The Truth About Fact-Checking Truth and Fiction

 

sorting fact fictionNoodling around the internet, searching on “truth or fiction,” I pulled out truthorfiction.com and mediabiasfactcheck.com. Opening up mediabiasfactcheck.com and reading their “about” page prompted this post. Take as true that a very small organization is dedicated to accurately sorting media sources on the independent left—right and “conspiracy-pseudoscience”—”pro-science” axes. The viewpoint of the team or the team members comprising the organization may not blind, but will at least distort their judgment. If not a blind spot, they will certainly have a cognitive astigmatism. “Fact-checking” political and other value-laden stories was dominated, almost from the beginning, by leftists, who understood the value of controlling information and public perception.

Consider this paragraph from mediabiasfactcheck.com:

The credibility of a website/media source is not determined by who owns them but rather by their track record. Everybody starts as a beginner and, through experience, becomes an authority in their field. MBFC [Media Bias Fact Check] is no different. Over the last 5+ years, we have proven to be a trusted authority on the rating of bias and the credibility of media sources. For example, MBFC is trusted by major media outlets and IFCN fact-checkers. This is evidenced by frequently being referenced by sources such as USA TodayReuters Fact CheckScience FeedbackWashington Post, and NPR, among dozens of others. We are also frequently used as a resource in libraries, high schools, and universities across the United States.

Let’s break this down. The opening three sentences start well enough, acknowledging Media Bias Fact Check had a learning curve in its field of inquiry and analysis. Then they assert “we have proven to be a trusted source. . . .” The natural question is: “by whom?” What if the universe of trust-conferring entities is dominated by a particular viewpoint, ideology, or agenda? Or, what if those who turn to a credibility and bias assessor are affected, at least, by confirmation bias? Now, with a bit more meat on the bones:

. . . MBFC is trusted by major media outlets and IFCN fact-checkers.

International Fact-Checking Network bias

“Major media outlets” are hardly a source of neutrally assigning trustworthiness or credibility as an objective or accurate source. More on that in a moment. First, what is an “IFCN fact-checker?” That would be a member of the International Fact-Checking Network:

The International Fact-Checking Network is a unit of the Poynter Institute dedicated to bringing together fact-checkers worldwide. The IFCN was launched in September 2015 to support a booming crop of fact-checking initiatives by promoting best practices and exchanges in this field.

The Poynter Institute, by virtue of its location in the field of journalism, is subject to a leftist bias, as most journalists have a left of center ideology, although they mostly called themselves “moderate” as little as a decade ago. In 2008, the Pew Research Center wrote [emphasis added]:

As was the case in 2004, majorities of the national and local journalists surveyed describe themselves as political moderates; 53% of national journalists and 58% of local journalists say they are moderates. About a third of national journalists (32%), and 23% of local journalists, describe themselves as liberals. Relatively small minorities of national and local journalists call themselves conservatives (8% national, 14% local).

Internet journalists as a group tend to be more liberal than either national or local journalists. Fewer than half (46%) call themselves moderates, while 39% are self-described liberals and just 9% are conservatives.

Among the population as a whole, 36% call themselves conservativesmore than triple the percentage of national and internet journalists, and more than double the percentage of local journalists. About four-in-ten (39%) characterize their political views as moderate, while 19% are self-described liberals, based on surveys conducted in 2007 by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

So, it was hardly surprising that Poynter published a highly biased blacklist, a list of “unreliable” news sources, loaded with conservative news and opinion organizations. The Poynter Institute was forced to retract the list, which included:

The Washington Examiner, Washington Free Beacon, Daily Caller and other publications that employ scores of journalists covering Congress, elections, the White House and more. The index was created with the help of an employee for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The walk-back was gradual. First, the authors reversed the inclusion of The Washington Examiner after further review. But the paper’s executive editor, Philip Klein, complained that the group was still urging an advertiser blacklist for those outlets still included — calling the process behind the list opaque and arbitrary.

Ricochet’s Jon Gabriel tweeted:

With this error, @Poynter needs to include itself in any future ‘unreliable’ website lists.

Philip Klein @philipaklein
Update: @Poynter apologizes, pulls list of ‘unreliable’ news sites, citing ‘weakness in the methodology’ https://washingtonexaminer.com/poynter-removes-language-calling-for-blacklisting-news-websites-deemed-unreliable…

7:44 PM · May 2, 2019

More than an editorial or management error, Poynter was showing inherent leftist bias, collaborating with a Southern Poverty Law Center employee. Note, too that the intent was far more than information-shaping. There was an intention to drive conservatives out of the public square, to silence them by defunding them. The “apology” letter did not renounce the goals of silencing opposition by advertiser blacklisting, only the methodology and accuracy of the list.

On Tuesday, April 30, Poynter posted a list of 515 “unreliable” news websites, built from pre-existing databases compiled by journalists, fact-checkers and researchers around the country. Our aim was to provide a useful tool for readers to gauge the legitimacy of the information they were consuming.

Soon after we published, we received complaints from those on the list and readers who objected to the inclusion of certain sites, and the exclusion of others. We began an audit to test the accuracy and veracity of the list, and while we feel that many of the sites did have a track record of publishing unreliable information, our review found weaknesses in the methodology. We detected inconsistencies between the findings of the original databases that were the sources for the list and our own rendering of the final report.

Therefore, we are removing this unreliable sites list until we are able to provide our audience a more consistent and rigorous set of criteria.

Scroll down the Poynter.com homepage for a taste of their bias. Assume Poynter believes itself professionally ethical:

Poynter’s guidelines for ethical newsroom decision-making are the standard for policies used by many newsrooms and organizations, including the Society of Professional Journalists. As the home of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership, International Fact-Checking Network, PolitiFact and MediaWise, we’re the global authority on trust, transparency and accountability journalism.

Politifact? Consider this assessment of Politifact fact-checking [emphasis added]:

After Poynter sold Congressional Quarterly to the Economist, PolitiFact became affiliated exclusively with the [Saint Petersburg] Times. Critics say that’s when the leftward tilt began. The University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs studied 500 PolitiFact rulings from January 2010 through January 2011. Out of a total of 98 statements, Republicans were associated with 74 of the “False” or “Pants on Fire” ratings on the Truth-O-Meter. That’s 76 percent. Just 22 percent of those liar ratings were given to Democrats (Weekly Standard, Dec. 19, 2011).

A study two years later from George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs similarly ruled: “PolitiFact.com has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims during President Obama’s second term, despite controversies over Obama administration statements on Benghazi, the IRS and the AP” (U.S. News and World Report, May 28, 2013).

Major Media Outlets:

So, anyone leaning on IFCN for validation of trustworthiness has a distorted view, or blindspot, or is practicing to deceive. What, then, of major media outlets? Let’s check them against MBFC’s own metrics:

Left-Center Bias:

  • USA Today
  • Washington Post
  • NPR

Least Biased: Reuters Fact Check

Pro-Science: Science Feedback

So, to start with, Media Bias Fact Check cannot think of one Right-Center Bias media source that cites MBFC approvingly. That should trigger self-reflection, but no concern, none of the self-awareness we were treated to in the first sentences of the very same paragraph, is in evidence. It gets worse.

Reuters is rated “least biased.” Now consider MBFC’s own explanation of this rating:

In reporting, Reuters uses minimally biased emotional language in their headlines such as “Oregon right-wingers clash with anti-fascists at march in Portland” and “Trump lawyer Cohen vows to defend himself, puts family first: ABC News,” sourcing credible local sources such as the Oregonian newspaper and ABC news. In most cases, Reuters journalists are the primary source of stories and consistently report with minimal bias, covering both sides of issues.

Failed Fact Checks
* They are a certified IFCN Fact-Checker.

Overall, we rate Reuters Least Biased based on objective reporting and Very High for factual reporting due to proper sourcing of information with minimal bias and a clean fact check record. (7/10/2016) Updated (M. Huitsing 06/24/2021)

“Minimally biased emotional language” means “right-wingers” versus “anti-fascists.” This is so, if you are a leftist yourself. Do you perceive ABC News to be a “credible local source?”  ABC News is rated “Left-Center.” The Oregonian is rated “Right-Center,” yet this is only for a supposedly slightly conservative balance in editorial page content, whereas ABC News is assessed to load language in stories to a liberal slant.

Now, step outside Media Bias Fact Check’s pages regarding Reuters. A quick search turns up the British Left’s problem: bias against Jews manifested as bias against the one Jewish majority nation in the world. “Reuters photos the picture of bias.” “When Palestinian gunmen machine-gun Jewish shoppers, Reuters lumps the attackers’ deaths together with the victims.” Shocked, shocked I tell you, to find a whiff of anti-semitism in a British media source.

But what about “pro-science?” Consider Media Bias Fact Check’s description”

These sources consist of legitimate science or are evidence based through the use of credible scientific sourcing.  Legitimate science follows the scientific method, is unbiased and does not use emotional words.  These sources also respect the consensus of experts in the given scientific field and strive to publish peer reviewed science. Some sources in this category may have a slight political bias, but adhere to scientific principles.

The consensus of experts and peer-reviewed journals have been contentious topics for many years. Given the left’s decades-long march through the institutions, given the enormous sway of grant funding, given the leftward march of the control of academic journals, including the “hard sciences,” this is hardly an unbiased category. Indeed, we should expect some correlation of MBFC’s “Right” with “Conspiracy-pseudoscience” and “Left” with “Pro-science.”

Educational institutions

We are also frequently used as a resource in libraries, high schools, and universities across the United States.

Lather, rinse, repeat. These institutions are at the center of the left’s assault on our political system, culture, and society. Indeed, the librarians were one of the early elements to fall to the left. Everyone knows the joke of the American Library Association‘s sponsorship of “Banned Books Week.”

Blindness, distorted view, or practicing to deceive? 

Take as true that a very small organization is dedicated to accurately sorting media sources on independent left—right and “conspiracy-pseudoscience”—”pro-science” axes. The viewpoint of the team or the team members comprising the organization may not blind, but will at least distort their judgment. If not a blind spot, they will certainly have a cognitive astigmatism. An assessment of one such outfit, with passing reflection on the much larger Poynter Institute, suggests a cognitive astigmatism that shifts perception of journalism from real positions on the left towards the center, towards “least biased,” which then suggests similar shifting of perceived positions from the center towards the right, and from “pro-science” towards “conspiracy-pseudoscience.” In part, this is because this small outfit must rely upon other actors in a field fraught with ideological, political, factual disputes. Perhaps the truth about the job of fact-checking truth and fiction is the entire enterprise is folly.

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  1. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    I’m exercising a bit of control over truth and fiction here by back-filling some of the open days earlier in the month, assigning this post, completed July 13, against July 9.

    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the July 2021 Group Writing Theme: “We Hold These Truths (or Fictions).” Stop by soon, our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    Interested in Group Writing topics that came before? See the handy compendium of monthly themes. Check out links in the Group Writing Group. You can also join the group to get a notification when a new monthly theme is posted.

    • #1
  2. Saint Augustine Member
    Saint Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    Clifford A. Brown: Perhaps the truth about the job of fact-checking truth and fiction is the entire enterprise is folly.

    Perhaps it was a temporary stopgap measure after the people who had that job originally, namely journalists, abandoned it.

    • #2
  3. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    abandoned it

    I would say they perverted it.  Journalists still claim to be even-handed.

    • #3
  4. The Scarecrow Thatcher
    The Scarecrow
    @TheScarecrow

    Yes, it seems like there was a time when the gold standard to reach for a reporter was the fly-on-the-wall approach. The extent you violated that was the extent you were considered a hack by your peers, and the general public.

    While those days are obviousl gone, it would still be nice if, should a journalist report a thing as a fact that later is proven to be not true, then his reputation would suffer. He would be known as unreliable, if not an outright liar.

    But journalists these days are not in pursuit of “what happened”, they are out to “make the world a better place”. The masses are asses, and can not be trusted with raw facts – too confusing, and will not lead them to think the right things.

    The irony is that with exceptions, it is the reporters and journalists who are objectively . . . well, stupid may be too strong. But they are definitely incurious. Rarely has Reagan’s dictum about ‘what they know and what they know that’s simply wrong‘ been better applied.

    • #4
  5. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    The Oregonian leans Left. Perhaps some would see the failure to distinguish between protestors and rioters as not too important. I suspect that is done to protect the narrative, as well as empathy for the political goals of certain groups involved in the over 150 nights of violence in Portland.

    “Oregon right-wingers clash with anti-fascists at march in Portland”

    The above headline should have been written as; Proud Boys clash with Antifa. Two groups that have a symbiotic relationship. They follow each on other on social media so if one plans a public event the other can show up to engage in a street fight.

    The headline quoted from Reuters is at best sloppy, and at worst it is biased. It assigns a negative; “right-wingers” and a positive; “anti-fascist”. Who isn’t anti-fascist? This is a headline that has been seen in Portland many times in the last 150 days.

    The Oregonian has now started to express some concern about the damage done to Portland, both physical damage, and economic damage to a once lovely city. The Portland Police Bureau has been defunded, and crime is on the rise. The city had hoped to host the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The NCAA has decided to look elsewhere due to safety concerns. Corporations say they cannot find employees willing to move to Portland for the same reason.

    • #5
  6. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    There’s a saying to the effect that media bias is most evident in what is not covered.

    It appears that media bias in fact-checks is most evident in what is not fact-checked.

    • #6
  7. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    Who isn’t anti-fascist?

    Well, Antifa isn’t, because they’re fascists.

    • #7
  8. GlennAmurgis Coolidge
    GlennAmurgis
    @GlennAmurgis

    When Snopes fact checked the Babylon Bee – they lost me

    • #8
  9. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):
    abandoned it

    I would say they perverted it. Journalists still claim to be even-handed.

    I think that was true at one time, but it seems to me that more and more “journalists” are comfortable with coming right out and stating their pride at being biased. Perhaps that’s better; at least we know, without a doubt, where they’re coming from.

    https://www.foxnews.com/media/new-york-times-lauren-wolfe-biased-journalist

    • #9
  10. CACrabtree Coolidge
    CACrabtree
    @CACrabtree

    Doesn’t it seem so quaint now to hear Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s saying,

    “You are entitled to your opinion.  But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

    Another time.  Another place.  Another universe…

    • #10
  11. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    a cognitive astigmatism that shifts perception of journalism from real positions on the left towards the center, towards “least biased,” which then suggests similar shifting of perceived positions from the center towards the right,

    This reinforces my claim:

     a cognitive astigmatism that shifts perception of journalism from real positions on the left towards the center, towards “least biased,” which then suggests similar shifting of perceived positions from the center towards the right,

    • #11