The week in weak fact-checking

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Mainstream fact checkers have had a terrible October so far in 2020.

Their poor performance prompts this answer to the Poynter Institute’s “Factually” newsletter and its “The Week in Fact-checking” with what we’re tempted to call “The Weak in Fact-checking.”

FactCheck.org Whitewashes Steele Dossier

Annenberg Fact Check (FactCheck.org) chastised Republicans for citing an unverified intelligence report from Russia saying the Clinton campaign in 2016 planned to tar the Trump campaign with allegations of collusion with Russia. FactCheck.org’s “full story” about the Russia investigation completely omitted all mention of the Clinton campaign hiring Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. Fusion GPS tried to do that by hiring former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Steele used a suspected Russian spy as the main source for the allegations in the dossier he created for Fusion GPS.

But aren’t Fusion GPS, Steele and his suspected spy source the obvious journalistic connection to the unverified intelligence report?

Readers did not receive the “full story” from FactCheck.org with the background on the Steele Dossier omitted.

Snopes Bungles Systemic Racism

Mainstream fact checkers take systemic racism as a given. Therefore, mainstream fact checkers have no reason to fact check the existence of systemic racism. Venerable fact checker Snopes.com exemplified the fact checkers’ approach by fact-checking whether Vice President Mike Pence denied systemic racism.

Snopes fact checker Bethania Palmer played a rabbit-trail game similar to once we documented on Oct. 1, 2020 by placing much of her focus on Pence supposedly making conflicting statements about systemic racism. He did not. It does not contradict skepticism of systemic racism to point out that an opponent who supposedly believes in and opposes systemic racism did things inconsistent with those positions.

PolitiFact’s Veep Debate Distortions

It may take weeks to find all the mistakes in PolitiFact’s Oct. 7, 2020 story about its fact-checking of the vice presidential debate between Democrat Kamala Harris and Republican Mike Pence.

But we’ve made a good start.

Rose Garden Turnabout

After Sen. Harris charged the Trump administration with participating in a Rose Garden superspreader event with the Amy Coney Barrett ceremony, Pence responded by pointing out that the Rose Garden event was outdoors and therefore represented a low risk of spreading covid19.

PolitiFact said Pence was “wrong” because the Barrett selection event also had an indoor component that may have spread the coronavirus.

If the indoor photography sessions were the problem then why didn’t Harris focus on that?

PolitiFact did not offer evidence that the indoor photography took place in the Rose Garden. We say as a matter of fact that a Rose Garden event takes place in the Rose Garden.

Instead of focusing on the holes in Harris’ charge, PolitiFact chose to focus on Pence’s response.

Biden Never Said What?

In one item PolitiFact called “False” Pence’s claim Biden and Harris want to get rid of fossil fuels and ban fracking. PolitiFact went so far as to say “Biden has never said that he wants to abolish fossil fuels.”

Do not believe your lying eyes. Or ears.

We suppose it’s possible somebody created the above video using deepfake technology. We invite fact checkers such as PolitiFact to investigate that possibility.

“Largely Accurate” Despite No Supporting Evidence?

Sen. Harris appeared to claim the Trump administration censored the website for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works:

I served, when I first got to the Senate, on the committee that’s responsible for the environment. Did you know, this administration took the word ‘science’ off the website? And then took the phrase ‘climate change’ off the website?

PolitiFact called Harris’ claim “largely accurate” based on a watchdog group’s work looking at various federal government websites. But PolitiFact found no evidence the executive branch had tampered with the Senate committee’s legislative branch website:

On the current website for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the body Harris referenced, we found links to old hearings that contained references to “climate change,” but found no mention of the phrase, or the word “science,” on any other area of the site. It’s not clear whether the administration had any role in that.

We do not understand how PolitiFact can logically think Harris was talking about her Senate committee’s website, find no evidence supporting her claim and then find the claim “largely accurate.”

What’s Up With the Mainstream Media?

We do not know whether the hard tilt to the left in news reporting and fact-checking stems from unconscious bias or a deliberate attempt to slant coverage.

That is not to exclude the possibility that the slant is both conscious and unconscious.

Our immediate concern stems from the trouble fact checkers have with achieving fair reporting. Fact checkers apparently do not wish to acknowledge that any such problem exists.

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