Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Unbeliebable Hilarity of Abortion

If you're the kind of prude that can't joke about abortion, then PunditFact isn't the nonpartisan fact-checker for you.

Recently PunditFacter C. Eugene Emery Jr. wondered if Sarah Palin made a true claim about the abortion stances of Donald Trump and Justin Bieber. Palin claimed that both Trump and Bieber held "pro-choice" positions in the past but now disavow those positions. The post originally caught my attention because I couldn't figure out what exactly Emery Jr. was fact checking. The closest we get to an explanation is this:

I'm not sure if the term "conversion" is intentional snark directed at religious believers or if it's just an inapt choice of words, but in any event the sentence is vague. Is PundiFact simply trying to verify Bieber was formerly pro-choice and is now opposed to abortion? Are they determining if Bieber came to his new position via an affirmation of faith or if his new public stance is a matter of political convenience? Without knowing specifically what Emery Jr. is checking we can't determine if the evidence supports his ruling or if it's even a verifiable fact to check. [Note: I used a screengrab for PunditFact's sentence instead of quoting the text for reasons discussed below.]

If ambiguity was the only problem with the piece I would have probably ignored it. Unfortunately for his readers, Emery Jr. chose to use the serious topic of abortion to display his comedic talents. Note the opening sentence of the post:
What do Donald Trump and Justin Bieber have in common?
Humongous hair?
Big bucks?
How about a case of abortion contortion?
Ha! Get it? Abortion contortion! ZING!

And that's just the beginning of the yuk-yuk tone throughout the article. Emery Jr's entire post is peppered with a repeat gag wherein he uses a specific word that is hyperlinked to a Justin Bieber video. For example, when Emery Jr. uses the word "sorry," the text links to Justin Bieber's music video for the song "Sorry." Emery Jr. seems to think this spoof is so hilarious he repeats it with the word "believe," and the phrases "never say never," "No Pressure," and "What do you mean."

Whatever one's views on abortion, it is not a funny topic. At the very least it involves a complicated decision and often an invasive surgery for a woman. For those who subscribe to the notion that life begins somewhere between conception and birth, abortion can quite sincerely be viewed as the death of a viable human being.

It's beyond the scope and purpose of this website to weigh in on the moral, scientific, and philosophical debate surrounding abortion. But anyone holding conventionally accepted sensibilities and decency recognizes that abortion is not a subject ripe for clever barbs and smartassery. 

Eugene Emery Jr. and his editor, Katie Sanders, betray a woeful lack of both seriousness and good judgement when they yuk it up over such a solemn issue. Further, their humor displays a comfort level with mockery that we think a right-leaning voice in PunditFact's newsroom would disapprove of.

It seems that for PunditFact, abortion jokes aren't just acceptable watercooler chat, they're worthy of publishing.

PunditFact's poor choices don't end there. In the screengrab above readers will note that the word "overboard" is highlighted indicating a hyperlink. The link leads to a YouTube version of Bieber's song "Overboard."  We chose not to link to it ourselves because unlike all the other instances where PunditFact links to the official Justin Bieber Vevo account, Emery Jr. links to a pirated version of the "Overboard" song, presumably unauthorized by Bieber or his label.

In case readers had any doubt about PunditFact's ethics, note that making a joke in an abortion article was so important to them they chose to promote music piracy to make the gag work when they couldn't find an official version offered by the artist. (Perhaps this was accidental, but that would only highlight their shoddy editing standards.)

PunditFact's journalistic clowns had another embarrassing trick up their sleeve that my co-editor Bryan pointed out. Here's how PunditFact laid out some of its evidence:
The Chicago Sun-Times said in a Jan. 21, 2013, story that it had spoken with an unnamed "longtime Bieber associate" who claimed, "I don't believe he agrees with his mom on this issue."

Some might interpret that to mean that Bieber is now pro-abortion — which would signal a new position on abortion that, sorry, does not fit Palin’s point. However, PolitiFact has a policy of not relying on unnamed or secondhand sources to speak for what others believe.
In case you missed the subtlety, PunditFact includes a source that they immediately disavow since it goes against PolitiFact's policy. If there's a policy against using unnamed sources then why include an unnamed source in your piece? This is just another example in a long list of cases where the PolitiFact enterprise ignores its own policies.

Finally, we get to the rating. Unsurprisingly, Palin gets a "False" rating but it's the way they arrived at that conclusion that is so offensive to those of us that care about the truth:
At PolitiFact, we believe it's the responsibility of the person making a claim to provide the evidence to back it up...Palin’s claim is not substantiated.
In PunditFact's world, absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Of course, PolitiFact often shirks its own burden of proof.

Perhaps it's a stretch to infer any ideological leanings from these PunditFacters behaving so daftly while writing about abortion. But beyond whatever bias it may or may not expose, Emery Jr's piece showcases a jaw-dropping level of poor taste and substandard journalism.

C. Eugene Emery Jr. is funny, but he's only funny by mistake.

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