The Lies of the Fact-Checkers
In an age when the conventional wisdom holds that men can get pregnant, America was founded in 1619, and President Joe Biden’s free-spending policies reduced the national deficit, perhaps it is only fitting that one of the primary sources of misinformation comes from online “fact-checkers.”
While claiming to correct “misinformation” and “disinformation,” fact-checkers turn reality on its head, misleading readers and excoriating writers who deviate from the Left’s party line. No issue lies beyond their grasp, from COVID-19 to the facts of Senator Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) family tree. And no individual is too important or inconsequential to be allowed to speak truths that contradict the liberal narrative, from anonymous Facebook users to the sitting president of the United States.
The Washington Stand was reminded of this recently while covering the Biden administration’s decision to sign the World Health Organization’s agreement on “pandemic preparation, preparedness, and response.” Family Research Council’s social media accounts posted a quotation from former Rep. Michele Bachmann that nations adopting the accord “would give up their sovereignty to the World Health Organization.” Instagram covered the image with a banner proclaiming, “False information. Reviewed by independent fact-checkers.” A user on its sister website, Facebook, noted, “I shared this information on my fb page and was issued a ‘Partially False Information’ notice.”
To verify its claim, Instagram directed readers to an article by PolitiFact which says the “Zero Draft” of the treaty “makes clear that the sovereignty of nations is a guiding principle.” Article 4 of the treaty says nations have “the sovereign right to determine and manage their approach to public health” — but only “provided that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to their peoples and other countries.” Who determines this? WHO determines this. The article goes on to cite WHO employee Lawrence Gostin, who “said the draft often uses the word ‘should,’ rather than ‘shall’ or ‘must.’” The treaty uses the word “shall” 132 times, compared with 22 uses of “should.”
The draft states that nations which ratify the treaty “commit” to “tackle false, misleading, misinformation or disinformation, including through promotion of international cooperation.” Signatories are “encouraged” to “conduct regular social listening and analysis to identify the prevalence and profiles of misinformation” and “counteract … false news.” That likely means more erroneous attempts to paint anyone who dissents from the WHO’s globalist agenda as speaking “false information.”
But how does the fact-checkers’ record stack up against the facts? Below is a far-from-comprehensive list of erroneous “fact checks” and “corrections” made by social media platforms.
Fact-Checks: A Lasting Side-Effect of COVID-19
“COVID drove the evolution of fact-checking,” according to the “Misinformation Review,” a publication of the Harvard’s Kennedy School. By February 2021, Facebook announced it would “remove false claims on Facebook and Instagram about COVID-19,” specifying four classes of posts:
“This includes claims such as:
- “COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured;
- “Vaccines are not effective at preventing the disease they are meant to protect against;
- “It’s safer to get the disease than to get the vaccine;
- “Vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism.”
COVID-19’s Lab Origins. As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, observers speculated the virus may have originated at China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), where America’s National Institutes of Health funded research into the “bat coronavirus.” The online truth industry immediately moved to crush this story. The Washington Post’s fact-checker, Glenn Kessler, responded to Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) by tweeting, “It is virtually impossible for this virus jump from the lab [sic].” PolitiFact dismissed the lab theory as a “debunked conspiracy theory,” and FactCheck.org (which is funded by Google, Facebook, and the taxpayer-funded National Science Foundation) called it “baseless.”
But just a few months into the Biden administration, Kessler wrote a new story describing “how the Wuhan lab-leak theory suddenly became credible.” Kessler’s “new” evidence dated back as far as July 2020. NBC reporter Ken Dilanian admitted facts substantiating a lab origin for the virus was “dismissed at the time, because it was the Trump administration.” New York Times White House reporter Maggie Haberman defended her industry, stating the fact that the allegation came from Trump and then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “made this instantly political.” It appears political considerations moved the media’s about-face, as well.
This month, the Department of Energy concluded COVID-19 most likely originated from a lab leak, the Wall Street Journal reported, although the DOE made the conclusion with “low confidence.” The FBI came to the same conclusion in 2021 with “moderate confidence.”
Some fact-checkers eventually owned up to their errors. NewsGuard, which ranks whole websites based on their alleged peddling of misinformation, made at least 21 COVID-related corrections after it “either mischaracterized the sites’ claims about the lab leak theory, referred to the lab leak as a ‘conspiracy theory,’ or wrongly grouped together unproven claims about the lab leak with the separate, false claim that the COVID-19 virus was man-made without explaining that one claim was unsubstantiated, and the other was false,” the company told AIER.
Facebook removed the lab origins from its verboten list in May 2021, just three months after adding it, but maintains all other banned COVID topics. Are their guidelines on those stories any more reliable?
Wearing Face Masks. During the pandemic, 39 states imposed mask mandates, triggering public backlash and leading social media to quash questions about masks’ effectiveness. YouTube suspended Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in August 2021 for saying, “Most of the masks you get over the counter don’t work. They don’t prevent infection.” Twitter also locked the account of Trump medical adviser Dr. Scott Atlas in October 2020 for tweeting, “Masks work? NO.”
Yet research before and after the pandemic provides plenty of reasons to question the efficacy of face masks. As far back as 2015, the BMJ reviewed health care workers’ practices and found that cloth masks provide “almost 0%” filtration of viruses” and “may result in increased risk of infection.” One year before the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization admitted “there is no evidence that [wearing face masks] is effective in reducing transmission” of viruses. Other pre-pandemic studies came to similar conclusions, and subsequent research has borne this out. A 2021 study of two school districts in the same North Dakota county found schools that imposed a mask mandate had a higher percentage of COVID-19 cases than those without one.
The COVID-19 Vaccine. Claims that vaccination prevented anyone from becoming infected with, or infecting others with, COVID-19 drove government efforts to convince — or force — Americans to take the shot. But public health authorities long expressed skepticism about such claims.
In December 2020, WHO’s chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, said, “I don’t believe we have the evidence of any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection.” Researchers from Harvard and Johns Hopkins University concluded in February 2021, “COVID-19 Vaccines May Not Prevent Nasal SARS-CoV-2 Infection.” Facebook instead chose to believe assertions made by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky that “vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don’t get sick” — claims that should have been settled definitively when a fully vaccinated Dr. Anthony Fauci tested positive for COVID last June.
Natural Immunity. Facebook’s rule against claiming “it’s safer” to get the coronavirus than take the COVID-19 shot has often silenced discussions of natural immunity. Yet a meta-study published in The Lancet last week, funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, concluded, “The level of protection afforded by previous infection is at least as high, if not higher than that provided by two-dose vaccination using high-quality mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech).” That is the last in a line of studies to come to such a conclusion.
Last June, the New England Journal of Medicine found natural immunity’s “protection was higher than that conferred after the same time had elapsed since receipt of the second dose of the vaccine among previously uninfected persons.” That should have come as little surprise, since six months earlier CDC epidemiologist Benjamin Silk told The Wall Street Journal “surviving a previous infection now provided greater protection” than vaccination. That echoes the findings of an Israeli study from August 2021. In July 2020, the BBC reported some people had developed T cell immunity to the virus before COVID-19 existed. The rule has also tamped down talk of the negative side effects caused by the COVID-19 vaccine.
Advocates of “pandemic amnesty” argue that no one could know the results of scientific tests in the midst of a once-in-a-century public health crisis (although many of the studies occurred before or near the beginning of the outbreak). But social media platforms have not restricted their disinformation to matters of public health, extending their bias deeply into politics.
Fact-Checkers Spread Political Disinformation
Hunter Biden’s Laptop. Days before the 2020 presidential election, social media outlets infamously censored embarrassing details of Hunter Biden’s laptop, which indicated that Joe Biden knew of and participated in his son’s lucrative foreign business deals. Twitter forbade users from sharing Miranda Devine’s New York Post story and prevented the nation’s oldest newspaper from posting anything for days. Facebook censors admitted they did not feel they needed to prove the story false before suppressing it. “While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want to be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform,” wrote Meta Policy Communications Director Andy Stone, a former employee of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and ex-Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Within hours of Devine’s original story, the FBI and Justice Department confirmed the veracity of the laptop and its contents to Fox News. In time, The New York Times, CBS News, and other outlets would verify some or all of the laptop story. Even Hunter Biden tacitly admitted ownership of his abandoned computer by suing those who reported on its contents. It later emerged that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security had been grooming social media companies for months to see the Hunter Biden laptop story as an act of Russian disinformation carried out by the Kremlin’s intelligence unit APT28.
Obamacare. PolitiFact rated Barack Obama’s whopper that, under Obamacare, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” true six times. After the Affordable Care act became law, millions of Americans (including this author) saw their private health insurance plans canceled due to its terms. PF later crowned Obama’s statement its 2013 lie of the year.
Abortion. YouTube currently tags every video about abortion with this message:
“An abortion is a procedure to end a pregnancy. It uses medicine or surgery to remove the embryo or fetus and placenta from the uterus. The procedure is done by a licensed healthcare professional.”
But this is itself misinformation. In the most common form of abortion in America, chemical abortion, the mother self-administers her own abortion by taking two pills without the supervision of any health care professional — often completely alone. In many cases, the woman never met any medical professional. Planned Parenthood opposes the “unnecessary in-person dispensing requirement,” which it calls “particularly dangerous.”
Planned Parenthood. For years, elected officials and Planned Parenthood employees claimed that the nation’s largest abortion provider performs mammograms. Casey Mattox, a constitutional attorney then with the Alliance Defending Freedom, offered a bona fide fact check to these claims by pointing out, “Zero Planned Parenthood facilities are licensed to do mammograms.” He then directed PolitiFact to the FDA’s list of facilities licensed to provide mammograms. A Planned Parenthood spokesperson “confirmed [that the] organization does not provide mammograms at any of its health centers,” PolitiFact reported.
Yet PolitiFact rated Mattox’s incontrovertible statement “Half True,” deeming it “partially accurate but misleading without additional details.” The “context” he allegedly left out is that some Planned Parenthood facilities refer patients to medical professionals who actually perform mammograms (for which they charge the patient, or taxpayers). Some Planned Parenthoods also carry out an ever-decreasing number of breast exams. (Planned Parenthood completed 173,653 acts of “breast care” in 2020-2021, down sharply from 830,312 in 2009.) The Washington Post, to its credit, has admitted the abortion industry does not perform this life-saving procedure.
Tim Scott’s Family History. In 2021, Republicans tapped Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to offer the rebuttal to President Biden’s joint address to Congress. Senator Scott used the opportunity to push back against critical race theory, presenting America as the land of opportunity. “My grandfather in his 94 years saw his family go from cotton to Congress in one lifetime,” Scott said. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler ran a “fact check” claiming that Scott’s story was “missing some nuance” about his own family’s history, including the fact that his great-grandfather was “a substantial landowner.” Kessler later confessed the records he used for his account “may not entirely show what life was like for black farmers in South Carolina” during the Jim Crow era.
What accounts for these wildly inaccurate “corrections,” all of which favor one side of the political spectrum? The answer lies in a combination of government coercion, political maneuverings, and anti-conservative bias.
Government Pressure Meets Left-Wing Bias
Being struck with an online fact check carries serious consequences for the story, its outlet, and America’s political landscape. Facebook’s parent company, Meta, revealed in 2018 that flagging news stories as false “means they lose around 80% of any future views. We also demote pages and domains that repeatedly share false news.” Throttling or banning the free flow of information greatly impacts the functioning of a democratic republic. Had voters in just six swing states known about the Hunter Biden laptop story, it would have changed the outcome of the 2020 election, according to a survey from the Media Research Center.
Given these results, it makes sense that political campaigns and incumbent governments would encourage social media to fact-check their enemies as frequently as possible — and that is precisely what the Biden administration and campaign (to the extent they can be distinguished) have done.
At least “two dozen staffers” of the White House’s (taxpayer-funded) Office of Digital Strategy — in addition to members of the Democratic National Committee’s Counter Disinformation Program and the Biden-aligned group Building Back Together (BBT) — “have assumed different roles in monitoring and determining what content is consumed on social media,” according to Politico. Their jobs include “encouraging different sites to fact-check false content.” Although BBT launched a campaign against conservative disinformation, its leaders have a history of spreading partisan fiction, including producing the “Steele Dossier” and falsely blaming then-GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney for a cancer-stricken woman’s death.
Much of the government’s coercion of social media emerged only after Elon Musk purchased Twitter and commissioned journalists to make its private records public. Batches of “The Twitter Files” have revealed a backdoor portal that government officials used to mark posts — and users’ accounts — for moderation, stealth censorship, or removal, in a possible violation of the law. Government employees submitted so many content moderation requests that the FBI paid Twitter $3.4 million just for processing them.
They could have saved the taxpayers’ money: Evidence suggests Silicon Valley’s social media employees would have skewed the results for free — and frequently did. Numerous Facebook news curators admitted they deliberately prevented conservative stories from appearing in the website’s “trending” news section. They also refused to post links to right-leaning websites, waiting until stories they could not ignore had been verified by legacy media outlets. “It was absolutely bias. We were doing it subjectively. It just depends on who the curator is and what time of day it is,” one former Facebook contractor told Gizmodo in 2016.
Similarly, former PolitiFact employees admit fact-checkers began with a predetermined conclusion and made a prosecutor’s case on its behalf. “They were employing double standards. They were using straw men. They were presetting the rating before they talked to people,” Brian Riedl, a Manhattan Institute fellow who worked at PolitiFact in the late 2000s, told The Daily Wire. “A lot of the same people are still there — and their ratings are a joke,” Riedl added. “Conservatives have a right to be suspicious of PolitiFact.”
Even if media gatekeepers wanted to play it straight, most lack the specialized knowledge necessary to evaluate the complex issues at hand. “We examined the educational credentials, including the highest degree listed, for 28 publicly identified staff members on NewsGuard’s website. The company’s staff page reveals shockingly little expertise in either the hard sciences such as medicine or social sciences such as public policy, economics, and related fields. 12 of the 28 listed staffers have primary degrees in journalism or media,” revealed Phillip W. Magness of AIER. “The second-most represented subject area is English literature, with 4 degrees.”
Legacy media critics and social media fact-checkers seem to admit that truth is not necessarily their only, or perhaps primary, criterion for classifying a story as true or false. In a taxpayer-funded attack on The Daily Wire in July 2021, National Public Radio (NPR) quoted Jaime Settle of the College of William & Mary saying that The Daily Wire’s stories “tend to not provide very much context for the information that they are providing. If you’ve stripped enough context away, any piece of truth can become a piece of misinformation.” (Emphasis added.) By the fact-checkers’ criteria, facts are misinformation if they lack the fact-checkers’ “context,” which is to say, their secular-progressive worldview.
How Should a Christian Look at Truth?
We freely admit that we do not — and never will — reproduce the Left’s “context.” Our news stories let the facts speak for themselves, believing that you are able to read, discern, and interpret them with the intellect entrusted to you by God. Our commentaries glean the data from sources and filter them through the Bible-based moral teachings of our Christian faith. Our news and analysis — and unlike the legacy media, we keep these categories separate — are unapologetically biblical for one reason: We know that Truth is a Person (John 14:6).
His Word established the world; His laws order its operations; His appointed times and seasons chart its course; and His favor or disfavor bring about empires’ rise or fall. No aspect of earthly life, including journalism, can attempt to strain out His commandments without stripping out the truth and substituting a mess of humanistic pottage in its place. While the legacy media spin their truthy web of ideologically-laden “context,” we will walk in the light of the living God, which best illumines all human endeavors.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.