FACTS? WE DON’T NEED NO STINKING FACTS!

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I am a frequent debunker of internet lies whether they be chain emails or, more popular today, Facebook memes, infographics and just plain bullshit.

I have even used that as a theme here, citing a number of examples. https://umoc193.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/bon-jour/

When I receive these emails or browse my Facebook wall and read something which I instinctively know to be untrue, I almost invariably turn to one or more of my favorite sources for debunking, Snopes.com, Politifact, or FactCheck.org.

Sometimes I find an entry on all three referencing the topic at hand. On occasion I can find nothing and I’ll turn to other resources, depending on the lie before my eyes.

This, I know, will not only surprise but thoroughly shock some of you but I do this even when the lies or misinformation are coming from my liberal friends.

For example the infographic heading this article is one that has appeared in many forms over the past probably 8 years, including emails discussing a proposed 28th Amendment that would eliminate the supposed financial abuses described here. Lately I have seen this exact infographic posted by my Facebook friends of all persuasions. When possible I have entered a comment stating that the information is not true and more than once have enlarged upon that by providing the easily verifiable facts that contradict what appears here.

As you might expect I pay a lot of attention to claims based on whatever manages to emanate from the mouths of my bosom buddies at Fox News. What’s the computer term? “garbage in—garbage out?

So, imagine my delight this morning when I read this posting from a friend with this headline

Fact-Checking Site Finds Fox News Only Tells the Truth 18 Percent of the Time 

“OH BOY! Red meat for this carnivore,” I silently exclaimed. I clicked on the link and found that it was on a site called Forward Progressives. Good! An unbiased plainly objective source. http://www.forwardprogressives.com/fact-checking-site-finds-fox-news-tells-truth-18-percent-time/

Reading the story it told of a new service from Politifact called Punditfact which examines statements made on the major TV news media, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, FOX. http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/article/2014/jul/09/learn-how-punditfact-tracks-networks/

As Politifact itself explains their scorecards for each network are based on what is said on each network, regardless of who said it. Thus, if Dick Cheney is on Morning Joe on MSNBC and spews his usual lies and half truths that counts against MSNBC. Likewise if a liberal guest on FOX is interviewed and tells a whopper, that gets attributed to FOX even though it is a liberal lie.

Here is where I would like to add my own words of caution and a standard I try to adhere to. No matter the headline or the expression of favorable political sentiment or the evaluation of any claim by any fact checker, go beyond the number of Pinocchios or Pants on Fire rulings to read what the fact checker actually found as well as the references utilized in the evaluations.

In particular I do not like the categories used by Politifact such as “Mostly true” or “Mostly false”. To me that sounds neither fish nor fowl. To fully understand those labellings you must read the evaluation thoroughly so that all nuances enter your thinking. I believe that is far more important than the label, though a “True” or Pants on fire” rating is pretty clear and allows for no ambiguities.

Politifact and Snopes have come under frequent attack from conservatives as prejudiced in favor of liberals. Snopes addresses a wide range of topics far beyond politics such a missive recommending what one should do if having a heart attack at home. (That claim is covered in my prior post cited above).

The creators and managers of Snopes, a married couple named David and Barbara Mikkelson, have been assailed and “discredited” because they are far left liberals and Democrats. Well, maybe not so much. David is a registered Republican and Barbara is a Canadian citizen and, no matter what the right would have you believe, aliens, legal or not, cannot vote in the U.S.

If you believed the right they would issue their rulings all in favor of President Barack Obama, for instance. To answer that this is a link to the cover page for Obama rulings, about 150 items long, with red indicating false and green indicating true with some a mix and a few undetermined. http://www.forwardprogressives.com/fact-checking-site-finds-fox-news-tells-truth-18-percent-time/

The odd thing is some of the true ones are the more damaging while most of the false ones are in the wowser category, alleging Obama’s Muslim ties and much nonsense about his personal as opposed to political actions. One thing to remember when using Snopes is that most of their investigations are the result of reader inquiries. (They have a section listing some of the more bizarre claims readers have asked about. Strange stuff.)

Politifact is a so-called liberal outfit (run by a newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times) and when it is cited to put the lie to some conservative’s incredible statement, other conservatives are all over it crying “Liberal bias!” Yet, the site is credible enough that when Politifact’s Lie of The Year was Obama’s statement concerning keeping your health insurance, conservatives were ecstatic and all of a sudden were in love with Politifact.

Then I found an article in US News, actually an op-ed, declaring that a study finds fault with the fact checkers, that they exhibit an overwhelming liberal bias. (My words, not the study’s) http://www.usnews.com/opinion/blogs/peter-roff/2013/05/28/study-finds-fact-checkers-biased-against-republicans.

The piece was written by one Peter Roff who readily admits that the author of the study, Dr. Robert Lichter, was a professor of his at George Mason University. Lichter is head of the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason.

The CMPA can itself hardly be called objective in such matters. It was founded by Lichter with fund raising help from Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson. Among its Directors Emeritus is David Gergen who worked for Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan.

Roff himself has ties to Let Freedom Ring and Frontiers of Freedom. The former is very conservative and the latter, founded by former Wyoming Senator Malcolm Wallop, is center right. He also is a contributor to or had his writing publiched by such as Fox News and The Daily Caller. (Yes, the Daily Caller.Now THAT’S something to be proud of).

“Republicans see a credibility gap in the Obama Administration,” said Dr. Robert S. Lichter, head of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. “PolitiFact rates Republicans as the less credible party.”

DUH?

Well, yes, Politfact rates Republicans as less credible. And while Republicans find Obama’s credibility lacking, just this week transcripts of the Benghazi hearings were released showing that there was no “Stand Down Order” given in Benghazi and that the unit that would have been sent performed a vital function in Tripoli and would have been not only ineffective but also too late in arriving in Benghazi to save Ambassador Christopher Stevens. That FACT is entirely contrary to what Republicans have been asserting since September 12, 2012.

The fact that, as the Lichter study shows, “A majority of Democratic statements (54 percent) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18 percent of Republican statements,” probably has more to do with how the statements were picked and the subjective bias of the fact checker involved than anything remotely empirical.

There is some truth in that. There is no way every statement made by every politician of either, let alone both parties can be examined in depth. To think otherwise is itself a fantasy. But to conclude that the way the statements to evaluate are chosen is thoroughly biased is biased itself. Not every statement made by politicians is newsworthy. Some receive more publicity or wider dissemination than others. So, if the members of one party are super prolific in spouting off, they will merit disproportionate coverage, good and bad.

The bottom line here is that fact checkers perform a valuable service. Yet one should not judge their effectiveness and credibility merely by the captioning of a ruling or the application of a particular label, especially when reading that brings either a tear of joy or a regurgitation in protest.

Read the damned things and see what references and sources they use. Unaccredited claims by the politicians themselves or anyone who places themselves in a position to critique those claims should be looked upon with extreme skepticism.

Remember. Truth will out.

 

 

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Comments

  • Devildog  On July 12, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    1. Why would anyone bother to face-check anything a politico says? While you may object to the different categories, most often the comment is nuanced, is partly true and partly false, has a context to it, and is rated subjectively by the fact-checker. Most importantly though, one shouldn’t pay any attention to what’s said anyway. It’s what’s done that counts.

    2. Why would you write that David Mikkelson is a registered Republican when even a cursory review would show that he “was” once a Republican and is now an independent?

    3. Why would you write that David Gergen worked for Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan but omit that he worked also for Clinton?

    4. I wrote before that you have a problem separating opinion from fact and here is evidence. Re Benghazi, you right “that FACT … citing a report. Everything you cite as a fact is an opinion. Don’t go can be a stand down order, vital mission in Tripoli is an opinion, too late arriving in Benghazi is an opinion. It may be a fact the report had those opinions but you seem to think the opinions are facts.

    I know nothing about CMPA, Snopes or Politifact and don’t care to-apparently, you have the time and inclination to correct everything you deem wrong. Fact-checking you is enough for me.

    Sorry BFF!

    • umoc193  On July 27, 2014 at 9:10 PM

      My phrasing about Mikkelson was incorrect, reflecting a slight flaw in my memory. It had been a few years since I read the fact check on accusations against Snopes.Thanks for reminding me that he is now independent though he had once registered as GOP.

      The accusations have been that Clinton ordered Panetta to tell the military to “stand down”. That is ridiculous on its face since the two secretaries were equals. The decision to not send the four man team was a standard military one and not influenced by anyone at State. It was a tactical decision that is made by military personnel in any combat or hostile situation. Your attempt to argue semantics here is pathetic. The gist of the charge is that Hillary cavilierly let the Americans die. But even if that team had been dispatched the main attack on the consulate was over and Stevens was already dead.

      And all that, my friend, is based on fact. You know, the timeline of what happened that fateful day. That is not opinion. There are probably about 500 sources to confirm that. If you have any information that contradicts that timeline, bring it on.

      As to Gergen, BFD. I was not presenting a complete vitae for him. Besides, I noted his status as Director Emeritus which to me means that he is not very active nor exercises any control over CMPA. His previous ties to Republican Presidents was mentioned to highlight the ties to conservatism of the CMPA

      Funny you should fact check me when a couple of the examples I cited put the lie to, or at least mitigated bad things said about conservatives/Republicans.

      Nice try.

      • Devildog  On July 27, 2014 at 9:55 PM

        Hi Mr. President! Gergen-I thought you swore to tell the truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. As evidence that CMPA can “hardly be called objective”, you point out that it’s Director Emeritus (Gergen) worked for Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan. You used Gergen having worked for those three presidents against the credibility of CMPA and to omit Clinton from his CV is disingenuous at best and… at worst.

        Benghazi-I wasn’t offering anything about Benghazi except, as I have stated several times previously, you seem to have difficulty distinguishing fact from opinion. The timeline may be fact but everything else you cite is opinion.

  • Toadsly  On July 13, 2014 at 12:04 AM

    No problemo, BFF!

    • Little_Minx  On July 13, 2014 at 12:19 PM

      TOADSLY! Did you watch “Doc Martin” last night? Since it was a rerun, we assumed we must’ve seen it before, yet only recognized the first couple minutes (and undoubtedly would’ve recalled the rest of the plot, had we seen it before, since it was strikingly memorable). We wondered if we’d only seen the first couple minutes before because:
      a) WQED had gone off-air after a few minutes the first time the station was airing it;
      b) we’d had a power outage Chez Minx that evening; or,
      c) the initial scenes in that episode had also been shown in the “Doc Martin” special that’s aired during pledge periods.

      Had you seen this entire episode previously? It’s the resolution of the cliff-hanger from the previous season, in which Louisa has returned from London after six months. Thanks.

      • toadsly  On July 13, 2014 at 2:32 PM

        Didn’t catch episode. Seems strange, though.

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