Friday, April 7, 2017

PolitiFact fixes fact check on Syrian chemical weapons

When news reports recently appeared suggesting the Syrian government used chemical weapons, it presented a problem for PolitiFact. As noted by the Daily Caller, among others, PolitiFact said in 2014 it was "Mostly True" that 100 percent of Syrian chemical weapons were removed from that country.

If the Syrian government used chemical weapons, where did it get them? Was it a fresh batch produced after the Obama administration forged an agreement with Russia (seriously) to effect removal of the weapons?

Nobody really knows, just like nobody truly knew the weapons were gone when PolitiFact ruled it "Mostly True" that the weapons were "100 percent gone." (screen capture via the Internet Archive)


With public attention brought to its questionable ruling with the April 5, 2017 Daily Caller story, PolitiFact archived its original fact check and redirected the old URL to a new (also April 5, 2017) PolitiFact article: "Revisiting the Obama track record on Syria’s chemical weapons."

At least PolitiFact didn't make its old ruling simply vanish, but has PolitiFact acted in keeping with its commitment to the International Fact-Checking Network's statement of principles?
A COMMITMENT TO OPEN AND HONEST CORRECTIONS
We publish our corrections policy and follow it scrupulously. We correct clearly and transparently in line with our corrections policy, seeking so far as possible to ensure that readers see the corrected version.
And what is PolitiFact's clear and transparent corrections policy? According to "The Principles of PolitiFact, PunditFact and the Truth-O-Meter" (bold emphasis added):

When we find we've made a mistake, we correct the mistake.

  • In the case of a factual error, an editor's note will be added and labeled "CORRECTION" explaining how the article has been changed.
  • In the case of clarifications or updates, an editor's note will be added and labeled "UPDATE" explaining how the article has been changed.
  • If the mistake is significant, we will reconvene the three-editor panel. If there is a new ruling, we will rewrite the item and put the correction at the top indicating how it's been changed.
Is the new article an update? In at least some sense it is. PolitiFact removed and archived the fact check thanks to questions about its accuracy. And the last sentence in the replacement article calls the article an "update":
In the days and weeks to come, we will learn more about the recent attacks, but in the interest of providing clear information, we have replaced the original fact-check with this update.
If the new article counts as an update, we think it ought to wear the "update" tag that would make it appear on PolitiFact's "Corrections and Updates" page, where it has yet to appear (archived version).

And we found no evidence that PolitiFact posted this article to its Facebook page. How are readers misled about the original fact check supposed to encounter the update, other than by searching for it?

Worse still, the new article does not even appear on the list for the "The Latest From PolitiFact." What's the excuse for that oversight?

We believe that if PolitiFact followed its corrections policy scrupulously, we would see better evidence that PolitiFact publicized its admission it had taken down its "Mostly True" rating of the claim of an agreement removing 100 percent of Syria's chemical weapons.

Can evidence like this stop PolitiFact from receiving "verified" status in keeping the IFCN fact checkers' code?

We doubt it.


Afters
It's worth mentioning that PolitiFact's updated article does not mention the old article until the third paragraph. The fact that PolitiFact pulled and archived that article waits for the fifth paragraph, nearly halfway through the update.

Since PolitiFact's archived version of the pulled article omits the editor's name, we make things easy for our readers by going to the Internet Archive for the name: Aaron Sharockman.

PolitiFact's "star chamber" of editors approving the "Mostly True" rating likely included Angie Drobnic Holan and Amy Hollyfield.

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