While legacy news outlets continue to pride themselves on their reputation as “the most trusted name in news,” they have often fallen short of the facts in the one department most pivotal to maintaining journalistic credibility: their fact-checkers.
“Facts are facts. They aren’t colored by emotion or bias. They are indisputable. There is no alternative to a fact,” wrote CNN’s Creative Marketing department. “That’s why, at CNN, we start with the facts first.”
CNN’s purported commitment to truth goes so far that prime time host Don Lemon said that U.S. internet users should only be able to express their opinion if it is “true,” because social media outlets should only print “opinions based in fact.”
The use of “fact-checking” to silence others long ago escaped CNN and metastasized throughout all media, traditional and online.
As Mark Hemingway recently wrote in a Reader’s Pass article for The Daily Wire, the great social media purge of all things conservative began with its decision to ban Infowars founder Alex Jones. Jones’ ouster “came shortly after a pressure campaign launched by CNN, a network that, ironically enough, had spent the last few years indulging in nonstop Trump-Russia reporting that wasn’t any less conspiratorial than many of Jones’ rantings,” Hemingway writes.
Hemingway worked at The Weekly Standard, which hired a fact-checker in cooperation with Facebook. This person would issue official proclamations about stories’ truth or falsehood, which would influence whether social media suppressed shares of certain stories on that basis.
The Weekly Standard announced it would close in December 2018.
“[A]fter we all lost our jobs, The Weekly Standard’s former fact-checker, the one who dared to express concern about Facebook becoming an engine of global censorship, got a job as a fact checker for CNN – the very news outlet that instigated Facebook’s Alex Jones ban,” Hemingway wrote. More from Hemingway:
The editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard who signed off on our Facebook partnership has since gone on to start a new publication called The Dispatch that still participates in Facebook’s fact checking program. Last year, just before the election, a fact check from The Dispatch got a pro-life group’s ads banned from Facebook. Their fact check said it was unfair to claim Joe Biden supports late-term abortion. The Dispatch would later admit their fact check was “published in error.”
As Hemingway’s article shows, fact-checkers often walk through the revolving door between traditional journalism and social media, with each influencing the other.
Perhaps the most influential fact-checker in the country, The Washington Post’s fact checker Glenn Kessler, has often been caught in the net of misinformation. Last May, Kessler had criticized Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) for raising the possibility that the novel coronavirus that caused the global COVID-19 pandemic may have originated in a lab like the Wuhan Institute of Virology. “It is virtually impossible for this virus jump from the lab,” Kessler tweeted. In May, he published a fact-check revealing that “the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible.” While he claimed “new evidence” led to his conclusion, the Trump administration had released the relevant information on January 15, five months earlier.
Kessler went on to fact-check the life of Tim Scott’s grandfather, who lived in the South under Jim Crow, without coming to any conclusion about the veracity of Scott’s statement that his family went “from cotton to Congress in one lifetime.”
In the waning days of the 2020 campaign, his fellow fact-checker, Meg Kelly, claimed Republicans were “misleading” voters by sharing a video showing Joe Biden apparently confused that he was running for president against George W. Bush. Biden said, “Four more years of George, uh, George, uh, he, uh, are going to find ourselves in position where if, uh, Trump gets elected, uh, we are going to be, uh, going to be in a different world.”
Joe Biden confuses President Trump with George W. Bush: “because of who I’m running against…George, ah, George” pic.twitter.com/ujAni2Q7Gh
— Steve Guest (@SteveGuest) October 26, 2020
The Washington Post raised doubt about Biden’s words, then asserted, “Biden could have been referring to George Lopez, who had originally asked the question.” It overlooked Biden’s long history of muddled statements about leaders’ names, including mixing up then-UK Prime Minister Theresa May as the late Margaret Thatcher.
Republican National Committee rapid response director Steve Guest responded: “This isn’t a ‘fact check.’ It’s the Washington Post doing the Biden campaign’s bidding to cover up what Biden actually said.”
Neither fact-checker took their publication to task when it claimed the “current eruption of anti-Biden signs and chants, however, is on another level, far more vulgar and widespread” than anti-Republican sentiment, although figures on the Left repeatedly depicted or fantasized about the assassination of both President Donald Trumpand George W. Bush.
The pattern stretches back years, if not decades. As Jemima Kelly of the Financial Times wrote:
When Donald Trump said last May he was “confident” that a vaccine would be ready by the end of 2020, the US president was upbraided by NBC with what has become in recent years a popular journalistic and political device: the “fact check”. “Experts say he needs a ‘miracle’ to be right,” the broadcaster declared.
“It wasn’t facts that were being checked,” Kelly concluded. “Fact-checking can be a powerful tool in the fight against online falsehood. But it can be used as a means of censorship if not only facts but also opinions and narratives are checked.”
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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