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Michael Swartz / Oct. 19, 2018

Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers

PolitiFact bills itself the arbiter of truth, but it's been putting its thumb on the scales.

You know an important election is drawing near when the news media, with the appropriate amount of gravitas, announces they’ll assume the duty of “fact-checking” the political ads and claims of all the candidates. But the question is worth asking: Are all the facts being checked?

Over two consecutive days this week, Becket Adams at the Washington Examiner caught PolitiFact putting its progressive thumb on the scale in two key competitive Senate races: Arizona and Missouri. In the former case, the “fact-checkers” called a commercial by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rep. Martha McSally — a retired Air Force fighter pilot — regarding the anti-military, anti-war past of Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema “mostly false” on the technicality that Sinema did not specifically disparage troops in her remarks and actions. The phrase in question? “While we were in harm’s way in uniform, [Sinema] was protesting us in a pink tutu and denigrating our service.” The explanation for the “mostly false” verdict? “At a 2003 rally called ‘No War! A Celebration of Life and Creativity,’ Sinema wore a pink tutu. Media reports of the rallies in 2002 and 2003 quote Sinema as opposing the war and the Bush administration’s policy, but we found no evidence of her disparaging troops.”

Even when McSally’s supporters unearthed a flier from a group led by Sinema depicting soldiers as skeletons and urging people to “help us push back U.S. terror,” it didn’t change PolitiFact’s evaluation. Nor did Sinema’s dismissive assertion in 2003 that she didn’t care if Americans joined the Taliban. Maybe it was the photos of her in the traditional pink tutu of the notorious anti-military CODEPINK group that convinced PolitiFact of her innocence.

Just one day later, PolitiFact had to wipe egg off its face thanks to a lack of research into the context of remarks made by Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill regarding the availability of private aviation. The statement in question is part of a Senate Leadership Fund commercial depicting McCaskill as out of touch.

Adams picked up on this as well, noting, “On Wednesday, just hours after publishing its ‘false’ ruling, PolitiFact unpublished its McCaskill story, claiming it would ‘re-evaluate’ it in light of ‘new evidence.’ And by ‘new evidence,’ PolitiFact means they actually went out and watched evidence that was months old — a longer version of the clipped town hall interaction. Why they didn’t do that in the first place is anyone’s guess.”

Despite the additional evidence, PolitiFact only changed its assessment from “false” to “half true.” These shades of gray led Adams to quip, “With fact-checkers like this, who needs political spin doctors?” Nor is this blatant bias anything new, as Becket observed earlier this year.

Grading the comments by Sinema and McCaskill are just two recent (and rather blatant) examples of consistent leftward bias by those who claim to be the guardians of truth in political discourse. Fortunately for our Republic, thoughtful voters are beginning to take these fake news “fact-checks” with a huge grain of salt.

Yet while it’s somewhat satisfying to catch these supposed arbiters of truth in a lie, the sad part is the mistrust that’s building up against all forms of media. Those who choose to live in the Leftmedia information silo reflexively reject anything that comes from Fox News, talk radio, Republican politicians, or other right-leaning sources such as our humble publication; meanwhile, wary conservatives have, over the years, become highly skeptical of the “mainstream” media: The Washington Post, The New York Times, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and every other television news outlet aside from Fox News.

In days of yore, the rule was to have two sources before running with a news story based on hearsay — the same sort of story that “fact-checkers” now rush to call a “half-truth” or worse. But the stakes are exceptionally high now, and journalists who strive to get the story out first begin to write it in a way that conforms to their worldview. It takes more work, of course, to get both sides of a story, and given that one’s peers in the business often share the same political leanings, reporting is often done with a specific goal in mind. The twin thrills of advocacy journalism and electoral influence can be too much to resist.

As for those who pride themselves on getting their news from multiple sources, they may be unwittingly slipping into an information silo when they continually lean on the same old sources. Perhaps PolitiFact and its ilk should step back and re-evaluate what they consider to be the facts. As Andrew Breitbart once wrote, “Truth isn’t mean. It’s truth.”

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