Fact-Check Websites And The Failure Of “Anti-Establishment” Journalism
Before we begin, I just want to say that I have nothing against the concept of fact-checking websites — because that needs to be said these days. To certain people, if you tell them you take issues with this or that “fact-checking” website and what they say, they’ll think you’re against facts and the checking of them. But I’m not against facts, I like facts, I dislike fact-checking websites.
Except even that's not true, I don’t hate fact-checking websites, I hate how they operate. Specifically, how they must always find something wrong with the mainstream narrative, something to “fact-check”, no matter what. While questioning the mainstream narrative is good, in fact, that’s what I do, sometimes the mainstream narrative is correct and doesn’t need to be fact-checked.
Let me give you an example: On 2/28/2020 during a rally in South Carolina, then-President Donald Trump said the following:
Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, “How’s President Trump doing?” They go, “Oh, not good, not good.” They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa, they can’t even count. No they can’t. They can’t count their votes.
One of my people came up to me and said, “Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they’ve been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning, they lost, it’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax. But you know, we did something that’s been pretty amazing. We’re 15 people [cases of coronavirus infection] in this massive country. And because of the fact that we went early, we went early, we could have had a lot more than that.”
Now, if you read that statement, you likely thought Donald Trump was saying that COVID-19 was a hoax. After all, he did specifically say “this is their new hoax,” in reference to Democrats talking about COVID-19. Well, lucky for us our betters at Snopes are here to set the record straight:
In context, Trump did not say in the passage above that the virus itself was a hoax. He instead said that Democrats’ criticism of his administration’s response to it was a hoax.
(Wait, he was saying “Democrats’ criticism of his administration’s response to [COVID-19] was a hoax?” So he was saying the idea that Democrats are criticizing his COVID-19 response a hoax? Others have said Trump was calling the “politicization” of COVID-19 a hoax, meaning he was calling the idea that politicians were responding to it a hoax. A pretty good way to tell this is utter nonsense is that none of the alternative explanations to this make any sense whatsoever.)
Mind you, by this point the Trump administration had not done anything in response to COVID-19 outside of banning travel to the United States from certain countries, which was later proven to be ineffective and full of loopholes. What response measure was he calling criticism of a “Democrat hoax”? — whatever that means. (Oh yeah, there’s also the small fact that that doesn’t mean anything — but that should be rather obvious.)
Factcheck.org similarly rolled-over, but they had a rather interesting reason:
But the following day, after the death of the first American from coronavirus in Washington state, Trump said that when he used the word “hoax,” he was referring to Democrats finding fault with his administration’s response to coronavirus, not the virus itself.
Yeah, that’s called a back-peddle. The fact is, everyone who heard Trump’s words at the time — supporter, detractor, or neutral on his COVID-19 response and his administration in general — heard him say that COVID-19 was a “Democrat hoax.” Donald Trump also didn’t “correct himself” until after COVID-19 had entered the United States and started killing people. In fact, some Trump supporters still believe that’s what he said — just check a conspiracy theory FaceBook or Twitter account and you’ll see tons of people denying that COVID-19 even exists.
Still, Factcheck.org points out that some crazy DemocRAT extremists like Micheal Bloomberg (who, reminder, was not a Democrat until he wanted to run for President), Pete Buttigieg, and Terry McAuliffe didn’t buy into the man who lies a lot saying he didn’t actually say something he obviously said.
Here’s a simple test to determine if that’s what Trump meant: Let's say hypothetically COVID-19 never entered the United States, let’s even say that it was discovered there was no COVID-19 and it was made up by the amorphous blob known as “The Democrats” to harm Trump during the 2020 Presidential Election. Would Trump then say his 2/28/2020 statement was him calling “criticism of his response to the virus” a hoax, or would he say that his statement was him calling the virus a hoax?
Might I remind you, this was the same man who spent the entire pandemic refusing to wear a mask, refusing to endorse mask-wearing in general, begging states to re-open during the pandemic, and even going after his fellow Republicans like Larry Hogan and Mike DeWine for taking harsher measures against the pandemic. One could even say that Trump thought the dangers around COVID-19 was a “Democratic hoax,” — but that can’t be what he said, because the fact check websites told me he didn’t.
Both the words coming out of his mouth and his actions after he said those words lead to the conclusion that Trump called COVID-19 a hoax — the only evidence anyone has to the contrary is Trump himself claiming he didn’t. Funny how every other statement about this comment is in need of investigation — except for the statement about it made by the man who would be hurt the most if the nation were to believe he called COVID-19 a hoax. That must be accepted without question, and anyone who says otherwise is a crazy conspiracy theorist.
This is a bit of a side note, but these fact-check websites love to just take whatever a politician says at face value. CNN recently did a fact-check of a Joe Biden townhall, here’s the setup:
Biden called for community college to be made free for all. He said this would cost $9 billion. Then he added: “We spend almost that money as a break for people who own racehorses.”
Now, when I heard Joe Biden say that I assumed he was making reference to tax breaks primarily used, either by circumstances or design, by those in the upper-class. Not literally some kind of special tax-cut for people who own racehorses.
Here’s the fact-check:
Facts First: There is no available evidence for the claim that the tax break for racehorse owners costs the government almost $9 billion. The White House declined to provide a source for the figure.
The reason they do this is simple, the point of fact-checking websites is — well, to check facts. However, that doesn’t mean just “getting information” is why people go to these websites. People go to these websites to find common beliefs that are actually incorrect — and articles on common beliefs that debunk them tend to be the most popular. If you look at the trending articles at any given time they’re even some relevant news story or a takedown of commonly held beliefs — usually a combination of both, in fact. This is because publishing an article with a headline like “What Most People Already Believe Turns Out To Be True” does not get nearly as many clicks as “Everyone Except The People Who Read This Article Will Be Forever Doomed To Wrongness.” It’s actually the exact opposite of an echo-chamber in a rather interesting way, as people go to these websites not to have their pre-existing ideologies confirmed, but specifically to have them debunked.
Hence why they commonly have to look for something, anything, to contradict the mainstream narrative, no matter how desperate. And trust me, they can get rather desperate. For example, Politifacts rated the following statement from Joe Biden’s Cheif-of-Staff Jon Klain as false:
The process to distribute the vaccine, particularly outside of nursing homes and hospitals out into the community as a whole, did not really exist when we came into the White House.
Here was their reasoning:
Many experts said that the Trump administration’s plan had some key holes, including a failure to communicate with the states and cities about the rollout and inadequate funding for vaccine distribution. But it did have a plan: rely on the states.
In the words of famous military general Twilight Sparkle, “that’s not a plan.” Or at least, that’s a rather vague and basic plan that the White House would have little involvement with one way or the other.
But Trump’s COVID-19 response was widely unpopular, and likely the thing that made him lose re-election, so defending the most controversial aspects of it not only gets you those clicks, but also makes you look more “non-partisan” to people who don’t actually read the articles in question.
If you want to know the major issue with these fact-checking websites, it’s that many of them put “proving popular things wrong” over just reporting the truth. They’re dedicated to disproving any and all mainstream narratives, never stopping to think if all mainstream narratives are wrong in the first place. While it’s good to question what the mainstream media is telling us, we shouldn’t be mindlessly dismissing it, or worse throwing out facts in hopes it will own them, just because they’re mainstream.
“Anti-establishment” journalism, in general, has this issue, where people are constantly trying to one-up each other into finding the next “mainstream narrative” to be destroyed. Of course, this becomes an issue when the “mainstream narrative” isn’t actually wrong, as they sometimes aren’t. Even Surgeon’s Law says that only 90% of things are garbage, not 100%.
During the start of the Trump administration, various “anti-establishment” people such as Howard Stern, Eminem, and Micahel Moore were criticized by other “anti-establishment” types like Paul Joseph Watson for taking the “establishment” position that the President of the United States sucks. Mindless “anti-establishment” writing quickly becomes a racket where people are trying to out “anti-establishment” each other above all else, getting more points in an imaginary game by how “anti-establishment” they are.
Take, for example, Green Greenwald’s recent split from The Intercept over the website editing his article on the Hunter Biden email scandal. For the record, I investigated and covered the Hunter Biden email scandal as it was going on and found it to be utter nonsense and found it to be utter nonsense. However, other powerful people also thought it was bullshit, and Twitter wouldn’t allow people to post the New York Post article on the topic because it was leaked information so, therefore, believing it is a giant middle-finger to the establishment, regardless of how little evidence there is to it.
And yes, this can lead people into dangerous nonsense like Flat Earth, Geocentrism, the idea that Dinosarces never existed, Sandy Hook Truth, and much more. This is not to say that even all conspiracy theories are wrong, I myself believe in quite a large number of them and have written in defense of some in the past, however, the idea that something is true because it’s a conspiracy theory leads to people believing it utter nonsense.
There’s this man, who is now dead, named Liam Scheff who is most known for getting into a fight with a YouTuber named Miles Power after Miles went after him during a review of the HIV denialist film House Of Numbers. However, he wrote a book titled Offical Stories: Counter Arguments For A Culture In Need. Here is the Amazon description:
“Official stories exist to protect officials.” With the opening line as our guide, we’re going to pry open the vault of “official-dom” and see what lies beneath. Drawing information from 10 years of investigative journalism, Liam invites you to join the hunt for the details that lie just beneath the surface. In this heavily-researched but irreverent book, we’ll look under the rocks and stones of our culture: From CIA and JFK, to 9/11 and Shakespeare; from Vaccination to HIV to Big Bang theory, Darwinism, Plate Tectonics and more. Think of it as a corrective textbook to all the tales we were taught in school. Why do we accept some stories as true when the details so obviously contradict the headlines? We’re going to find out what’s real, what’s true, and what’s just an “official story.”
Yes, this book has chapters on HIV denialism, Shakespear denialism, and Plate Tectonics denialism along with the typical chapters about Vaccines, JKF, 9/11, and Evolution. Schiff died in 2017, but his life-long work is enough to fill many lifetime's worths of crazy. This was a man who, by his own admission, set out to prove as many “official stories” wrong as possible.
“Offical stories” are nothing more than other sources. They are not any more valid than other citations, but they are also no less. Mindless hatred of “the establishment” is a waste of time as well as utter nonsense, and doing so is a waste of time for anyone who actually wants to learn how the world works.