Fact check shenanigans at the Poynter Institute

What message does it send if the Poynter Institute declines to correct mistakes in its reporting on fact-checking?

On July 3, 2019 the International Fact-Checking Network at the Poynter Institute published a review of a Pew Research report on public trust in the media. We flagged an error in Daniela Flamini’s reporting. And with a month having passed, the error remains in the article.

The mistake

Flamini’s report said Republicans made up the majority of Americans skeptical of fact-checking, according to the Pew Research data:

Almost half of Americans believe that fact-checkers are biased, and the majority of these skeptics are Republican.

Flamini did not show her work, and the numbers don’t add up.

Pew Research reported 69 percent of Republicans think fact checkers favor one side. Also, Pew Research said 29 percent of Democrats think fact checkers favor one side.

If Republicans and Democrats made up the set of “Americans” in roughly equal numbers, we could accept Flamini’s claim. But that assumption does not occur in the Pew Research reporting. The Pew Research report says 47 percent of Independents think fact checkers favor one side.

To figure out whether Republicans make up “most” of the Americans who believe fact checkers favor one side, a researcher needs to figure out what percentage of Americans come from each group.

We see no evidence Flamini followed this basic step.

What the Pew Research numbers show

The 2019 report does not show the relative size of Pew’s three political groups. but a Pew Reserch report from 2018 on Independents as a group offers a good picture of the view taken by its pollsters.

That report shows Independents as the largest political group (38 percent in 2018). Democrats took second place with 31 percent. Republicans brought up the rear with 26 percent. Though the numbers change year by year they do not shift by much. The article includes a chart that shows the relative size of each group since 1994.

Using the percentage of each group that thinks fact checkers favor one side, we can easily estimate the share each group contributes to the share of skeptics nationally. We could, for example, calculate 69 percent of 26 to estimate the number of Republicans out of 100 Americans who think fact checkers favor one side. That equation gives us 18.

Performing parallel equations for Independents and Democrats gives us their share out of 100 Americans who think fact checkers favor one side. For Independents, the number comes to 18. For Democrats, the number was nine.

Independents make up nearly the same share of Americans who think fact checkers favor one side as do Republicans (the rounding to get to 18 was different for each). And neither makes a up a “majority” as the term is usually understood.

Resisting Correction

As noted above, we flagged the mistake. We posted a reply in the “Comments” section focusing on the error. And we sent an alert to the Poynter Institute, following guidance from its (archived) policy on corrections.

Email message to the Poynter Institute/International Fact-Checking Network/Baybars Orsek

The .pdf image shows the last version of our outreach to Poynter. The first version was sent on July 22, 2019 (to [email protected]).

We will update this item if we 1) receive a reply to our email or 2) notice a correction to the Flamini article corresponding to our criticism.


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