December 9, 2019
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
PolitiFact, Political Bias, and Local News Coverage: The WRAL Case
Want to see Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” burst a neck blood vessel and go, as they say, “ballistic,” just declare that back in 2016 the then government of Ukraine intervened in the U.S. elections far more dramatically than Russia. That’s what happened a couple of Sundays ago when Todd, a certified-in-good-standing apparatchik and hack for his bosses in the Deep State questioned the mild-mannered but fearless Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana.
Kennedy, you see, had brought up the accusation that Ukraine back then had actively interfered in the elections and had collaborated, at least indirectly, with the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. At that, Todd practically screamed at Kennedy, as if to say: “you damned deplorable, you conspiracy nut, how dare you bring up THAT topic! Don’t you understand, you doofus, that your betters—us—in the Mainstream Media have already pronounced that story to be out of bounds!”
But Kennedy’s assertion was based on ample factual reporting—true, some of it still accusations, but supported by voluminous research, and much of that by reporter John Soloman. Soloman, who has written for The Hill, now finds himself attacked viciously by the Mainstream Media, indeed, his work is now “inspected” by unnamed “inspectors” when he writes. Yet, everything he DOES write is backed up by at least two or three reputable sources. It is and has been loathsome creatures of the Deep State bog, like Chuck Todd, who are altering the truth and, in fact, lying to the American public.
More recently, Soloman has been attacked by the vaunted “fact checker” organization, PolitiFact. And that brought me home to North Carolina. For just recently the local NBC television affiliate which dominates the market in central and eastern North Carolina, WRAL, announced with some fanfare that it would be using the services of PolitiFact to determine the truth or falsity of statements and claims made publicly. And one of those claims that WRAL reported on was PolitiFact’s verdict on its “Truth-O-Meter” that the claim of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election was “false.”
But having read Soloman’s extensive reporting and examined his sources, which were enough to engender more than just suspicions, I wondered about PolitiFact, did it have a bias, and why was WRAL Channel 5 employing it.
Just a cursory review online revealed a number criticisms of PolitiFact, its methodologies, and its bias.
Add to this my own observations over recent years that WRAL has moved steadily left and slants its news coverage towards Democrats and, increasingly, in favor of those rabid social justice warriors we now see out in the streets.
What a far cry from the broadcasting company founded by the conservative A. J. Fletcher which featured Jesse Helms as its one-time vice-president and on air editorialist (from 1960 until 1972)!
I decided to write to the station, to the Capitol Broadcasting Company Opinion Editor, and inquire.
Here is a copy of the letter I sent on December 4; as of today, December 9, 2019, I have received no reply. I will update you if I do.
December 4, 2019
Mr. Seth Effron
CBC Opinion Editor
WRAL - TV
Raleigh, North Carolina
Several weeks ago (November 17) WRAL-TV News announced proudly that they would henceforth be utilizing the services of professional “fact checker,” to verify the truthfulness of a politician’s assertion or an organization’s claim. Thus, TV 5 began a series of on-air PolitiFact-produced evaluations of made by, for example, US Representative Mark Meadows on the firing by President Trump of ambassadors, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on the Border Wall, Republican statements that leading Democrats promised impeachment before President Trump even took office, and the president’s negative description of several witnesses in the “impeachment hearings.”
Invariably, the Truth-O-Meter came down hard on Republicans and conservatives. That prompted me to question the data utilized and the measures employed to make such evaluations. And just what kind of organization is Politifact and why Channel 5 would utilize it.
Examining a broad wealth of information, most of it widely accessible via the Internet, the conclusion became inescapable: PolitiFact, set up originally to monitor the truth or falsity of statements made in our political environment, itself has been accused quite credibly of a marked and demonstrable bias in its methodology and evaluations.
Thus, I believe one is permitted to seriously question the reasons behind WRAL’s embrace of this service, and why with much on-air fanfare it was announced to viewers that, at last, there was an objective source for analyzing political statements—when, indeed, there is considerable doubt about the pronounced political bias of the very “fact-checker” employed.
Let me offer just a few examples, a few brief critiques of PolitiFact, easily discoverable on the Web:
First, there is the verdict of the reputable, non-partisan AllSides group:
Second, Newsweek magazine, certainly no shill for Republicans or conservatives, reported on , that:
A 2013 study from George Mason University Center for Media and Public Affairs called into question who fact checks the fact-checkers, " has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims during President Obama's second term ... A majority of Democratic statements (54 percent) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18 percent of Republican statements."
The Newsweek report went on to state: “[the] George Mason [study] concluded that news organizations overwhelmingly choose to fact-check reports or comments made by right-leaning politicians or fellow news outlets,” and then grade them almost always negatively.
The USNews & World Report, in an , also cited the detailed study from George Mason University concerning PolitiFact’s history of favoring a pro-left viewpoint:
[A] study from the George Mason University Center for Media and Public Affairs … demonstrates empirically that PolitiFact.org, one of the nation's leading "fact checkers," finds that Republicans are dishonest in their claims three times as often as Democrats. "PolitiFact.com has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims….”
Lastly, I offer some commentary from the standard online reference, Wikipedia, which once again presents the on the part of PolitiFact:
Mark Hemingway of criticized all fact-checking projects by news organizations, including PolitiFact, the and the , writing that they "aren't about checking facts so much as they are about a rearguard action to keep inconvenient truths out of the conversation". In February 2011, political science professor Eric Ostermeier analyzed 511 PolitiFact stories issued from January 2010 through January 2011. He found that the number of statements analyzed from Republicans and from Democrats was comparable, but Republicans have been assigned substantially harsher grades, receiving 'false' or 'pants on fire' more than three times as often as Democrats…. [Italics mine]
As I wrote earlier, these pronouncements represent just a few of the evaluations available.
But, then, my question: why would WRAL want to employ such an obvious and well-documented leftwing “fact-checker” to present to viewers what purport to be “unassailable truth” (and thus corrections of those deemed not to be telling the truth)? Does not the station and Capitol Broadcasting Company have a duty to viewers to at the very least let them know that PolitiFact is not the shining-truth-knight “sans reproche” that it is purported to be?
Are there not parallels with the use of “information” on hate crimes by such now-largely discredited organizations as the Southern Poverty Law Center?
I recall many years ago, as a boy, when WRAL first came on the air, and I have watched it consistently since then, in particular its weather and sports coverage. But I must tell you that in this age of “fake news,” the Internet social media news sources, and thousands of supposed “news” items that appear daily in the ethosphere, what I have seen in recent years via WRAL as news often raises very serious issues for me—and I think for many other viewers as well.
It may not be possible to always offer “objective” reporting; indeed, it may be virtually impossible in our current environment when “fake news” dominates most of the national news media. But, as an old-fashioned believer in trying to do just that, I am deeply disappointed by your use of PolitiFact and, more so, by your unfounded claim that somehow such usage will establish the “truth” or “falseness” of a claim or statement.
That simply will not do. Your Leftwing bias is showing, and you owe it to your viewers to let them know.
I am blind copying this message to several elected officials.
Dr. Boyd D. Cathey