Home>Articles>PolitiFukt: How ‘Fact Checking’ Obliterates Truth

Reporters with various forms of "fake news" from an 1894 illustration by Frederick Burr Opper. (Photo: College of Arts and Humanities fresnostate.edu)

PolitiFukt: How ‘Fact Checking’ Obliterates Truth

Most turn to ‘experts’ who have financial, political, and cultural purchase reasons to say what they say

By Thomas Buckley, September 5, 2023 2:30 am

Truth is beauty and beauty is truth and it’s really beautiful when you can manipulate the truth to suit your own ends.

Welcome to the world of PolitiFact – and every other “fact checking” service operating today.

To begin with, the entire premise of “fact checking” is ludicrous as it is based on the idea that media outlets do not – and do not need to – automatically start from a factual basis for their reporting.

As an editor once said to me:  “Just because someone says something doesn’t mean you have to put it in the paper.”

If the media followed this one simple rule, there would be no need for “fact checking” at all.

But the media does not and will not follow this rule because printing lies – as long as they are said by a government official the media likes or about an official they don’t like –  is now an integral part of the industry.

Lies from government officials and lies from non-profit and advocacy groups and non-governmental organizations (who directly pay news outlets for the “coverage” of an issue they are involved in) are all waived through as gospel. And these types of lies – lies they agree with – tend not to get “fact checked” anyway, making the entire process even more dangerously absurd.

It’s dangerous because a “true” rating is just that:  something has been determined to be true and can therefore never be questioned again or something is mostly true so any error can be tied back to an accidental misspeak.  And then this “truth” can be spread as 100% grade-a verified fact, no matter whether it actually is or not.  It has received an imprimatur from on high and that’s that.

Problematic truths that are so obviously true are dealt with in a slightly different manner – they are “contexted” into being false.

The process seems pretty simple: Person outside the power structure says X, person inside the power structure says Y, so therefore X is false.  Person inside the power structure says X, person also inside, but lower down and/or “expert,” the power structure says X so therefore X is true.

In searching through a random assortment of “fact checks,” that process appears to happen time and time again.  

Let’s start with one quick example – Money was set aside in the Biden Infrastructure bill last year to create a system that would enable your car to tell if you’re drunk (without one of those blow tubes) and not let the car start if you were. The concept was immediately criticized as being a government-mandate “kill switch” for every new car after 2035 or thereabout,

Each of the “fact checking” services quickly and thoroughly  said no, no that’s not true, it’s not a “kill switch.”  And they quoted an auto safety experts saying so. 

Of course, the experts were already in a partnership with the government to develop the technology in question and said that the data collected by the vehicle would “never leave the vehicle” and that the system is not currently envisioned as a law enforcement tool.

Therefore, the “kill switch” story was false.

It was false because the legislation doesn’t use that exact term – so what? – it was false because the people developing it said they had no plans to use it that way, it was false because the system would be isolated to each vehicle – impossible: does Tesla send someone to your house when they need to do an update? – and it was false because people who have a financial and political incentive to say it was false said it was false. 

In other words, you can’t call him Bob because it says Robert on the birth certificate.

The “fact checking” process is itself inherently false because it starts with a conscious, biased choice of which “facts” to check (by the way, we reached out to PolitiFact and its parent non-profit, the Poynter Institute, and neither responded, but there is this on the website  and do please ignore the actual true fact that Poynter is a hyper-progressive organization that itself has a track record of politically shading the truth, is a key player in the Censorship-Industrial Complex, and is funded by Facebook, the Newmark Foundation, and the Koch brothers.)

Let’s say a fact checker decides to look into X which they think at the outset is false, but it turns out to be true.  Does it get written up? If it helps certain people, the answer is yes – if it goes against the current thoughtcloud, the answer is no.

In public relations there is a concept known as “third party validation.” That involves getting a very trusted someone or some group that are seemingly unrelated to whatever project or product you are pitching to say “hey – that’s really good.”  The PR team can then say to the public that so and so group that “you’ve known for years – they care for sick puppies remember? – they think it’s neat we want to bury toxic waste next to the elementary school so it has to be a good idea, right?”

The public trusts the validator so it lets its guard drop, it second guesses itself even if the truth of the matter is plain to see.

Sometimes the third-party validator is innocent; sometimes – more often than not – they’re getting a little sumthin sumthin on the side like a shiny new building (see: environmental groups staying quiet about wind farms killing whales).

In a specific instance, a writer was contacted and asked to prove the main point of a very inconvenient COVID-related article. The writer sent the fact checker all of the backing material – public records, reputable studies, etc. –  proving the assertion was true.  

That fact check – on an important subject directly related to public health dangers – never appeared.

Because they couldn’t dare to call it false – there was a paper trail – and they couldn’t call it a truth becasue it just didn’t fit.

Then there is the issue of intentional obfuscation. PolitiFact said reports that “California passed a law ‘reducing penalties for oral, anal sex with willing children’” were false because the state didn’t reduce the penalty –  it merely stopped placing those offenders on the registered sex offender list if the age difference was less than 10 years.

Not having to register as a sex offender for the rest of one’s life is absolutely clearly a reduction in the penalty, but because the law in question didn’t specifically change the direct punishment at the time of conviction the claim was therefore false.

In other words, the staff at PolitiFact must have decided that having to register as a sex offender for life is not a penalty.  

Helpful hint – do not invite PolitiFact to your kid’s middle school graduation.

And the public wonders how so many in the media can willfully not see the truth staring at them in the face – that’s how it’s done (if you don’t want to lose your job.)

On a personal note, that particular fact check reminds me of a time when I was mayor of Lake Elsinore, CA and asked my City Manager how much the minor league baseball stadium that was built before I was elected cost.  He gave me a figure and I noted that didn’t appear to include a certain related property transfer.  

He responded by saying I had previously asked how much the stadium cost, not the stadium project (roads, sewers, land, etc.) in total. The difference was about $14 million dollars.

Lesson: always ask the right question. But I digress.

There is also the puzzlement of where “fact checkers” get their own facts. In the case of PolitiFact, when it comes to the transgender youth issue, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health is a go-to organization despite its aggressive politicization of the issue, its creation of a “standards of care” protocol that is jaw-droppingly counter-factual , and its promotion of genital tucking for children.

But they’re the experts, says PolitiFact. 

This approach is standard for “fact checkers” as most turn to “experts” who have financial, political, and cultural purchase reasons to say what they say.  The “fact checkers” know in advance what the “experts” will say because of who they are and what they do; therefore all you have to do is call the right one that will agree with your desired rating outcome and that’s that.

And never ever call someone who might say something you may not want to hear.

And it doesn’t matter how often they have been wrong in the past – see Dr. Peter Hotez and COVID – just stay with them to make sure you get the answer you want (bad reporters do this, too.)

The COVID-related examples of fact checkers being aggressively, dangerously wrong are too numerous to mention. However, these past three years have revealed a corollary matter:  fact checking tends to involve asking a liar if something a connected person said is a lie and declaring it the truth when the second liar says its true and occasionally a few more liars are thrown in the mix to add weight.  And it involves asking the same liars to judge the truth of something coming from somewhere else or someone outside the incestuous oppression bubble now floating over the globe.

It is a vulturous circle.

The record of the fact checking industry during the pandemic is not only abominable, it even made everything much much worse. Everything, and everyone, outside the approved script was vilified, lives were upended, jobs were lost.  

It turned out – of course –  that most everything the fact checkers deemed false was in fact true and that everything they deemed true was in fact false. 

Even further, the idea that the “vaccines” were not properly tested and might – just might – not be called for for everyone was treated as being on a par with assertions like “Jews can’t see fuchsia” and “hats were invented in Tunisia in 1743.”

There is also the matter of falsehood by association.  

The recent terrible fires in Maui launched many, many absurd claims on to the internet. Laser beams started the fire, Oprah started it to buy land, etc. Other obviously not “facts” checks include Trump said Biden is an extraterrestrial, Hilary Clinton was executed, Michelle talked about Barack being gay, and on and on.  This Weekly World News kind of stuff appears often, right alongside serious and debatable topics.  

Recently, GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy’s “pants on fire” rating for saying climate policies kill more people than climate change (an appropriate topic for debate and very arguably true, by the way) appeared right next to another “pants on fire” saying that, no, the assistant director of FEMA had not been arrested.

Giving an equal rating to a legitimate political concept and to a typical example of internet batshittery makes the origins of both equally untrustworthy in the public’s mind.  

In other words, the intentional point is to make Ramaswamy look just as nuts – and untrustworthy in general – as the people who think Hilary was executed five years ago or that hats were invented in Tunisia in 1743 or that Jews can’t see fuchsia.

It is somewhat akin to the intellectual destruction wrought by the term “denier.”  The word is used to shut down debate and to implicitly tar the “denier” as being like people who deny the Holocaust occurred because that’s where the use – appropriately in that case – of the term originated.

If you “deny” climate change it’s just as bad as denying the Holocaust; if you’re considered as wrong as a flat earther, you must be wrong about everything.

For “fact checking” to have any legitimacy whatsoever, it needs to ditch rating the crazies. It also should start each week with releasing a list of 20 items, check each of those, and then write about all of them, true or false.  At the very least, the public would know would now the fact checkers aren’t hiding facts they don’t like.

Truth is not always beautiful; in fact, it typically is not. It is hard and cold and sterile and unflinching and stares back at you until either you acknowledge it or you become terrified and have to look away.

Looking at truth, finding truth, speaking truth  – all are acts of real courage.

And the truth is fact checking is a lie.

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7 thoughts on “PolitiFukt: How ‘Fact Checking’ Obliterates Truth

  1. This is a well written article. More people should read it. I had my suspicions about “fact checking” years ago, and ended up dismissing all of it. This article shows that was the right course of action.

  2. This article is in dire need of some fact checking. PolitiFact says “The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.” And that’s because the most partisan versions of the “kill-switch” story exaggerated the degree of control the bill would mandate. The stories also exaggerated the ability of law enforcement to download and collect data on drivers through the mandated systems. Those parts of the kill-switch story were deemed false, not whether your 2040-model car will stop you from DUI.

    The most usable Truths are more nuanced than “true or false.” And in most cases, it’s ignorance of nuance that drives political extremism and division.

    1. Since you consistently miss the larger point and the whole truth of an issue, you would fit in perfectly at PolitiFact.
      Pedantry (ooh – PedantFact) and viewing claims in a silo is the enemy of seeing the big picture and understanding not only the real but the very likely potential impact of something.
      The “kill switch” is not now planned to act as such, the backers claim its completely isolated inviolate, etc.
      As in the sex offender penalty fact check referenced above, this is saying you can’t call him Bob if his birth certificate says Robert.
      As very recent past experience should have taught everyone, if a government agency could maybe do something it will try to. The system WILL by definition be accessible remotely -it has to be to be able to be updated, repaired, etc. The information WILL be available – even putting aside law enforcement, imagine a scenario when a car can prove a driver innocent of something – would it be proper to keep that information away from the driver? No and their lawyer wouldn’t allow it.
      Therefore, those statements used to declare the kill switch story as false are in fact lies.
      An even larger issue with the system is its other potential uses in the future – say taxes by the mile are implemented – the system would become the default platform for tracking the car for tax purposes.
      And my story doesn’t even reference whether or not it would work, or, as you say, “stop you from DUI.”
      Speaking of nuance, the aggressive and intentional naivety shown in the comment does not speak highly of an ability to understand nuance.
      I am not claiming to be able to see the future, but not being able to see exactly where this technology will end up – again, based on the track record of the past decade or two – is quite disheartening.
      As the cliche goes, you need to step back and see the whole elephant.

      1. “Since you consistently miss the larger point and the whole truth of an issue, …..”
        Yes, indeed, Thomas. So we are left to speculate whether or not this is being done consciously or unconsciously.

      2. The point about nuance is that “Mostly False” is not the same thing as “False.” PolitiFact addresses Instagram and Facebook posts that are ephemeral and says they are “Mostly False” but you’re talking about “False.” That’s a nuance!

        BTW, if manufacturers want to build in a system that might “prove a driver innocent of something” they don’t need a government mandate to do that, and yet government might subpoena the same (conjectural) data to prove a driver guilty of something. They could even build in a DUI interlock without government mandate.

  3. “Mostly False” verbiage is a tactic used so when the “fact checkers” are finally proven wrong, they can say we found it”mostly” not “wholly” false. Politicians and speech writers do the same. Basically, CYA. It is word manipulation and it can be quite effective when it is not called out and questioned. Most consumers of news just read it as fact and never question the so called fact checkers!
    Thank Thomas calling it out.

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