Email Outreach to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Brenda Looper

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Brenda Looper

After we noticed an April 11, 2018 newspaper opinion article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette making misleading statements about Zebra Fact Check and another site I help run, we tried to contact the author, Brenda Looper, via the email address listed on the Democrat-Gazette’s website. We sent the first email on April 11, 2018 and the second on April 13, 2018.

We will update this page noting any response we detect from Looper or the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

April 11, 2018

Dear Brenda Looper,

Your opinion article “Matter of facts” offers your readers a slanted and inaccurate account of two sites dear to my heart, PolitiFact Bias and Zebra Fact Check.To help you grasp the degree to which you misrepresented those sites, I propose a brief investigation of facts that will abundantly and clearly illustrate why those sites exist (in contrast to your presentation) and why the following reasonable-sounding statement from your column isn’t, in fact, reasonable:

Well, what distinguishes the best fact-checkers, as well as the more reliable members of the media, is that they are willing to admit their mistakes, correct them quickly, and will even reconsider past rulings when new information comes in. That and those source links make me trust PolitiFact and the most.

If you’re interested in facts, I expect you to get back to me.Cheers. And please note that Zebra Fact Check adheres to an interview policy that makes my questions as well as your answers available to the reader. PolitiFact has made noises about instituting that same policy but trails Zebra Fact Check by years in acting on it*.

April 13, 2018

Dear Brenda Looper,

Perhaps thanks to your statement about why you trust PolitiFact you can imagine how your failure to reply inspires great confidence in your trustworthiness. Are you not interested in correcting the record? Or are you just that confident your reporting was spotlessly accurate?

Okay, then. I will lead the brief investigation of facts without any indication of interest from you.

I documented that PolitiFact and (and the Washington Post Fact Checker) composed differring narratives regarding cuts to the future growth of Medicare and Medicaid. When the ACA cut Medicare by hundreds of billions of dollars, the fact checkers said it wasn’t really a cut because a cut occurs when lowering spending from one year to the next. PolitiFact rated GOP claims that the ACA cut Medicare as “Half True” or worse–mostly worse–and used that justification for the ratings. The fact checkers emphasized that the ACA merely cut the growth of spending.

When it came time to rate claims from the Trump administration that it wasn’t cutting Medicaid because spending was going up, the fact checkers scoffed, apparently incredulous that Republicans would dare use the same justification in their own defense that the fact checkers had used to defend the Obama administration.

Isn’t that outrageous? You bet it is. But that’s not all. I pointed out the inconsistency to each of the fact-checking organizations. And do you know what they did about it? Nothing. No reply. No change to the inconsistent stories. And PolitiFact has since repeated its inconsistency with a “Trump-O-Meter” article that actually states the Trump administration is cutting Medicare by “more than $600 billion decrease over 10 years compared to current spending levels.”

It’s not true. I informed PolitiFact and PolitiFact has declined to fix the error.

When you, Brenda Looper, declare that you trust fact checkers because they fix their mistakes, I just have to shake my head. And when your reporting about Zebra Fact Check and PolitiFact Bias implies that the posts there do not provide sourcing for their claims, it’s just very hard to believe. Did you bother to read more than two articles?

Try anything from the fact check section of Zebra Fact Check. The articles are richly sourced (I use hyperlinks for commentary and blog articles instead of a formal source list). Yet you wrote this:

On the basis of the unfriendliness of the Standard‘s website alone, I’m inclined to agree. Then there’s its explicitly partisan bent, whereas the other groups are nonpartisan; add in that large portions of its published fact-checks were attacks on other fact-checkers for perceived liberal bias, or were opinion columns. That’s also seen on other sites like Zebra Fact Check and PolitiFact Bias, both of which class themselves as watchdogs of fact-checkers, as well as the blatantly liberal Media Matters for America. Perhaps if there were more original fact-checks across the political spectrum with linked sources rather than diatribes about other services, I might be more trusting.

About the only thing here you got right was Media Matters’ blatant liberal bent.

A method for rating claims about budget cuts that differs mostly depending on which party makes the claim isn’t merely a “perceived bias.” It’s a mistake in need of correction. Zebra Fact Check and PolitiFact Bias have documented many such errors, as well as ethical failings (unpublishing stories!) and misleading framing (candidate “report cards” that fail to inform reader of the inherent selection bias problem or the subjectivity of the ratings).

You say you trust the fact checkers in part because they fix their mistakes. How much would you trust them if you saw them refusing to fix mistakes?

What would it say about American journalism if you’re not even interested in exploring the issue?

I’m including two links to articles I wrote that may help you gain a more accurate picture of Zebra Fact Check.

Note: I’m using Internet Archive links because the ZFC SSL certificate did not renew correctly.

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