American Culture

“Fact checking”: of lies, distortions, and omissions, intentional or otherwise

photo of horse and rider reflected in water in the foreground

I’m not upside down. You’re upside down.

See also: our s@*t doesn’t stink

Hi! It’s your friendly neighborhood gadfly, back to swing from your nose hairs for a moment. Common Dreams has a 90% excellent article up at the moment: Why ‘Fact-Checking’ Gives Liars a Free Pass. It prompted some comment from me elsewhere, and since I love being shunned as widely as possible, I thought I should share here, as well.

First, some good:

“Yet nominally liberal outlets like NPR have been allowing serial liars like Paul Ryan to claim the connection exists without noting it doesn’t. Oh, I suppose it’s possible that Ryan is an idiot, not a liar, but either way, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and a host of other “liberal” outlets report on Ryan’s or Trump’s or McConnell’s claims as if they were plausible, then report on the Democrats’ rejection of the trickle down as if it, too were simply one of many possibilities, leaving out the obvious reality that there’s an objective truth out there that shows one claim to be a lie, the other true. The fact that Democrats are often complicit with Republicans in passing policies that favor the rich makes the press’s failure all the more serious.

To the extent mainstream media does attempt to divine the truth, they’ll do it in the context of “fact-checking.” Now, the implication of fact-checking is that one side or the other simply got their facts wrong. And maybe the first time out of the gate, that’s the approach we should take. Maybe it was OK, to give Reagan a pass in his first two years when he pushed “supply-side,” even though we knew then that, historically, lower taxes on the rich and less regulation of the financial sector had led to the two biggest economic dislocations in U.S. history. But, hey, maybe Ronnie didn’t know that. But when it happened again after Bush’s tax cuts and deregulation led to the second worst recession in U.S. history in 2008 and 2009, the MSM should have caught on.

When the “mistakes and misstatements” happen over and over again even after they’ve been show to be false, folks aren’t getting their facts wrong, they’re lying. Intentionally. Blatantly. And because the press largely refuses to call them what they are—liars—they can do it again and again with impunity. “

They’re not wrong, but is there a dose of irony in the portion I emphasized in bold?

This is where Team Left can often start slipping and then won’t catch themselves. If one points it out, it’s possible they’ll muster a legitimate correction, remotely. After all, it’s possible I’m wrong. Mostly, my experience is that as soon you you point out home team BS, they don’t want to hear it. Out, out, damned pariah! We have serious advocacy to do!

What about points like this in the article?

“Crime: Immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than residents so letting them in would actually reduce the crime rate.”

It’s true, even if it’s counter-intuitive, but it misses a point. Ultimately, it’s not even a point that matters in the big context to me, but for the group that demands empathy from the other side, you won’t find much empathy for the pro-wall friend and or family member of someone who was the victim of a crime that, but for the unlawful presence of a human being who ought not to have been present, would not have been the victim of that particular crime, rates be damned.

Take one 16 oz glass filled with 50% water, 50% glitter. Take another glass, only 8 oz, but filled with 75% water, 25% glitter. Dump glass two into glass one. What do you have? 24 oz, with 14 oz water, 10 oz glitter, or 42% glitter to 58% water. Overall, you end up with a higher concentration of glitter than when you started, and you had to add 2 oz of it to make it happen, but glass two had a lower concentration of glitter, so it’s okay.

Now, I’m not suggesting my numbers are representative at all. Quite the contrary, and to a point. I didn’t make an attempt to note US population less illegal immigration with an estimate of crime rate absent illegal immigration. I made no attempt to address the scope and scale of illegal immigration, rate of crime brought along with it, and the relative proportions to US population and crime rate absent illegal immigration. I made no attempt to reconcile the two to arrive at an actual net impact, either good or bad.

The point is, neither did Common Dreams in the article. Is it deception? Or sloppiness? Yet my team, Team Left sticks that bullet point in anyway, only addressing one tiny part of that complex mess of ratios and rates. Maybe if they were less sloppy they could make a stronger case, and I could fault them for not doing that. Maybe if they were less sloppy, they would make a weaker case, and I could fault them for doing that. This kind of sloppiness is part of how and why they lack persuasive power where they need it most…with the opposition, assuming, of course, that Team Opposition can be persuaded. It’s a tough battle. Few people wake up thinking, “I’m going to believe something awful today!” As a result, it should be no surprise that people who believe awful things are loathe to stop. It’s morally relative, but it’s not the kind of moral relativism moral relativists can be anything but absolutist about.

And no, I won’t stop being a gadfly by failing to point that out just because it’s inconvenient for my team. I also think the Saints should give up their Superbowl rings considering the bounty scandal leading up to their win. Sometimes, it’s okay to say, “screw my team, I don’t want to win like that.”

Then there’s this gem:

“The humanitarian crisis: Here, Trump was not directly lying. There is a humanitarian crisis brewing on our southern border. But what Trump left out is that it is his policies which are responsible for most of the crisis.”

They’re not wrong. They’re also not telling the whole story in the point. That’s extra weird of them because they were just making a point about the past performance of liars, and how that’s the crux of the reportage problem…that we don’t call liars liars when the liars are lying and it’s obvious they’re lying and not merely mistaken.

It’s almost like my team forgot, uncharacteristically, for a moment to note US policy, largely GOP with an assist from right-of-center Dems that we may mistakenly call liberal and the GOP shock troops mistakenly call nazisocialistcommiefascistlibtards because words mean nothing. Sure, Trump is exacerbating the crisis, but responsible for most of it?

Stop yanking my chain, my team. It’s a bad look, and I’ll call it out when I see it.

I also welcome correction. If I’m in error, show me. But I don’t need cynical lessons in how the ends justify our means but not theirs.