Just like “fake news,” “fact check” has become a disputed term in the contemporary media-political world. Though its very use conveys authority to referee a dispute about real-world truths, that authority isn’t always accepted at face value. Many conservatives, for starters, question the neutrality of fact-checkers and claim that the format is just a fancily dressed porter of bias and lefty cheerleading.
The point? Use the term “fact check” only when you’re actually checking facts. The Associated Press took leave of this commonsense notion Monday, as it published a piece with this headline: “FACT CHECK: Streep overrated? Trump picks a decorated star.” The article addressed Trump’s tweet ripping actress Meryl Streep following her speech at the Golden Globe Awards attacking the president-elect. The AP’s treatment conceded that this wasn’t, in fact, a fact-check: “While ‘overrated’ is an opinion, Streep, who took aim at Trump in her speech while accepting the Globes lifetime achievement award, holds the record for the most Academy Award nominations of any actor. She has earned 19 Oscar nominations and three wins, as well as a record 29 Golden Globe nominations and eight wins, and two Emmy Awards.”
Breitbart News, a fiercely pro-Trump outlet, duly took note of the AP’s flexible headlining norms.
Asked about why the AP would fact-check an opinion, spokeswoman Lauren Easton replied, “The story was refiled to remove ‘fact check’ from the headline about 90 minutes after it was initially published, but the original version remained on a number of sites until an updated version replaced the original and carried a new headline.”