The following is a news analysis.
In today's conflicted media environment, it's not uncommon for "fact checks" to be on the wrong side of the facts. That's because fact-checking and censorship tactics in the name of the truth have been co-opted by political and corporate interests, and others advancing specific ideologies.
In this context, the goal of the propagandists and information shapers isn't to sort out the truth: it's to take important information of great public interest (but that which is seen as harmful to the special interests pulling strings), and to controversialize and disaparage the information as well as the scientists, reporters and others who are reporting it.
Sometimes the propagandists do this by morphing the phrasing of a statement that it is choosing to fact check so that it can be deemed false, when in fact the heart of the original statement, or the information actually reported by the scientist, reporter or other figure, was actually true.
Sometimes the propagandists use phrases such as "without evidence" or "lacks context" to try to draw skepticism around information that's perfectly true or, at least, not proven false.
The latest embarrassing example of a conflicted fact check came from the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.
Back in March of 2021, Kessler chose to fact check a tweet by Republican Sen. Tom Cotton. Cotton had tweeted that under the Biden administration's Covid relief initiative, murderers like convicted Islamic extremist terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev from the Boston Marathon bombings would receive a Covid stimulus check.
It turns out Cotton was spot on; it was the fact checker Kessler who was mistaken. A local news reporter recently turned up information that, just as Cotton had predicted, Tsarnaev received a Covid stimulus check in prison.
The Washington Post didn't discover and revisit its error on its own: Cotton's representative reportedly asked the newspaper to correct its false information.
Still, the Post couldn't bear to honestly state that its fact check was simply wrong and there was no basis for it in the first place.
Instead, Kessler reduced his "Pinocchio" rating of Cotton's accurate statement from two Pinocchio's to one, still claiming that Cotton's prediction "lacks some context."
It could be argued that when someone whose stated job is to check facts, and that person gets the facts wrong, it is the most egregious sort of error. There was a time when the career of a reporter, let alone a fact-checker, would be at risk for getting the facts wrong-- especially when it happens over and over again.
But in today's conflicted media landscape, the fact checker is allowed to continue on his merry way, as if getting the facts wrong is irrelevant to his job.
In some ways, it probably is, if one understands the true goal of many of these initiatives: to shape opinion and disparage certain facts rather than to set them straight.
See Glenn Kessler's response below:
I respectively disagree with your analysis. The original fact check was focused on the fact that Cotton was blaming Democrats -- as the language in the bill that allowed the checks was in the original law passed under GOP control. That's the context that was missing from his comment. The fact check did not dwell on his comment about Tsarnaev -- it was noted in an aside -- but I felt it was worth revisiting in light of the query from Cotton's office. You know as a journalist that it's important to update articles if new facts emerged. If I were eager to continue on my "merry way," I could have easily ignored this or not bothered to tweet that I had updated the article. But that's not my style. I fact check both Democrats and Republicans, as you well know, and treat them both equally in terms of how I rate their statements.
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