CNN misreports “classic study on race”

CNN’s John Blake completely misreported a social science experiment designed to show the effects of bias on the spread of rumor. Oh, the irony. CNN has never corrected the errors in Blake’s story.

Review: ‘Checking the Fact-Checkers in 2008: Predicting Political Ad Scrutiny and Assessing Consistency’

Occasionally Zebra Fact Check reviews fact check content in refereed journals. In this case, the three-part story chronicles how researcher Michelle Amazeen improperly used statistics to argue for the reliability of the mainstream fact checkers. Amazeen’s paper inexplicably passed peer review.

Support

We hate pleading for money. But those interested in offering a taxable gift can do so on this secure page.

A miraculous surge in support could result in a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to improving the practice of fact-checking. Givers should definitely read our policy on financial disclosure.

8 Comments

  1. Mep

    This is a lot like your blog in that no one cares about it.

    Reply
    1. Bryan W. White (Post author)

      You cared enough to post a reply. Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Colleen

    Yes, Bryan, ignore the criticism. You have a great site here and are doing good work bringing out the truth in the midst of the rhetoric. For some that disagree with the truth, it is a junior high thrill for them to deliver a cheap put-down, as you no doubt recognize. My sister also went to University of South Florida. She still lives in Tampa.

    Reply
  3. Kevin Purcell (KP)

    Bryan, I found your site via comments at The Moderate Voice with some sparring with Ron Chusid. Happy about that! I hope to read regularly. Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Bryan W. White (Post author)

      Welcome, Kevin, and thanks.

      Reply
      1. KP

        Impressive stuff.

        Reply
  4. Raul Byrd

    Just found your site and am looking forward to straight forward, honest to goodness fact checking. I’m a social studies teacher and would like a reliable source to use for my class.

    Raul
    Katy, TX

    Reply
    1. Bryan W. White (Post author)

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Raul.

      I can’t recommend this site as a sole resource for fact-checking at this time. I’m one person working on the site part-time. The site is best used to supplement the findings of other fact checkers while also serving as a caution that fact checkers need to do a better job. We need to do a better job showing our work and a better job reasoning our conclusions. This site aims to encourage those outcomes.

      Reply

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