Thursday, February 8, 2018

Are fact checkers fact-checking opinions more? Blame Trump! (Updated)

The fact checkers at PolitiFact apparently can't keep themselves from allowing their opinions to seep into their work.

Fortunately, we can all blame President Trump. That way, the fact checkers need not acknowledge any error.

A Feb. 6, 2018  PolitiFact fact check took as an assertion of fact Trump's apparent opinion that the word "treason" might apply to Democrats who failed to applaud good news about the United States during Trump's State of the Union Address.


PolitiFact, in classic straw man fashion, insisted that "treason" had to refer to the type codified in law, and so rated Trump's claim "Pants on Fire" (bold emphasis added):
Trump said that at the State of the Union address, Democrats, "even on positive news … were like death and un-American. Un-American. "even on positive news … were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?"

There’s a good reason why not: Declining to applaud the president doesn’t come anywhere near meeting the constitutionally defined threshold of treason, which in any case can’t occur except in wartime. Rather, legal experts agree that it is a clear case of constitutionally protected free speech. We rate the statement Pants on Fire.
In fact, "treason" has a broader definition than PolitiFact allowed:

  1. the offense of acting to overthrow one's government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
  2. a violation of allegiance to one's sovereign or to one's state.
  3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery. 
Failing to applaud good news about one's state would, in a sense, violate allegiance to one's state. And, more to the point, one can define words as one likes. One could, for example, choose to define the word "Rump" to refer exclusively to President Trump. One can do such things because words are ultimately just symbols representing ideas, and people can choose what idea to associate with what symbol.

Is it a good idea to use words in ways that run against their commonly understood meanings? That's a different issue.

Trump afforded his critics another marvelous opportunity to criticize his temperament and wisdom, but that criticism belongs in op-eds, not fact checks.

The dastardly Trump forced helpless journalists to abandon their objectivity.

How dare he.


Update Feb. 8, 2018

We weren't going to make a big deal of PolitiFact saying that Trump was suggesting that not applauding for him (Trump) might qualify as treason.

But then PolitiFact started emphasizing that misleading headline on Twitter:
That's just bad reporting, and it's a classic example of a biased headline. Trump says failing to applaud good news about the United States might pass as treason, not the failure to applaud President Trump.

Nonpartisan and objective journalists should be able to distinguish between the two.

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