COVID Damage Control, Not ‘Fact Checking’

Posted on Sat 12/05/2020 by


By Tim Graham ~

USA Today has a “fact checking” team that is funded and weaponized by Facebook to limit or censor social-media posts. But amazingly, the standard employed isn’t whether something is factual or non-factual. It seems to be whether someone is a Democrat or not.

“Fact checker” Abby Patkin penned a December 1 article revolving around the claim: “Several Democratic politicians are urging social distancing and issuing stay-at-home advisories while hosting or attending gatherings themselves.” Patkin threw a penalty flag at the conservative Facebook page of “Occupy Democrats Logic,” which included a November 13 tweet about Democrat hypocrisy by former One America News host Liz Wheeler.

The politicians Wheeler criticized were hypocrites. Fact check: True.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who enforces a three-household limit to gatherings, attended a rule-violating birthday party inside a swanky restaurant called The French Laundry.  Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot attended a large street party for Joe Biden a day after she urged Chicagoans to “stop having guests over — including family members you do not live with” and to “cancel traditional Thanksgiving plans” to “bend the curve” of the virus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a large dinner for House Democrats, which was then cancelled a few hours later.

But USA Today wouldn’t rule these facts as “True.” Instead, Patkin ruled: “Based on our research, we rate this claim as MISSING CONTEXT. It’s true that some politicians have acted contrary to the social distancing and stay-at-home practices they are preaching, though Pelosi did not end up hosting a ‘giant reception,’ as Wheeler’s tweet claimed.”

This isn’t fact checking. It’s damage control.

The apparent “context” that USA Today demanded? “Ultimately, however, it’s not just some Democratic politicians flouting COVID-19 policies and guidance — this has been an issue on both sides of the aisle, including a coronavirus outbreak at the White House.

So calling out a Democrat as a hypocrite is somehow classified as a “fact” distortion, because the Republicans are more skeptical of COVID lockdowns and “guidance.”

The proper decision here is to rule these actions were “true,” or pick another topic. Don’t smear conservatives with “missing context.”  Don’t use a “fact check” to say “I don’t like your tweet/Facebook post.”

The “Occupy Democrats Logic” page actually removed its Facebook post on this topic, even as its administrator Will Ricciardella told Patkin there were more examples of Democrat lockdown hypocrisy, like Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser traveling out of state to celebrate Biden’s victory.

The list goes on. San Francisco Mayor London Breed also visited the posh French Laundry restaurant, a night after Newsom. Pelosi and Lightfoot each got haircuts while their jurisdictions didn’t allow hair salons to open.

But to USA Today, you’re “missing context” to write about it on the Internet.

On the very same day, USA Today intern Camille Caldera offered another “context check.” Trump staffer Matt Wolking tweeted out a 2014 photo of Biden’s pick for press secretary, Jen Psaki, wearing a fluffy pink hat with a communist hammer and sickle on it as she posed with her arms around Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and John Kerry, then her boss at the State Department. Caldera ruled “The image is real, but claims that the hat was anything more a gift or that Psaki was with Russian officials in any capacity beyond her official role are MISSING CONTEXT.”

It’s just more damage control, after USA Today and the rest of the media spent four years applying the “context” that Team Trump was too dangerously close to the Russians. It can be hard to tell the difference between Democratic Party talking points and “independent fact-checking.”

Tim Graham is the Executive Editor at NewsBusters, and he is the Director of  Media Analysis at the Media Research Center. His career at the MRC began in February 1989 as associate editor of MediaWatch, the monthly newsletter of the MRC before the Internet era.

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