Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Speaking hearsay to power: Joy Reid & PolitiFact

Sometimes PolitiFact publishes fact-checking so irresponsible that we find it hard to believe that unconscious bias serves as an adequate explanation.

On the Aug. 13, 2017 edition of NBC's "Meet the Press," pundit Joy-Ann Reid directly implied that the Trump White House contains white nationalists. On Aug. 15, 2017, PolitiFact published a fact-check style article without a "Truth-O-Meter" rating but with a "Share the Facts"/Google label conclusion judging her words "a bit too strong."

A reasonable person might translate "a bit too strong" into "Mostly True" or "Half True," but probably not "Mostly False," "False" or "Pants on Fire."

Hold on--Something's not quite alt-right

If the evidence supported something akin to a "Half True" or "Mostly True" rating, then we would not have much to complain about. But the ruling-not-ruling flies in the face of the evidence PolitiFact collected.

PolitiFact went to liberal experts (?) like the Southern Poverty Law Center and could not get a single one of them to declare evidence that one or more white nationalists populate the White House. The article was filled with things like this:
When we asked this question of several independent experts, they all agreed that none of the four were white nationalists themselves. However, several said that they had placed themselves uncomfortably close to white nationalists.
Are we to infer from PolitiFact's "a bit too strong" rating that guilt-by-association is fair game in fact-checking?

More to the point, is it okay to publicly accuse others of racism using guilt-by-association? That is what Reid did, and PolitiFact gave her the equivalent of a "Mostly True" rating.

PolitiFact even tried to downplay its own implicit interpretation ("Are there white nationalists in the White House?") of Reid's claim.

Hey! Let's fact check something Reid supposedly did not say!

PolitiFact flip-flops on whether Reid said there were white nationalists in the White House. PolitiFact's introductory paragraphs paint Reid as having "crystallized" the issue of White Nationalists in the White House:
The "Unite the Right" march in Charlottesville has brought the issue of white nationalism to the top of the nation’s agenda -- specifically, whether white nationalists are part of the White House staff.

Remarks by liberal commentator Joy-Ann Reid on the Aug. 13 edition of NBC’s Meet the Press crystallized these questions.

Just a few paragraphs later, Reid's crystal has turned to ash (bold emphasis added):
It’s important to note that Reid did not explicitly accuse any of the four individuals she named of being white nationalists or alt-right members per se. But she suggested that the four were sympathetic to people who do fall into that category.

PolitiFact contradicts its own quotation of Reid (bold emphasis added):
"Who's writing the talking points that he was looking down and reading from? He has people like Stephen Miller, claimed as a mentee by Richard Spencer, who is an avowed open white nationalist. He has Steve Bannon, who's been sort of allowed to … meld into … the normalcy of a governmental employee, but who ran, which I reread today, the post that's still on their website, where they self-describe as the home of the alt-right.

What is the alt-right? It is a dressed-up term for white nationalism. They call themselves white identitarianism. They say that the tribalism that's sort of inherent in the human spirit ought to be also applied to white people.

That is who is in his government. Sebastian Gorka, who wore the medal of Vitézi Rend, a Nazi organization, being paid by the taxpayer, in the government of Donald Trump. The former Publius Decius blogger Michael Anton in the government.

He is surrounded by these people. It isn't both sides. He's in the White House -- they're in the White House with him."

We can't even imagine the level of expertise in mental gymnastics needed to deny the fact that Reid is saying the alt-right is a white nationalist group and is represented in the White House by the people she named. Nothing occurs in the context to diminish Reid's clear implication.

Shame on you, Joy Reid. Shame on you, PolitiFact.

Editor's note: It appears we published while attempting to preview this post. We're not aware of any significant change, other than adding an embedded URL, to the content since the original publication. Most or all the changes only affect HTML formatting.

Update Aug. 23, 2017: Fixed formatting to make clear the "crystallized" line was a quotation from PolitiFact

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