In covering the media and journalism, it becomes inevitable that fact-checkers are encountered. This adjunct division of the news outlets has grown in importance over the years, despite an inherent contradiction; if the news were already being reported in an accurate and truthful manner, there should be no need for an additional component devoted to verifying facts.
It’s apparent that, instead, these media truth detectors are used as a tool to hinder political targets. Those rest a majority of the time on the right, and lately, conservatives have become more willing – and more vocal – in defending themselves from these pieces. I have cataloged many times, and in numerous ways, when these efforts are used,including at Politifact, the fact-check wing from The Poynter Institute.
In fact, I frequently take on Politifact for two primary issues; inaccuracies, and the focus of their work. One recent, glaring example was a claim that Stacey Abrams did not support moving the MLB All-Star Game from Atlanta last year. She had previously called on corporations to take action in response to the Georgia voting law, and when the decision was made, the MLB Commissioner said it was done after consulting with Abrams. Politifact writer Louis Jacobson used an edited-after-the-fact, USA Today column–written by Abrams–to ‘prove’ she was against the idea, but ignores her lobbying for boycotts, before her 180 on the issue.
On the other matter of what it concerns itself with checking, Politifact frequently gives the Biden administration a pass on their regular factual dodges and manipulations, while the site’s verifiers busy themselves with trivialities. I know it can be pedantic to point at what is not being covered, but considering the wealth of potential content from the Biden White House, I struggle to grasp the importance of covering a man who claimed to have killed his imaginary friend.
Is this a needed item that required the truth detectors–a satirical post from 2015, on social media and rooted in a gag outlet? I’m certain, as part of the partnership to oversee social media, this meets some kind of requirement to police content, but is this really productive? Unless I am focusing too much on the “Politi” portion of Politifact, it seems time spent fact-checking jokes posted on Facebook could be better applied to the raft of inaccuracies and lies spewing from the White House.
This week, the site put out a self-defense column, written by Editor In Chief, Angie Drobnic Holan, in which she rises up to protect the honor of her staff from critics’ slings and arrows. After suggesting they used to absorb understandable criticism these days, her beleaguered cabal of correction corpsmen has been under far more intense attacks, we are told. Holan writes:
These critiques and disagreements are not unreasonable. But lately, reasonable disagreement and even hard-charging criticism has evolved into something darker: personal criticism of PolitiFact journalists that can only be described as online harassment and intimidation.
As someone not prone to quivering and being rendered by those online who deliver harsh comments, it is, with some amusement, I look over Holan’s list of harassment and intimidation. Yes, some are crude and hostile, but they are also easily dispatched by an adult. But then, something revelatory happens.
Going into greater detail, the EIC actually name-checks some of PolitiFact’s noteworthy critics. Dan Bongino is mentioned, and he is labeled as “he hates fact-checkers.” This is a common defense tactic by these viscounts of verite’ when they are called out. If you challenge their flawed results, you hate facts, and those who check facts. But Holan then lets slip how the conservative pundit was also on point.
He’s also falsely described corrections we’ve made after publication as proof of the illegitimacy of our work. The truth is that every reputable news organization makes corrections in order to ensure that their reports are as complete and accurate as possible.
Just wrap your head around this explanation. When Bongino points out they get information wrong, it is an attack, at the same time, the editor admits to them being wrong. Their sole mission in executing a fact check is to get the facts fully correct, and then declare a story as being complete. The fact-check is used as a seal of approval of sorts; when it is made, a story is declared definitive. But Holan allows that these assumed, comprehensive fact reports are, in truth, fluid. So, why then is it wrong to level a criticism, when they are shown to be less than completely accurate?
Another named target is Christina Pushaw, Press Secretary for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. (He’s a preferred target for the site of late, with 34 fact-checks made on the Governor, with 75% rated Half True-False. Note that Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki only garnered two fact-checks during her tenure.)
Pushaw has become notable in her willingness to both stand up to slanted coverage in the press, and in sharing with the public the instances when the journalists operate in bad faith.
This second tactic especially seems to rankle the editor. Holan goes on to suggest Pushaw showing a willingness to stand up for the correct record is a sign of the government making a move on independent journalism and a violation of the Constitution. This is the work of anti-journalism forces, says the editor. Then she makes a rather sweeping comment– one that, itself, demanded a fact-check.
Rather than responding to journalists’ press inquiries in a standard manner, Pushaw will attack them on Twitter, urging online mobs to vilify things that are legitimate practices of journalism. She tells others not to respond to our requests for comment and has falsely suggested that reporters said things they didn’t.
Being familiar with the press secretary’s work I suspected this was a dose of fabulism. So, in the name of accuracy, I reached out to Christina Pushaw to get her impression of this claim. At the risk of being accused of an attack, and violating the Constitution, I will suggest that Holan was not completely accurate here. I asked Pushaw if she does, in fact, respond to the media outreach from Politifact.
Pushaw tells RedState that “[yes, she has] responded to all of their inquiries via email.”
She even offered to share the receipts to support this. As for the things exposed on social media, she explains she does this in an effort to expose the tactics when a reporter is veering from ethical practices.
“In general, I only use Twitter”, she details, “after a false fact-check or article is published. I’ll do that when a reporter either failed to contact our office for input or simply ignored the information we shared with them.”
A grand example was in May, when Pushaw was asked where DeSantis got some figures regarding nearly 60 percent of student loan recipients involved grad students. She noted how it was Poynter itself that provided the 56 percent number, and then accurately predicted his comment would be rated as Mostly False.
What gets revealed in Holan’s column is something she unintentionally exposes. In defending her writers from these complaints and naming particular critics of their work, we see that all of this emanates from only one side of the political aisle. It is more than curious that we do not see examples of these “attacks” coming from Democrats, liberal media members, or anyone on the Left.
That indicates either a level of approval or acceptance from that side of the landscape. It also indicates how the attention Politifact pays is rather particular. This can be seen easily in Holan’s most recent fact-checks, before she ascended to her position. There are False ratings on Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, Rick Scott, and Pat Cipollone. There is one check on Joe Biden – a statement, incidentally, rated as True..
When all of your criticism is coming from only one side, this would indicate that maybe your website’s focus is somewhat in conflict with the claim that your only agenda is to publish the truth–so readers can be informed participants in democracy.