Who Checks the Fact Checkers?
I will never apologize for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts are. – George H.W. Bush
You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test. – George W. Bush
So how do we know what’s fake and what isn’t? Fact checkers to the rescue! Nothing makes us feel more part of the chosen community – than to know the truth about things, to have our sense of the real confirmed by others.
For years, the only fact-checker most people knew about was Snopes.com. Many writers, however, have accused it of being not only biased but as being a shill for Big Pharma. And allegedly it is 50% owned by an advertising agency.
The national media understand how confused Americans are (partially because for decades they had such a hand in confusing us), and they want to help us sort the real (their real) from the fake. So they have provided us with authoritative sources to know what is real. However, as we’ll see, the actual agenda of many of these “objective” voices is to bestow quasi-academic reinforcement to the marginalization of progressive opinion through the same process of making false equivalencies.
As soon as we start to look up some of these sources, we confront the basic problem. In every case, someone or some group is telling us who to trust. In other words, they begin by establishing themselves as gatekeepers, in your interest, of course. Some of them have complied lists of the “best” fact-checkers, like this and this.
Indeed, an “International Fact-Checking Network” lays claim to being the ultimate fact-checker of all the other fact-checkers. It is, however, a project of the Poynter Institute (which also owns Politifact), of which Bill Gates and Charles Koch are major funders. The Columbia Journalism Review notes that the Gates Foundation has given more than $250 million toward journalism.
Recipients included news operations like the BBC, NBC, Al Jazeera, ProPublica, National Journal, The Guardian, Univision, Medium, the Financial Times, The Atlantic, the Texas Tribune, Gannett, Washington Monthly, Le Monde, and the Center for Investigative Reporting; charitable organizations affiliated with news outlets, like BBC Media Action and the New York Times’ Neediest Cases Fund; media companies such as Participant, whose documentary Waiting for “Superman” supports Gates’s agenda on charter schools; journalistic organizations such as the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the National Press Foundation, and the International Center for Journalists; and a variety of other groups creating news content or working on journalism, such as the Leo Burnett Company, an ad agency that Gates commissioned to create a “news site” to promote the success of aid groups. In some cases, recipients say they distributed part of the funding as subgrants to other journalistic organizations—which makes it difficult to see the full picture of Gates’s funding into the fourth estate.
Regardless of what we may think of Gates, a blogger who posted this information on Facebook claims he quickly received 1,000 likes. Soon after, Facebook removed it.
It really shouldn’t surprise us that fact checkers serving major websites have their own agendas. One of Facebook’s fact checkers, for example, is checkyourfact, which is an affiliate of The Daily Caller, a “news” outlet co-founded by Tucker Carlson. As I mentioned above, FB also works with the Atlantic Council, and Harvard University uses “PropOrNot”. Derrick Broze writes:
The strategy for the social media companies and fact checkers is simple: label someone fake news, lower their reach with algorithmic manipulation, force them to comply to arbitrary commands if they want the fake news label removed, control the narrative and shape the conversation…Unfortunately, the censors are winning because many in the alternative media are choosing to self-censor in the hopes that things will get better in the long run or that doing so will allow them to stay on the platform longer, and continue to reach more people.
Perhaps the worst of the lot is Newsguard (“Fighting misinformation with journalism – not algorithms”). This for-profit firm helps students with its “nutrition label” reviews, promotes an “Internet Trust Tool” to libraries and markets these services to advertisers as tools to protect their “brand safety.” It also partners with Microsoft’s Edge Mobile Browser for IOS to warn Android and Chrome users about fake news generated by untrustworthy news sites.
However, many of Newsguard’s partners and investors are linked to the military, intelligence, media and political establishments and to corporate marketers. Caitlin Johnstone writes:
NewsGuard’s advisory board reads like the fellowships list of a neocon think tank, and indeed one of its CEOs, Louis Gordon Crovitz, is a Council on Foreign Relations member who has worked with the American Enterprise Institute and Heritage Foundation. Members of the advisory board include George W Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, deep intelligence community insider Michael Hayden…
Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff of Project Censored (a group I personally recommend), add:
Instead of simply promoting a well-informed public, NewsGuard and its ilk stand poised to wield whatever authority they are granted to promote narrow ideological perspectives and corporate economic interests that reflect the world views of powerful institutions such as Homeland Security, NATO, the CIA, AT&T and Microsoft.
Another of FB’s fact checkers is Lead Stories, which is funded by a company that has been accused of censorship on behalf of the Chinese government.
And now for some comic relief. Literally anybody (with significant financial backing) can proclaim themselves “a trusted arbiter of investigative news,” as does right-wing RealClearInvestigations, which mirrors everything I’ve been saying with: “The Troubling Fact Is That the Media’s Fact-Checkers Tend to Lean ← Left”.
What can we conclude about all this? Just as no savior is going to descend from above and solve all our problems, no self-proclaimed fact checker is likely to transcend their prejudices, whether honest or corporately-imposed, and tell us what’s objectively true. It’s up to all of us to build and teach media literacy.
Perhaps part of our problem is whether there is any possibility of knowing “The Truth”. That’s a philosophical conundrum we don’t have space for here.
Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. – Andre Gide
I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination. – John Keats
But some things – some facts – exist right in front of us, and the only thing that keeps us from seeing them clearly are our own mythologies of privilege and innocence.
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognize the fact. – William Stafford
For now, it’s really pretty simple. Roth and Huff suggest
A robust independent press – grounded in core values of journalism, including independence, accountability and transparency – provides a first line of defense. And the positive impact of independent journalism can be multiplied exponentially by education efforts that foster widespread critical media literacy among the public.
They offer four simple writing guidelines from the Society of Professional Journalists:
(1) Seek Truth and Report It
(2) Minimize Harm
(3) Act Independently
(4) Be Accountable and Transparent
Johnstone keeps it even simpler. When you strip away all the empty fluff and manipulative spin, there are basically only four questions that really matter:
(1) where the money is going,
(2) where the resources are going,
(3) where the weapons are going, and
(4) where the people are going.
When it comes to understanding world dynamics, accurate information about these four items is the only real news. Everything else is empty narrative spin meant to justify, distort, or distract. And as far as most of these “fact checkers” are concerned, much of it takes the form of false equivalencies.
FE and Selective science at work: lawyer and writer RFK, Jr can question newer vaccines, some MDs can question newer vaccines, but they are ignored as Alex Jones is made the poster boy fool. Similarly, 3,000 architects and engineers scientifically doubting the official story of 9/11, but again Alex Jones and company are the convenient dubious targets.