May 26, 2021
MY CORNER by Boyd Cathey
Fake News, PolitiFact, and Media Cancel Culture
Welcome to “1984” and Newspeak
Back in early December 2019 I wrote a short essay, a critique of the media “fact checker,” PolitiFact. PolitiFact is one of several such organizations that reviews for truthfulness not only political assertions made by politicians but various claims and statements in everything from climate change, to immigration, to economics. PolitiFact and groups like it have become a standard fall back source enabling the media to solemnly pronounce on just about anything said or written appearing in the public square. And thus supposedly giving the media the right to assert a kind of infallibility when examining such questions.
In this they are closely allied to actions of the tech giants in censuring and cancelling undesirable speech.
Especially during the presidency of Donald Trump PolitiFact and other media-created fact checkers were extremely busy, churning out pronouncements on truth and error that would make a traditional Catholic pope envious. For it permitted them to re-write headlines and accompanying stories, and, in effect, to disallow and “cancel” opinions with which they disagreed as false.
For instance, instead of a headline that reads: “Donald Trump Claims that Muslims Celebrated the Fall of the Twin Towers in New York by Dancing on Rooftops,” the progressivist media recast the story. Now it would read: “Donald Trump Falsely Claims Muslims Celebrated the Fall of the Twin Towers in New York by Dancing on Rooftops.” And within the body of the story that theme is developed and compounded.
That occurred literally hundreds of times during the Trump years.
President Trump and many of his spokesmen were inveterate liars, and the media could prove it by referring back to unimpeachable fact checkers like PolitiFact.
It is a kind of brain-draining incestuous tautology—I refer back to a much vaunted “fact checker” which my (Leftist) friends and allies in the media have created, and they in turn confirm the headlines and statements I emit as truthful and unassailably correct.
This morning (May 26) I noticed the tactic once again deployed, this time by Associated Press Fact Checks [http://apnews.com/APFactCheck]. The news story, which showed up on AOL (and thereby also Huffington Post), is titled: “AP FACT CHECK: House GOP falsely blames Biden for gas prices” . The AP is thereby enabled to declare as unequivocally false assertions made by the GOP: case closed, there can be no debate, you are wrong, and that’s it.
Yet, on closer inspection the AP’s fact checking leaves several significant points out, including notably the decision of Biden to reject and shutdown the Keystone XL Pipeline, and the effects that had on gasoline prices: “On the first day of Biden’s presidency, he issued an executive order canceling the Keystone XL pipeline — making good on his promise to the climate activists who helped get him elected….” That pipeline would have supplied more than 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta, Canada, to Nebraska, where it would have met existing pipelines to continue on to Texas refineries. It would have also meant at least 10,000 well-paying jobs and an economic roll-over effect in areas affected by it.
My own experience at the gasoline pump was that when Biden assumed office in January, prices for regular gasoline near me ranged from around $2.15 to $2.25 a gallon. Within several months of his action to cancel the pipeline, gasoline had soared to about $2.75 to $2.80 a gallon at the local station I shop at—an increase of nearly $.60 a gallon.
True, as AP asserts, the temporary shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline affected the southeast (including my state North Carolina) for a few days and occasioned a spike in prices. AP Fact Check dwells on this and assures us that this is the reason that gas prices have risen to over $3.00 on average per gallon.
But they conveniently forget the cancelling of Keystone XL and anti-fossil energy actions by the Biden administration, an administration that from the beginning has boasted of its belief that traditional fuels cause climate change.
In my December 9, 2019, edition of MY CORNER I mentioned that the local NBC television affiliate here in the Raleigh, North Carolina, area, WRAL, a major news outlet for the eastern part of the state, had recently “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.”
I continued: “…over recent years … 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.” And I added: “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)!”
At that time in 2019, I decided to write to the station, to the Capitol Broadcasting Company Opinion Editor, and inquire about their claim that using PolitiFact would establish “truth” beyond all shadow of a doubt.
Here is a copy of the letter I sent:
December 4, 2019
Mr. Seth Effron
Capitol Broadcasting Company 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,” PolitiFact 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 several statements 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: “PolitiFact AllSides Media Bias Rating: LEANS LEFT.” Their evaluation is based on a number of factors, including third party analysis, editorial review, community feedback, blind surveys, independent research, and confidence level evaluation.
Second, Newsweek magazine, certainly no shill for Republicans or conservatives, reported on June 27 of this year, that:
A 2013 study from George Mason University Center for Media and Public Affairs called into question who fact checks the fact-checkers, noting "Politifact.com 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 evaluation from 2013, 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 accusation of political bias on the part of PolitiFact:
Mark Hemingway of The Weekly Standard criticized all fact-checking projects by news organizations, including PolitiFact, the Associated Press and the Washington Post, 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, University of Minnesota 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.
Dr. Boyd D. Cathey
I never received a reply, much less an acknowledgment of my communication.
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