Fact-checking: useful, until it becomes politically biased trivial pursuit

Summary: Monday’s debate shows the limit of fact-checking, even in those rare cases where it’s politically neutral. While useful in small doses, it boosts our obsession with the trivial aspects of the race and obscures the great issues at stake. Also, it’s seldom done with a neutral viewpoint — becoming glib defenses of the established narrative.

Truth, not Pravda, Will Make You Free


Fact-checking is useful but has become part of our dysfunctional political campaigns. They turn the debates into trivial pursuit, with fact-checking a fun, easy, cheap role for journalists. The product is entertaining and superficial — the hallmarks of modern election coverage. The deeper issues are lost in the chatter about sound bites and personalities. No surprise that only 55% of Americans vote for president. For example see Bloomberg’s Fact Checker’s summary of the debate

“The candidates spent a good deal of time on stop-and-frisk, racial issues, Obama birther matter, ISIS and nuclear weapons. Trump appeared to be rambling on a number of questions, especially on foreign policy. Clinton made points on the tax returns, with Trump not ending questions about whether he failed to pay any federal income taxes — and not offering a clear reason as to why he’s not releasing his tax returns.”

Where are the discussions of resurgent populism and progressivism, of long-suppressed issues such as mass immigration and globalization, and of vital questions such how to handle our failed wars since 9/11?

The major media’s fact checkers (see Bloomberg and the AP) caught some of Clinton’s whoppers (her flip-flopping about the Trans-Pacific Partnership), missed some (lying about Iran’s nuclear program; see tomorrow’s post), and displayed astonishing bias about others. Let’s look as examples of the bias.

Associated Press logo

Associated Press fact-checks the debate

TRUMP: “Our jobs are fleeing the country. They’re going to Mexico. They’re going to many other countries. … Ford is leaving … thousands of jobs leaving Michigan, leaving Ohio.”

THE FACTS: There are no official data on job flows between countries. However, the U.S. economy has added nearly 14.9 million jobs since 2010, when the economy bottomed out after the recession.

Since GM and Chrysler declared bankruptcy, the auto industry in particular has recovered and resumed hiring. The industry has added 300,000 jobs since June 2009, when the recession ended. Ford has announced it is moving production of small autos to Mexico, but says it won’t cut any U.S. jobs because it will make other vehicles at the affected plant.

AP’s response is pure misdirection, conflating the recovery from the recession with the decades-long outsourcing of jobs by corporations from the US to other nations. Changing the subject is the opposite of fact-checking.

Bloomberg logo

Bloomberg fact-checks the debate

Fact checking by Romaine Bostick. Liberal fact-checks forget to check their bias at the door.

“Fact Check: Fed Insists It’s Apolitical Despite Trump’s Criticism/

“Trump said that the Fed is ‘doing political things.’ Trump was reiterating an argument that low interest rates have inflated the stock market, and turmoil could result when rates are increased. That doesn’t hold up to past experience: markets were calm when Fed Chair Yellen and her colleagues raised rates in December, moving them above near-zero for the first time since the end of 2008. Yellen reiterated during a press conference in Washington last week that `I can say, emphatically, that partisan politics plays no role in our decisions about the appropriate stance of monetary policy.”’

This is absurd in several ways. First, Bostick gives her own interpretation of Trump’s words — looking at just interest rates effect on stock prices, although there are alternative interpretations of his three words. Second, the Fed lowered rates to zero on 16 December 2008. Looking at one incident in that period (with multiple interpretations) as rebuttal shows bias in action.

“Fact Check: Trump Job Creation Plan Would Set Record If Achieved.

“Trump says his policies will `be a job creator like we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan.’ That echoes promises made on Sept. 15 to create 25 million jobs in a decade — that would be more than three times as many as created since 2006. The most jobs ever created over such a period were the 24.4 million added in the 10 years ending in March 2001, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The worst stretch was the decade through March 2010, when about 2 million jobs were lost.”

Comparing employment growth over time should be done using percent growth, not absolute numbers. Otherwise we triumphantly conclude that Obama has generated more jobs in a month than George Washington in 8 years. The ten years ended March 2001 had 22% growth in nonfarm payrolls. Trump’s proposed 25 million new jobs in ten years would be 17% from August 2016, and less from January 2017. It’s a realistic goal.

“Fact Check: NAFTA Had a Modest Effect on Manufacturing Jobs.

“Trump Says Bill Clinton `signed NAFTA; which is one of the worst things that happened to the manufacturing industry.’ Economic Policy Institute analysis says manufacturing jobs dropped in the 1990s from 17.9 million to 17.6 million.”

Bostick gives a “fact” (i.e., one non-peer-reviewed study by a think-tank) about one narrow aspect of the effects from NAFTA — which tells us about her ability to use Google. It tells us almost nothing about NAFTA. For example, what happened to manufacturing sales? To manufacturing exports?

“Fact Check: Putin Maintains Russia Wasn’t Behind the DNC Hack.

“In an interview with Bloomberg earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin denied that Russia was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. At the same time, he said the hack was a public service. U.S. officials and a Clinton spokesman earlier this month said experts have concluded Russia was behind the hack.”

This is incredible. Is there anyone so naive to believe that the word of a US government official conveniently blaming Russia is the certain truth? If you are that trusting, for the cure see the big list of government lies, showing a few of the big lies by government officials during the past few generations.

The Onion logo

Another perspective

Open-Minded Voter Waits Almost 5 Minutes Into Debate To Decide Who Won” – from America’s one true news source, The Onion.

For More Information

For another example, see my experience with the fact-checkers at Politifact, and their skillful & loyal service to climate alarmism. Hard core propaganda in disguise.

Please like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter. See all posts information & disinformation – new media & old, about journalism, about Campaign 2016, and especially these about our political debates…

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