Special Report

Who Will Fact Check the Fact Checkers?

Used car salesman are more trustworthy.

By 11.8.13


I give fact checkers five Pinocchios. They invariably prove more dishonest than the worst political Joe Isuzus that they skewer. In their feigned, above-it-all objectivity, they lie every time they investigate whether the “facts” are factual.

PolitiFact initially rated Barack Obama’s “if you've got a health care plan that you like, you can keep it” campaign promise as a solid “true.” They’ve subsequently “fact checked” five additional iterations of that pledge, never judging it anything worse than “half true.” One would have to judge that a half truth—at least the half about the promise being untrue passes muster.    

The Washington Examiner’s Sean Higgins asked PolitiFact whether it stood by its rosy assessment of Obama’s rosy assessments of his health care plan. In the fashion of BS artists, they responded but not to Higgins’s query. Don’t say they withheld comment! “Apparently,” Higgins concluded, “Politifact thinks accountability is something that only applies to other people.”

The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemingway deems PolitiFact’s puzzling judgments “indefensible at the time they were made. And in light of what we know now about millions of Americans losing their health insurance, these ratings should be a four-alarm trouser conflagration. Yet, PolitiFact hasn’t updated their rulings to acknowledge that the president’s repeated promise is demonstrably untrue.”

Is the public really incapable of fact checking political spin without the aid of spin-doctor fact checkers? The self-appointed judgers of truth, seeking to decide as well as report, think so. 

At least Rachel Maddow is honest about her dishonesty. She doesn’t hide her ideology up her sleeve. She wears it on her sleeve. Political made-to-order journalism, however obnoxious, stands as an improvement over the dying model that expects readers, viewers, and listeners to embrace partisan hacks as paragons of evenhandedness. Clinton henchman George Stephanopoulos as the moderator on ABC’s Sunday morning show takes this to the farcical extreme. When does Karl Rove get to anchor the evening news?  

Fact checkers give cover to liars as much as they expose them. They certainly did so in the case of the president’s preposterous promise. Unsurprisingly, liberal fact checkers overwhelmingly deem liberal politicians virtuous and truthful; conservatives, mendacious and without scruple. A study by George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs pointed out that PolitiFact judged GOP claims as false three times more than they judged claims by Democrats as false. Democrat claims were twice as likely to be assessed as true by the organ of the Tampa Bay Times.

Politifact editor Bill Adair dismissed the study as a “press release,” which indeed is how it reached the press. So this characterization may not exactly merit a pants-on-fire rating on the truth-o-meter. But it does illustrate one truth: Hell hath no fury like a fact checker fact checked.

One merely need to wonder how different the facts would be interpreted in fact checker columns in the Washington Post versus the Washington Times, or the Nation versus National Review, to grasp that the whole exercise is one of punditry masking itself as impartiality. Fact checkers don’t even agree on the facts, so why must we defer to their varied judgments on them?  

The fact-checker phenomenon reflects a much older impulse, the desire to be litigant and judge, player and referee. It’s easy to dismiss the rants and tracts of a partisan. So, frustrated crusaders adopt the guise of detached arbiters without vested interest in outcomes. It’s hard to expose the truth when you’re hiding the truth about yourself. The subjective belief that our subjective beliefs are objective truths—but everyone else’s aren’t—is strong.

People who don’t know themselves enough to grasp that they’re capable of biases and prejudices can’t approach objectivity. It’s precisely the person arrogant enough to assume the mantle of “fact checker” that proves most ill-suited to be one.

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About the Author
Daniel J. Flynn, the author of The War on Football: Saving America’s Game, edits Breitbart Sports.