In a spirit of true bipartisanship, famous fact-checking site PolitiFact announced a pair of reader advocates: Republican David Jolly and Democrat Alan Grayson, both former congressmen from Florida. These folks, wrote PolitiFact’s Aaron Sharockman, will be “free to critique any of our fact-checks starting today, and we won’t restrict what they have to say.”
There’ll be no criticism of PolitiFact for instituting self-criticism. We hear allegations all the time — especially from critics on the right — that the site doesn’t drive down the middle line in the country’s political divide. Deploying ex-congressmen with experience on the wrong end of fact-checking stands to illuminate PolitiFact users.
But hold on: Alan Grayson?
He’s the pol who is showcased jostling with Politico reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere at a 2016 event. Dovere was seeking comment from Grayson regarding allegations from his ex-wife that he had battered her for many years. Video of what happened next shows the two men in a heated exchange as Grayson sought to exit the event. As Dovere presses Grayson with questions, the two bump into each other in clumsy ways, in what an National Football League official would likely rule “incidental contact.”
That’s not the way Grayson felt, however. “You’re assaulting a member of Congress,” says Grayson. The confrontation then moves to an elevator waiting area, where Grayson scolds Dovere, “Do you seriously think that this is the proper way to conduct an interview?” When Dovere points out that Grayson is a public official, Grayson asks whether that gives him the “right to push me.” Dovere: “You pushed me, sir.” Grayson: “You pushed me.” The congressman tells Dovere that he’ll be turning over video of the moment to the Capitol Police.
In a phone chat Thursday afternoon, the Erik Wemple Blog told Grayson that he’d been harsh on Dovere in the incident. “Have you seen the video?” he asked. The way he recounts things, Dovere approached him off camera for an interview; Grayson declined and recommended setting up an interview. Every reporter knows that such an invitation equals stonewalling. “He then came back and ambushed me with a camera rolling after I had told him to call my office. He started throwing questions at me. I reminded him of my conversation a few moments earlier. He insisted on asking me questions and blocked me from leaving. He chest-bumped me three times,” said Grayson. Dovere challenges this version*:
It was the chest bumps and not the questions, Grayson said, that prompted him to threaten to sic the cops on Dovere. Uh, huh.
In August 2016, Grayson was defeated in a primary race for a U.S. Senate seat from Florida, dogged not only by the battering allegations but other negative stories as well.
After the Erik Wemple Blog sent a question to Sharockman about Grayson on Thursday, we received this reply:
I’m not going to defend Alan’s actions or past behavior. But I do want to be clear about what this is.
David and Alan will have the opportunity to add additional insight and perspective as a P.S. to our fact-checks. They will not be involved in the ratings or our work. This is an experiment through April to see what readers think. Over that time, we will publish hundreds of fact-checks and I expect David and Alan to weigh in on a dozen or so. And, and this is important, if it doesn’t work, or we don’t find their insights useful, we can pull the plug.
After some social-media pressure along these lines …
PolitiFact judgment-checked itself:
After the decision, Sharockman told the Erik Wemple Blog: “I was concerned about his candidate status and his fundraising, and a conversation with him about that didn’t remedy those concerns. But it also became clear to me that he would not be effective in helping us improve trust and credibility in fact checking. Given that was the whole point of this position, I decided it best we go our separate ways.”
During the blog’s conversation with Grayson — and before we knew about PolitiFact pulling the plug on him — we asked him whether he buys the conservative critique that PolitiFact tilts left. “No,” Grayson replied. “I think that’s the same as the right wing deriding every story that damages them as fake news. It’s a ploy. They’re trying to shoot the messenger.”
*Inserted after the post was originally published.