How some “fact checkers” at newspapers actually distort the truth

Given the mess that was started by a “fact checker” at the Washington Post named Glenn Kessler when he joined the right-wing attack on a story about a 10-year-old having to travel to Indiana for an abortion, it is probably a good idea to re-visit this article by the always excellent Alex Pareene in the pages of TNR:

At the June 28 Democratic presidential debate, Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Three people [in this country] own more wealth than the bottom half of America.” And Glenn Kessler, who leads The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” blog, wrote, “This snappy talking point is based on numbers that add up.” But Kessler, having checked the fact and confirmed that it was true, for some reason continued checking. “People in the bottom half have essentially no wealth,” he helpfully pointed out. “So the comparison is not especially meaningful.”

That seems like a judgment call best left to, say, a “meaning-checker,” but Kessler, a former business section editor who happens to be a descendant of Royal Dutch Shell and Procter & Gamble executives—an actual member of the American elite and a likely member of the one percent—makes Sanders the regular target of his attempts to police the bounds of acceptable political realities from his perch at The Washington Post. In June, he dinged Sanders for saying that “millions of Americans are forced to work two or three jobs”—because, while Sanders was right, at least eight million do work more than one job, 95 percent of Americans don’t. His team has also taken on Sanders’s claim that health care costs lead to 500,000 bankruptcies a year, going so far as to fact-check the study where Sanders found that statistic. Finding fault with its premises, they declared the study to be untrue, and awarded the candidate three “Pinocchios” for referencing it. (In the lexicon of the Post’s fact-checking department, lies, rather than causing Pinocchio’s nose to grow, cause him to spontaneously reproduce, like a very naughty paramecium.)

Sanders may get the worst of it, but no one is safe from Kessler’s cherry-picking, his tendentious selection of experts from an array of reliably center-right publications and think tanks (“Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute wrote recently for Bloomberg” is a typical Kesslerism), or his insistence on presenting center-right economic assumptions as “facts.” When Senator Cory Booker, for instance, made an entirely factual statement about American gun violence, Kessler took issue, again, with Booker’s premise, calling it “facile” (raising the question, once more, of whether we are reading the “Fact Checker” or the “Superficiality Checker”).

Because Kessler is particularly bad at his job—or, rather, because he is doing a different job, that of a centrist columnist disguised as a fact-checker—he has deflected attention from his competitors, most of whom also routinely mistake elite conventional wisdom for truth. In September, PolitiFact, the venerable fact-checking operation run by the nonprofit Poynter Institute, waded into a fight between Julian Castro and Joe Biden over their health care plans, and found a disputable but eminently supportable claim Castro has made—that there is a “big difference” between a plan people are automatically enrolled in and one they opt into—to be “mostly false.”

You can read the rest here.

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