Sometimes anecdotage agrees with data.
For years, the antennae of the Erik Wemple Blog have been detecting a plume of negativity from conservative commentators and websites about the work of reporters from PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, The Washington Post’s Fact Checker and so on. Now there’s a study to put some numbers to the trend:
Those charts come from a recent study from the Duke Reporters’ Lab co-authored by Rebecca Iannucci and Bill Adair, creator of PolitiFact. A squad of undergraduate students examined five liberal publications and five conservative publications in search of references to the fact-checking industry. They found 792 references.
And those references divided cleanly along ideological lines:
Fact-checkers are used to the conservative put-downs by now, as well as some precision targeting from liberals. Anyone remember Rachel Maddow’s passionate challenges to the fact-checks of PolitiFact?
Another thing they’re used to: invocative opportunism. This is a common disease in which a commentator dismisses a mainstream institution as a hive of corrupt and pockmarked liberalism when the conclusions are inconvenient, and an authority worth citing when the conclusions are convenient. Fox News host Tucker Carlson recently provided perhaps the most naked example of this depravity.
On the fact-checking front, this form of hypocrisy is accomplished with a certain four-letter word:
Breitbart: “Even PolitiFact found Clinton’s claim to be misleading.” NewsBusters: “Even Hard-Left Politifact Criticized the New ‘Definition’ of ‘Mass Shooting’ Two Months Ago.” Twitchy: “Not even PolitiFact can overlook this year’s obvious ‘Lie of the Year.’ ”
Such instances apparently penetrated certain ivory towers in the vicinity of Durham, N.C. “We found conservative sites often used phrases such as ‘Even PolitiFact…’ to simultaneously make a dig against fact-checkers while also citing their work. Our team discussed whether they constituted positive or negative references and decided to code them as positive because, beyond the snark, the fact-checker’s work was still being positively cited.”
Several years ago, Mark Hemingway, in the Weekly Standard, put in a word for ignoring the fact-checking organizations — or, “failing that, constantly reminding people they should be skeptical.” Even the Weekly Standard couldn’t bring itself to counsel a full-on link ban against mainstream media fact-checkers.