Exclusive — Brent Bozell & Tim Graham: Fact-Check the ‘Fact-Checkers’

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Counter protesters dress as Pinocchio while standing on the periphery of a rally against the proposed Republican tax reform legislation on the east side of the U.S. Capitol November 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. The rally was organized by a large group of liberal organizations, …
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The following is an exclusive excerpt from L. Brent Bozell III and Tim Graham’s new book, Unmasked: Big Media’s War Against Trump.

In 1988, Michael Dukakis was broadsided in ads for looking like an idiot driving around in a tank and in other ads for releasing murderers on weekend furloughs. Did Dukakis’s actions cost him the election? Not at all. The media elite decided that George H.W. Bush had won because he hornswoggled the electorate with untrue liberal-bashing commercials. In Time, they whined “Bush won by default, and by fouls.” So in 1992, they all decided they would be better “fact checkers,” especially in rebutting GOP campaign ads.

During the fall campaign, President Bush attacked Bill Clinton as a tax hiker in Arkansas, and insisted he would do it again if he were elected president. The ABC, CBS, CNN, and NBC patrols all went on full “ad watch” alert to proclaim that Bush was dishonestly attacking Clinton’s economic agenda. Cranky CBS reporter Eric Engberg complained, “Feel-bad ads trying to drag down Bill Clinton are regarded as the only hope. In a multi-million-dollar assault, Clinton is being portrayed as a duplicitous blobhead who governs a Hee Haw backwater where only the taxes soar.” For good measure CBS brought on an “expert” to say the Bush campaign ad making assumptions about Clinton tax hikes was “lying.”

Was Team Bush lying? They were making predictions of the future. Candidates can’t predict of what will happen if the other candidate wins? If the prediction is based on a desire to smear the opponent – say, President Lyndon Johnson’s infamous “Daisy” commercial predicting a nuclear war should Barry Goldwater win – it would deserve media investigation and condemnation. But the Bushies were claiming that Clinton was a Democrat, and Democrats raise taxes. This is like predicting a rooster will crow at dawn. The media wanted to throw the penalty flag at anything “trying to drag down” Democrats. One party was playing dirty, and the other was just telling it like it is.

In the end, the “fact checkers” were wrong. One year later, President Clinton signed the largest tax increase in American history. No one fact-checked himself.

Election after election it’s the same. Republicans are dirty, lying louts; Democrats the noble victims of horrific assaults by dirty, lying lout Republicans. The Left’s “fact check” machine is so predictably slanted it should be dismissed.

CNN’s Brian Stelter – who turned seven years old in 1992 – must have been salivating when he sent around an Election Day e-mail in 2016 prematurely bragging, “This is the year of the fact-checker.” He joked that “Trump made fact-checking great again.” The message was unmistakably self-congratulatory: Thank God for us! Stelter quoted Brooks Jackson, the director emeritus of the site FactCheck.org: “It’s really remarkable to see how big news operations have come around to challenging false and deceitful claims directly. It’s about time.” Translation: Son of a bitch! We succeeded! But this wasn’t some historic first beach landing for “fact checkers.” That spin was especially odd, since Jackson was one of the most aggressively pro-Clinton fact checkers in 1992…at Stelter’s CNN.

PolitiFact editor Angie Drobnic Holan triumphantly told Stelter that “All of the media has embraced fact-checking because there was a story that really needed it.” She was singling out Donald Trump as that story: “(T)he level of inaccuracy is startling.” It was true. Donald Trump’s mistakes and braggadocio on the stump gave “fact checkers” plenty to evaluate.

What about Hillary Clinton? She has to be one of the most duplicitous presidential candidates in history – really, does anyone want to challenge us on that statement? – yet in the eye of the elites, she’s the Mother Teresa of Political Honesty.

Former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson went so far as to write a newspaper column titled “This may shock you: Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest.” What evidence would she cite for such a preposterous assertion? She pointed to “PolitiFact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates. She beats Sanders and Kasich and crushes Cruz and Trump, who has the biggest ‘Pants on Fire’ rating and has told whoppers about basic economics that are embarrassing for anyone aiming to be president.”

This was not opinion, and not even “her truth.” It was “fact,” determined by PolitiFact.

From the Reagan years to today, conservatives have been dismissed by the elites as ignorant chumps. Thirty years after Dukakis lost 40 states, nothing’s changed, and it’s precisely this long-standing ideological arrogance – that conservatives are both intellectually challenged and the most resistant to what “objective” journalists define as reality – that informs the “fact checkers.”

Here’s another fact: a vast swath of the American public believes these grand fact checkers are full of crap. According to a Rasmussen poll during the 2016 campaign, just 29 percent of likely voters trusted media fact-checking of the candidates, while a whopping 62 percent believed the media “skew the facts to help candidates they support.”

Don’t you just love the American people? They awarded one big, fat “Pants on Fire” to the entire national news media.

If Stelter & Co. were salivating on election night, they were foaming at the mouth the next morning when it was confirmed that all their efforts had been for naught. In response to liberal outrage, the social-media companies promised to do more to warn their customers of malicious Internet lies, by turning to the “independent fact checkers” that a majority of Americans didn’t trust to be fair.

Snopes Lecturing the Dopes

When you proclaim yourself a fact-checking website dedicated to helping people you believe are easily hornswoggled, be careful what you wish for.

Snopes.com was one of the earliest sites to check facts, founded in 1994 by David and Barbara Mikkelson to document “urban legends” and call out hoaxes. For some reason, they felt the urgent need to warn the unwashed rabble about the Christian satire site The Babylon Bee, apparently unable to comprehend that some “fake news” is fake because… it’s satire. Here’s the story Snopes felt a responsibly to debunk: “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication.” We’re not kidding.

“In order to aid the news station in preparing stories for consumption,” the story began, “popular news media organization CNN purchased an industrial-sized washing machine to help its journalists and news anchors spin the news before publication.”

Now, who really believes you put news stories in a washing machine? The fact checker at Snopes, that’s who. Snopes felt the urgent need to call this out as “FALSE.” Dear reader, we promise we aren’t making this up. Their humor-deprived headline was “Did CNN Purchase an Industrial-Sized Washing Machine to Spin News?” The subhead: “The news media organization reportedly invested in mechanical assistance to help their journalists and news anchors spin the news before publication.”

Snopes co-founder David Mikkelson claimed he had found people dumb enough to take The Babylon Bee piece literally, and enough of them to warrant his expert analysis. “Although it should have been obvious that The Babylon Bee piece was just a spoof of the ongoing political brouhaha over alleged news media ‘bias’ and ‘fake news,’ some readers missed that aspect of the article and interpreted it literally.”

Guess what happened next? Because Facebook uses Snopes as one of its fake-news flagging sites, The Babylon Bee’s owner Adam Ford received a little note that an “independent fact checker” found “disputed” information in his group’s humor. Facebook warned that “Repeat offenders will see their distribution reduced and their ability to monetize and advertise removed.” Ford found this message outrageous enough to post it on Twitter.

After Ford called out the social network, Facebook apologized in a statement. “There’s a difference between false news and satire,” it assured the world. “This was a mistake and should not have been rated false in our system. It’s since been corrected and won’t count against the domain in any way.” Snopes did not apologize and correct.

We found out for ourselves how Snopes tilts to the Left during the 2016 campaign. After national media outlets made a big deal out of racist David Duke endorsing Donald Trump, conservative journalist and Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord posted a blog on NewsBusters pointing out that those same reporters hadn’t noted that the Communist Party USA was urging a vote for Hillary.

Mayday! Mayday! The Snopes headline harrumphed: “Did the Communist Party of the USA Endorse Hillary Clinton?”

They decried Lord’s NewsBusters article as “FALSE,” claiming that “CPUSA did issue a statement urging members to vote against Trump, even if they didn’t particularly care for Clinton. The group did not, however, formally endorse Clinton, Sanders, or any other candidate in the 8 November 2016 presidential election.”

PolitiFact or PolitiFlacks?

The most blatantly biased “fact checker” is PolitiFact, which began as a project of the liberal newspaper the St. Petersburg Times (later the Tampa Bay Times). It’s now a project of the nonprofit Poynter Institute (which also owns the newspaper). PolitiFact has been sustained by large grants from liberal foundations including the Ford Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the leftist Craig Newmark Foundation. (Newmark is the founder of Craigslist.)

In a four-month study period, the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University found PolitiFact rated 32 percent of Republican claims as “false” or “Pants on Fire,” compared to 11 percent of Democratic claims – a 3 to 1 margin. Conversely, Politifact rated 22 percent of Democratic claims as “entirely true” compared to 11 percent of Republican claims – a 2 to 1 margin.

A majority of Democratic statements (54 percent) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18 percent of Republican statements. By contrast, a majority of Republican statements (52 percent) were rated as mostly or entirely false, compared to just 24 percent of Democratic arguments.

Do we detect a trend?

Liberals can argue that they shouldn’t have to observe some quota that everyone is equally truthful, and should be able to call balls and strikes as they see them. But there is an overwhelming, ongoing pattern of tagging the right-wingers as cheaters on these websites. The umpires have it rigged.

The default position for the media elite is to rate liberal politicians “True” and conservatives of every faction “False.” During the 2016 campaign, this liberal-favoring pattern continued at PolitiFact. Among Republican presidential contenders, Ted Cruz landed on the “false” side of the “Truth-o-Meter” 65 percent of the time, and Rick Santorum 55 percent of the time. Newt Gingrich, who actively supported Trump, was fraudulent 57 percent of the time, too. But what about Democrats? President Obama was ruled false 25 percent of the time and Bernie Sanders only 30 percent of the time. This is the guy who routinely makes crazy socialist statements like “the business model of Wall Street is fraud.”

It’s not just the quality of the fact-checking, but the quantity. Ted Cruz and Elizabeth Warren were both elected to the Senate in 2012. Cruz was assessed for truth on 114 occasions by PolitiFact through 2016, but Warren? Only four, and not a single False or “Pants on Fire.” And for the record, PolitiFact never evaluated Warren on the “Truth-o-Meter” when she claimed to be part-Cherokee Indian.

Overall, they rated Donald Trump as Mostly False/False/”Pants on Fire” 77 percent of the time during the primary campaign. Conversely, they rated Hillary Clinton on the wrong side of the facts 27 percent of the time. PolitiFact awarded its “Pants on Fire” tag to Trump 57 times to Hillary’s seven. From September 1 to Election Day, conservatives and Republicans were scolded as “Pants on Fire” 28 times (fully 14 of those tags were for Trump). Liberals and Democrats? Only four (and only one for Mrs. Clinton). That’s a seven-to-one tilt, and an obscene 14-1 tilt for the presidential candidates.

This anti-Trump pattern continued in 2017 and 2018. Donald Trump was the dominant target, with 293 evaluations, and of those, 201 (about 68 percent) were Mostly False – or worse. Democratic leaders in Congress, by contrast, drew dramatically less attention. Senate leader Charles Schumer drew just nine evaluations (three on the True side, four on the False side, two Half Trues), and House leader Nancy Pelosi had twelve (five on the True side, six on the False side, one Half True.) Trump had more “Pants on Fire” ratings (31) than these two Democrats had ratings (21).

Overall, in 2017 and through November 2018, conservatives and Republicans were tagged as “Pants on Fire” liars in 96 articles. Liberals and Democrats? Fifteen. That’s a margin of more than six to one.

The Washington Post Ah-ha! Squad

The Washington Post “Fact Checker” project, run by former State Department correspondent Glenn Kessler, is best known for piling up an impressive-sounding anti-Trump number. On September 13, 2018, the Post announced Trump had uttered 5,001 “false or misleading” statements since announcing for president.

Let’s face it: Trump has a history of controversial statements. Sometimes they’re vague and confusing. Sometimes it’s hyperbole. Sometimes they’re misleading. And sometimes yes, he lies.

But 5,001?

To characterize their findings, they pointed to a single day, September 7: “In that single day, he publicly made 125 false or misleading statements – in a period of time that totaled only about 120 minutes. It was a new single-day high. The day before, the president made 74 false or misleading claims, many at a campaign rally in Montana…. Trump’s tsunami of untruths helped push the count in The Fact Checker’s database past 5,000 on the 601st day of his presidency. That’s an average of 8.3 Trumpian claims a day, but in the past nine days – since our last update – the president has averaged 32 claims a day.”

Some of these “misleading” statements read like uncharitable liberal nitpicking. On September 11, 2018, the president tweeted “Small Business Optimism Soars to Highest Level Ever | Breitbart.” The Post then just suggests that poll is worthless. “Trump is citing a survey by the National Federation of Independent Business, a conservative group. The group’s small business optimism index broke a 35-year record in August. The survey was mailed to a sample of 5,000 members or small businesses, and from that pool, the NFIB got 680 ‘usable responses.’ The response rate was a relatively low 13 percent and it’s not clear that this survey gives a full picture of small business optimism.”

So the NFIB, arguably the most respected small business association in America, took a poll and found that small businesses are optimistic about the future.

But Trump had no right to say so.

The Post liberals are especially unhappy when Trump repeats an “error,” again and again, sometimes because of his penchant for exaggeration. So they report that among his most repeated clunkers (79 times) is “African-American unemployment is at the best number in the history of our country,” when black unemployment’s only been measured since 1972.

But their most repeated “lie” (at 137 times) is Trump claiming “Russian ‘collusion’ was just an excuse by the Democrats for having lost the Election!” Say what you will about Russian collusion, there is zero evidence that it cost the Democrats the election, yet how many times have said otherwise? If Trump was technically wrong about the black employment rate, he was now technically right about Democrats’ excuses.

The Post and other fact-checkers leaped on a March 18, 2018 tweet by President Trump: “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”

Kessler demonstrated how “fact checkers” have an irritating habit of verifying Trump’s facts, and then mercilessly mangling them with “context” to undo those facts. Kessler argued: “Mueller is a registered Republican, as is Rosenstein, who appointed him. Publicly available voter registration information shows that 13 of the 17 members of Mueller’s team have previously registered as Democrats, while four had no affiliation or their affiliation could not be found, the Washington Post reported. Nine of the 17 made political donations to Democrats, their contributions totaling more than $57,000. The majority came from one person, who also contributed to Republicans. Six donated to Clinton.”

So Kessler confirmed that the Mueller team has 13 Democrats, some big Hillary supporters and donors, and zero Republicans, and zero Trump donors. Moreover, Rosenstein isn’t on the “team” – he appointed Mueller.

Kessler uses a Pinocchio system for rating lies. Getting “two Pinocchios” isn’t so bad, but try saying that to anyone who gets that award. “Four Pinocchios” is the Pants on Fire rating. During the campaign, Kessler reported “Trump earned significant more four-Pinocchio ratings than Clinton – 59 to 7, …The numbers don’t lie.”

Of course they do.

They never showed a similar aggression when Barack Obama unloaded his whoppers. How about when Obama proclaimed at a closed-door session in Boston, “We didn’t have a scandal that embarrassed us.” Forget “Fast & Furious;” Benghazi and all of its attendant and astonishing lies, the millions of taxpayer dollars that appeared at Solyndra; the IRS smothering Tea Party groups; the Clinton Foundation’s pay-to-play shakedown north of hundreds of millions of dollars; or the Uranium One sale to Russia. We could go on and on. The liberal “fact-checkers” like Kessler routinely ignored all of that. Obama got away with a bold-faced lie – because he knew they’d never call him out. Kessler’s self-impressed slogan is “The Truth Behind the Rhetoric.” It doesn’t get better than that.

L. Brent Bozell III is Founder and President of the Media Research Center and runs the largest media watchdog organization in America, with over 800,000 members nationwide, and over 12 million combined on Facebook.

Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters.org and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis.

 

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