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Fact-Checking The Fact Checkers

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Covid And Climate Change: Fact-Checking The Fact Checkers

Fact-checking is a growth industry.

WRITTEN BY TILAK DOSHI

According to the latest annual fact-checking census compiled in October 2019 by Duke Reporters’ Lab, there are at least 210 fact-checking platforms currently working in 68 countries.

This nearly quintuples the number offered by the first edition of the same census released in 2014. Fact-checking the news is an important business.

Most people – from the humble farmer in the dusty villages of Asia and Africa to the hot-shot ‘masters of the universe’ on Wall Street – own mobile phones and have ready real-time access (often free, some paywalled) to news and information carried by the print and social media which permeate the internet.

News freely or cheaply available on the mobile phone or the PC is important to livelihoods, from the bid price of the rice crop in the nearest rural wholesale market to share-price quotes on the New York Stock Exchange.

And much of it is important to all of us as individuals with concerns about our jobs, our neighborhoods, our countries, and the well-being of family and friends.

Fact Checkers: Pastors Of The Flock

In two of the most contentious areas of contemporary affairs – the impact of the covid pandemic and climate change on lives and livelihood – the question of just what the “facts” are remains as elusive to many of us as to our parents and grandparents who grappled with problems in their own times.

But they only had access to rumors and perhaps cheap broadsheets available at the nearest street-side corner or the samizdat from underground sources in totalitarian states.

As the priests in pre-reformation Europe who curated the Bible for its true meaning on behalf of their flock of loyal, mostly illiterate believers, today’s fact-checkers are self-appointed media gatekeepers.

They purport to winnow out the chaff of misinformation and “fake news” from the grain of facts and narrative truth. But are they the guardians of truth and accountability as they claim or are they the enforcers of the reigning political narrative?

Are they the arbiters of “consensus science” (an oxymoron) that allegedly encompasses truths about climate change or the covid pandemic? Are they the stalwarts of partisan politics, purveyors themselves of fakery and hype that they claim to combat?

In American society beset by the culture wars and increasing politicization of life at all levels, it may not come as a surprise that we are witnessing “the downward spiral of the fact-checking profession that is primarily run by politically engaged reporters, not expert specialists in the subjects they assess by any sense of the imagination”.

Covid-19 Pandemic: Some Very Basic Questions

Over two years into the pandemic, some of the most basic questions remain contentious, and even questions of data integrity remain mired in controversy.

Are covid deaths over-reported since many may have died with covid rather than of covid? Did lockdowns and masks make any discernible difference to public health? Are there viable early treatments for the disease available or are vaccines approved under Emergency Use Authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the only way to go? Are covid vaccines safe and effective?

To each of these questions, the overwhelming majority of the fact-checking sites (or fact-checking departments of the legacy media) support the reigning narrative articulated by big pharmaceutical companies, government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the FDA, and key government officials such as Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The Biden administration welcomes this and goes further in calling social media companies such as Facebook to partner with the White House to “fight misinformation” about covid-19.

Climate Change: A Decades-Old Debate

Like the media coverage of Covid-19, climate change headlines in the mainstream media for the past three decades have been overwhelmingly one-sided.

The basic premise is that the “science is settled” as in a tweet by then U.S. President Barack Obama in 2013: “Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: climate change is real, man-made and dangerous” with the obvious subtext: “Who are you to challenge this?”

And, as in the Covid-19 context, the marginalization of climate skeptics has a long track record.

Two examples suffice how fact checks and editorializing serve to ensure that skeptics need not apply for access to the wider public.

The first relates to the London-based BBC, fondly known as the “Beeb”, for its authoritative news broadcasts around the world as it emerged from the ashes of World War II.

The British media giant was known and praised not only for its balanced news features but also for its nature documentaries.

And in this space, two celebrities with the same first name – David Bellamy and David Attenborough – emerged in the 1970s, directing fascinating TV programs on nature and the environment from every corner of the globe into tens of millions of homes.

As British commentator James Dellingpole wrote in his eulogy to Bellamy who died in 2019, “both were superstars…both were well on their way to becoming national treasures.”

Yet, while one, Attenborough, basks in the glow of international fame and is invited to many of the climate conferences as star speaker and delegate, the other claimed he had become a pariah as soon as he rejected group-think on global warming – describing climate change as “poppycock”.

Though his climate skepticism killed his media career he remained utterly unrepentant. The BBC itself has made it clear to its staff that it will not invite climate skeptics to its interviews and panel discussions to balance debates because the “science is settled”.

More recently, fact-checkers have been busy at their craft with yet another outlier: prominent physicist Steven Koonin, previously Under Secretary for Science under the Obama administration, provost of Caltech, and Chief Scientist of BP.

He published a book titled Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, And Why It Matters in 2021, which argued against the prevailing climate alarmist narrative.

Prior to its release, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a review of the book and this was followed shortly by a “fact check” by a site called “Climate Feedback”.

On its website, Climate Feedback describes itself as a “worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage. Our goal is to help readers know which news to trust.”

This “fact check” was cited by Facebook in discrediting the WSJ review and the book itself in all user posts that linked to the book review.

This was then followed by an editorial by the WSJ which pointed out that while disagreement with the book’s author is par for the course, as all science progresses with disputation, calling such disagreement a “fact check” was a false claim.

Dr. Koonin himself then provided a rebuttal in the WSJ.

Fact Checks Are Just Mainstream Opinions

Without getting into details about the claims of the so-called fact-checker, the key point here is to note the perversion of truth in representing the arguments critiqued in such “fact checks”.

Perhaps this is best revealed by the fact that Facebook argued in its legal defense that its cited fact check was “just opinion” when faced with a lawsuit brought by celebrated journalist John Stossel who had posted two climate change videos.

Readers and viewers beware of this peculiar twist to the caveat emptor clause: the “fact checks” used by the mainstream news outlets and social media to police what you read and watch are just opinions.

1 COMMENT

  1. Remember a few weeks back when the NZ Govt claimed that henceforth it would count the death statistics in three categories:
    (a) Cases in which covid was the cause of death
    (b) Cases in which covid was present in the patient at the time of death (and by implication may or may not have been the cause of that death), and
    (c) Cases in which the contribution of covid to the death was unknown.

    The first two categories are commonly known as death BY covid and death WITH covid.

    And what do we get in the daily statistics released by the Govt?

    All three categories still all rolled into one reported death statistic.
    And the ever-gullible public still assume that the number of daily reported deaths is an indication of the severity of the disease.

    One could be forgiven for thinking that the aim of the government is to pull the wool over our eyes!

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