Fact Wreck: Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers at First Debate

Dead Pinnochio (Jonas Bengtsson / Flickr / CC / Cropped)
Jonas Bengtsson / Flickr / CC / Cropped

11:00 p.m. EDT: Poor FactCheck.org. Their website crashed during the debate.

Viewers were left to think for themselves. The HORROR.

10:20 p.m. EDT: Lester Holt bows to the Clinton campaign, and tries to “fact-check” Trump on his support for (or opposition to) the Iraq War.

It happens thus: Holt introduces, matter-of-factly, the premise that Trump supported the Iraq War. Trump pushes back, calling it “mainstream media nonsense.” Trump burns two minutes explaining how he did not support the war, citing Howard Stern and Sean Hannity.

At the end, Holt repeats the allegation again anyway. This is what the Clinton campaign and the mainstream media wanted him to do.

In one gesture, Holt proves everything that conservatives allege about mainstream media moderators, NBC News, and “fact-checking.”

10:07 p.m. EDT: The self-proclaimed fact-checkers join moderator Lester Holt and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for a real-time demonstration of how so-called “fact-checking” is really a guise for deliberate political attacks.

Step 1: Moderator asks setup question. In a segment on race relations, Holt asks Trump about the Birther conspiracy theory. He asks no similar questions about Clinton’s record, leaving Trump himself to bring up such Clinton hits as “superpredator.” Trump also notes that the Birther conspiracy theory started in the Clinton campaign.

Step 2: Democrat pounces on setup question. Clinton goes to town on Trump’s Birther past, denying her own. Trump counters, again, with examples of racism from Clinton’s 2008 campaign. But then…

Step 2a: Moderator interrupts Trump’s response. Holt reminds Trump that the segment is about race relations. Just to reinforce the underlying charge of racism.

Step 3: Fact-checker gives Trump a “false.” PolitiFact tweets a link to an article from Sep. 16 claiming that neither Clinton nor her campaign had anything to do with the Birther conspiracy theory. Of course they did, as Clinton’s campaign manager admitted. Trump points that out — and perhaps that is effective, but the point is that the left’s so-called “fact-checking” machine completes the cycle.

To review: Moderator sets up attack, Democrat attacks, fact-checker removes Republican’s defense.

9:58 p.m. EDT: Trump fact-checks Clinton when she claims crime is down in New York, including murder.

Trump is right. Crime was down overall in New York last year, but murder, rape, and robbery were up, according to the Wall Street Journal.

We don’t need no fact-checkers…

9:49 p.m. EDT: Trump fact-checks the moderator.

Holt: Stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York…

Trump: No, you’re wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her and our mayor, our new mayor, refused to go forward with the case.

Fact Wreck rating: Trump is 100% right, according to the New York Times and Holt’s collusion with Clinton is becoming hard to ignore.

9:47 p.m. EDT: The left’s pressure on moderator Lester Holt seems to have worked, as he raises the question of Trump’s tax returns (not yet disclosed) but says nothing about Clinton’s missing emails, leaving that to Trump to raise on his own.

FactCheck.org does not bother to fact-check Hillary Clinton’s false rebuttal, which is that she made a “mistake” (which she originally claimed was a mistake of using only one phone, when she in fact had 13). Instead, the organization simply refers to a “guide” to Hillary’s emails.

9:25 p.m. EDT: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both refer viewers to fact-checking services on their campaign websites.

The media fact-checkers are about to go out of business.

9:22 p.m. EDT: Hillary Clinton fact-checks Donald Trump, after he says that she supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership before she opposed it.

Clinton: That is just not accurate. I was against it once it was finally negotiated…

Trump: …You called it the gold standard of trade deals. You said it’s the finest deal you’d ever seen.”

Clinton: No.

Actually, she did. CNN (!) counted 45 times Clinton pushed the deal.

PolitiFact notes that Clinton did, indeed, flip-flop on the deal:

Was that necessary, though? Trump just pointed it out.

9:18 p.m. EDT: Donald Trump fact-checks Hillary Clinton. She said: “Donald thinks climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.” He denied it.

He did, in fact, tweet in 2012 that the Chinese invented the concept of “global warming” for their own benefit. He later said he was joking.

Candidates fact-checking each other. What a concept.

9:16 p.m. EDT: FactCheck.org has two fact checks so far, both of Trump. And not because Hillary’s been more truthful.

9:12 p.m. EDT: Alex Burns of the New York Times files the first fact check of the evening, complaining about Trump’s claims about Ford moving jobs to Mexico. But Burns — and, thus far, the rest of the fact-checkers — missed the actual first false statement by any of the candidates.

The whopper came from Clinton, who suggested that the U.S. does not yet have “equal pay for equal work,” something that has been a matter of law for decades. (The remaining inequality, such as it is, is largely due to factors such as career choice and time off for children.)

8:58 p.m. EDT: FactCheck.org calls NBC News host Lester Holt a “moderate.” It’s just a typo, but why not?

Actually, Holt’s political affiliation has been a part of the pre-debate controversy. Trump called Holt a Democrat; he is actually a registered Republican. (Fun fact: Fox News’ Chris Wallace is apparently a registered Democrat.) According to political scientist Tim Groseclose, more than 90% of political journalists are registered Democrats, while some 7% identify as Republican.

Over the past several years, mainstream media outlets have introduced “fact check” services to respond to statements by politicians during election season and debates.

Ostensibly, “fact-checking” aims to help the public make more informed decisions, both by helping them see past the candidates’ political spin, and by helping them see which candidates are more truthful. In practice, “fact-checking” is weighted against Republicans, largely because fact-checkers evaluate Republicans more than Democrats.

When fact-checkers do scrutinize Democrats, the party of the left often enjoys the benefit of the doubt. For example, when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton first faced questions about whether she used her secret private email server to send or receive classified material, the Washington Post gave her a mere two Pinocchios (out of four) when she claimed she had not. For months, evidence mounted that Clinton had lied. Only when FBI Director James Comey said that Clinton had, indeed, exchanged classified material through her email server — while declining to prosecute her for the same — did the Post upgrade its rating from two to four Pinocchios.

Conversely, fact-checkers often punish Republicans for statements that are factually correct. For example, Politifact rated as “false” a statement by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) claiming that President Barack Obama had promised to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. But Cotton’s statement was, in fact, completely accurate.

In the run-up to Monday’s first presidential debate, Democrats and media pundits have urged moderator Lester Holt to fact-check Republican nominee Donald Trump during the debate. It is dubious advice, given the disastrous precedent of CNN’s Candy Crowley, who erroneously fact-checked Republican Mitt Romney during the second debate in 2012. The pressure has another purpose, which is to cast Trump as more dishonest than Clinton.

It is well past time to fact-check the fact-checkers.

Check for regular updates during Monday’s first presidential debate.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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