Tuesday, June 15, 2021

PolitiFact accidentally tells the truth about the Hunter Biden laptop

PolitiFact tried so hard to bury the Hunter Biden laptop story in a June 14, 2021 story that it ended up accidentally telling the truth about it.

Donald Trump claimed that he was "right about everything" and PolitiFact published its article to contest that claim item by item. Trump said the "Biden laptop was real," apparently trying to make the point that the Hunter Biden laptop story the mainstream media largely ignored in the runup to the 2020 election was truly based on Hunter Biden's laptop.

PolitiFact's telling:

'Hunter Biden’s laptop was real'

It was real in the sense that it exists, but it didn’t prove much. 

Trump allies obtained a laptop or copies of a laptop during the 2020 campaign that allegedly belonged to Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son. Over time, there has been less doubt that the laptop did in fact belong to Hunter Biden, though how the laptop came to be obtained by Trump allies and Trump-friendly media outlets is unclear.

Conservative media have done quite a bit of reporting on how the laptop ended up in Rudy Giuliani's hands, not to mention those of the FBI. We find it interesting that PolitiFact declined to report on or link to any of those details. Instead of providing those details, PolitiFact gave us Hunter Biden's side of things and a link to that story:

Hunter Biden has been open about his history as a recovering drug addict; he’s said it’s possible the laptop was stolen from him.

Did you know the FBI is investigating Hunter Biden's business dealing with China? No? PolitiFact apparently doesn't, either. Or at least PolitiFact figured it's not relevant to this story

PolitiFact wraps up the section on Biden's laptop by accidentally telling the truth:

Nothing from the laptop has revealed illegal or unethical behavior by Joe Biden as vice president with regard to his son’s tenure as a director for Burisma, a Ukraine-based natural gas company.
Though PolitiFact's statement isn't even necessarily true in itself, it tells a series of truths in what it doesn't say. It doesn't say whether the laptop shows illegal or unethical behavior as vice president not regarding Hunter Biden's (apparently well-paid) tenure with Burisma.

What can't we fit through the loophole PolitiFact leaves open?

PolitiFact's statement is compatible with each of the following prospective assertions about what the laptop shows:

  • Illegal behavior by Joe Biden while not serving as vice president
  • Unethical behavior by Joe Biden while not serving as vice president
  • Illegal behavior by Vice President Biden unrelated to Hunter Biden's role as a Burisma employee
  • Unethical behavior by VP Biden unrelated to Hunter Biden's role as a Burisma employee

We're not saying any of the statements on our list is necessarily true. We're saying PolitiFact's disclaimer about what the Hunter Biden laptop doesn't show is so laughably narrow that it's incriminating.


Why would any news organization, let alone a fact-checking organization, include such a preposterous caveat in a story? It looks designed to mislead readers. 

If it's just simple incompetence, it's of the kind that looks much worse than simple incompetence. It looks like an attempt to deceive readers.

That's a bad look.

Typo correction June 15, 2021: Bursima=.Burisma

Correction June 16, 2021: Fixed some flawed text formatting and changed "It doesn't say whether the laptop shows illegal or unethical behavior as vice president regarding Hunter Biden's (apparently well-paid) tenure with Burisma" to "It doesn't say whether the laptop shows illegal or unethical behavior as vice president not regarding Hunter Biden's (apparently well-paid) tenure with Burisma." Our apologies for any confusion our error caused.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

PolitiFact turns incoherent Obama statement into "Half True" claim


Remember President Obama the constitutional scholar?
Here, the constitutional scholar makes the ability of 30 percent of the U.S. population to control a majority of Senate seats conditional on filibuster reform.

It's a completely preposterous argument, yet somehow PolitiFact arranges the tea leaves so they spell out "Half True."

As for what Obama got wrong, PolitiFact admits it only obliquely (bold emphasis added):

In the transcript of the interview with Klein, this passage about the filibuster included a link to a Washington Post analysis of the differences between population and representation in the Senate. However, the Post article doesn’t precisely support what Obama said. 


While the article’s conclusion is generally consistent with Obama’s point, it doesn’t have anything to do with the filibuster or the 60-vote threshold to end one. Rather, the article looked at representation throughout the entire chamber.

PolitiFact tries to make it "Obama's point" that Senate can magnify the power of small populations. But that wasn't really Obama's point. Obama was arguing for filibuster reform.

There is no filibuster reform that changes that basic feature of the Senate. Obama's argument doesn't even count as coherent.

PolitiFact makes a great show of explicating Obama's claim that "30 percent of the population potentially controls the majority of Senate seats." But that's true regardless of the filibuster. We could keep 1,000 people in each of 49 states and have everybody else move to Alaska. That would give a tiny percentage of the U.S. population a supermajority of Senate seats.

So what? There's no argument for filibuster reform in there.

One might use the above scenario to argue for changing the Constitution itself to make it more democratic. But we would hope that somebody would remember that the undemocratic features in the U.S. Constitution were put there deliberately, specifically because the framers considered democracy in the form of popular rule an exceptionally bad form of government. That's why they set up a republic with a federalist system dividing up political power in a variety of ways.

Watch PolitiFact argue Obama's point was something other than filibuster reform (bold emphasis added):

(W)e crunched the numbers from the 2020 Census and concluded that Obama’s overall point had merit but that he misstated the details.

In particular, Obama said that states with a small percentage of the population could control "the majority of Senate seats." Given today’s partisan tendencies in each state, controlling an actual majority of seats would not be feasible for that small a percentage. However, a small percentage of the population could control enough seats to successfully wield the filibuster, which effectively gives them control over whether a majority can pass legislation.

As illustrated above, a small percentage of the population could potentially wield a supermajority in the Senate. It has nothing to do with the filibuster, and the need for filibuster reform was Obama's point.

Check out PolitiFact's summary version of Obama's point:

Obama said, "The filibuster, if it does not get reformed, still means that maybe 30% of the population potentially controls the majority of Senate seats."

In the Senate’s current makeup, senators representing 29% to 39% of the U.S. population would be sufficient to mount a filibuster and block a vote on legislation, in a sense controlling what can be passed in the chamber.

In the first paragraph PolitiFact relates what Obama actually said. In the second paragraph PolitiFact translates what he said into something completely different. "Majority of Senate seats" turns magically into the number of seats needed to successfully filibuster.

Obama's argument was elaborate window-dressing for the real and truthful argument for filibuster reform: "If we change the filibuster we can pass more of the legislation we want to pass." That statement could earn a "True" from PolitiFact, eh?

It was completely ridiculous for Obama to try to suggest filibuster reform would affect the constitutional ability of small-population states to potentially control a majority of Senate seats. The one is independent of the other. That leaves Obama's true point, the supposed need for filibuster reform, without any coherent support.

It was nice of PolitiFact to overlook that fact in rating Obama's spurious argument "Half True."

It's flatly false that the filibuster, reformed or not, allows a minority population to control a majority of Senate seats. That's a feature of the Constitution, not the filibuster.

A constitutional scholar ought to know that.

Correction June 8, 2021: Removed a redundant "the" from "and the the need for filibuster reform." Hat tip to the the Eye Creatures.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Andrew Clyde out of context

If Republicans fail to make enough false statements, apparently PolitiFact has to invent them.

Is it to meet a quota?

PolitiFact is on a roll, lately, taking claims out of context to present them as false. Today's example involves Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.).

When PolitiFact gets around to showing what Rep. Clyde actually said, it creates an instant contrast with the sensationalistic presentation above. "Pants on Fire"! Oh, my!

(Bold highlights added to match what PolitiFact highlighted in its above misquotation of Clyde):
"Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall, showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes taking videos and pictures. If you didn't know the TV footage was a video from Jan. 6, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit," Clyde said at a May 12 House hearing.

 In context, Clyde appears to clearly talk about video of protestors passing through Statuary Hall. In other words, video like this:

We think any normal, competent fact checker should have no trouble at all figuring this out.

When PolitiFact repeatedly publishes material in this vein, it makes us suspect PolitiFact is not a normal, competent fact checker.

Would it surprise our readers to learn that PolitiFact awarded Clyde his "Pants on Fire" rating based on evidence that had nothing to do with video from the Statuary Room?

(H)ere is what a normal visit looks like for tourists: They go on guide-led tours of historic areas. They buy souvenirs at the gift shop. They view temporary exhibits. They dine in the restaurant. And they do it all without bringing in weapons (or even water).

Here’s what rioters did on Jan. 6. They forced their way through barricades and past law enforcement to breach the building. They smashed windows and broke doors. They ransacked offices. They chanted "Hang Mike Pence!" They attacked police officers. They caused the House and Senate to shut down for several hours on the day they were certifying the presidential election. One put his feet up on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and left her a nasty note. None of these actions are things that tourists normally do at the Capitol.

Here's a list of things we do not see in the Jan. 6, 2021 video from Bloomberg News showing protestors making their way through the Statuary Room:

  • forcing their way past barricades
  • forcing their way past law enforcement
  • smashing windows, breaking doors
  • ransacking offices
  • chanting "Hang Mike Pence!"
  • Attacking police
  • causing any apparent shutdown
  • putting feet on the House Speaker's desk
  • leaving nasty notes

PolitiFact's fact check counts as a ridiculous sham, based on a straw man reading of Rep. Clyde's words. We can imagine legitimate criticism of what Clyde said. For example, one might legitimately claim that by restricting his comments to the Statuary Room video he distracted from things the Capitol mob did elsewhere.

But PolitiFact's fact check succeeded in avoiding any legitimate criticism of Clyde's claim.

Afters I

PolitiFact appears to have handled its headline quotation of Rep. Clyde improperly, using AP Style as the guide:

A longer quotation might span multiple sentences. Use four ellipsis points (rather than three) to indicate any omission between two sentences. The first point indicates the period at the end of the first sentence quoted, and the three spaced ellipsis points follow.

The existing punctuation appears to credit (?) Rep. Clyde with a fragmentary sentence: "Watching the TV footage at the Capitol."  There was no such fragment in the actual quotation. Cutting and pasting the headline material shows a space between the first ellipsis point (probably intended as a period by the PolitiFact team) and the three ellipsis points that followed. Usage of the ellipsis following the AP Style blog instructions would have had four ellipsis points evenly spaced. That was not PolitiFact's approach.

For what it's worth, we're not sure how that supposedly correct format would help the casual reader understand that material was omitted before and after the period.

Afters II

In its concluding paragraphs, PolitiFact informed its readers that taking pictures or capturing video do not count as tourist activities (bold emphasis added):

Clyde’s spokesperson pointed to a few moments of video of people walking through Statuary Hall snapping photos or videos. But those people were not engaged in anything that resembles tourism. They were part of a group who had violently breached the U.S. Capitol. 
Color us skeptical.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

PolitiFact unpublishes 2020 fact check on coronavirus origin

Hat tip to NY Post editor Sohrab Ahmari,whose tweet alerted us to this story.

Though unpublishing stories counts as a bit of a taboo in journalism, PolitiFact appears to prefer the practice when it comes to minimizing some of its most sensational blunders.

The latest? In a Sept. 16, 2020 fact check, PolitiFact declared it a "Pants on Fire" conspiracy theory that the coronavirus might have resulted from humans tampering with it in the lab.

No, we're not making this up:

PolitiFact, placing full confidence in experts it cited, declared that human tampering could not account for the genetic code of the coronavirus (bold emphasis added):

The genetic structure of the novel coronavirus, which has been shared by thousands of scientists worldwide, rules out the possibility that it was manipulated in a lab. Public health authorities have repeatedly said the virus was not created in a lab. Scientists believe the coronavirus originated in bats before jumping to humans. Experts have publicly rebuked Yan’s paper, and it’s unclear whether it was peer reviewed.

The claim is inaccurate and ridiculous. We rate it Pants on Fire!

Though PolitiFact repented of its fact check to the point of unpublishing it, the IFCN-verified fact checkers admitted no error and have not run a correction, clarification or update to appear on its comprehensive (cough) list of corrections and updates.

Here's the editor's note that greets web surfers when they succeed in stumbling across the archived fact check:

Editor’s note, May 17, 2021: When this fact-check was first published in September 2020, PolitiFact’s sources included researchers who asserted the SARS-CoV-2 virus could not have been manipulated. That assertion is now more widely disputed. For that reason, we are removing this fact-check from our database pending a more thorough review. Currently, we consider the claim to be unsupported by evidence and in dispute. The original fact-check in its entirety is preserved below for transparency and archival purposes. Read our May 2021 report for more on the origins of the virus that causes COVID-19.

The fact check occurred as part of PolitiFact's partnership with Facebook. That means Facebook likely used the fact check to help justify sanctioning (censoring) Facebook accounts that suggested the Wuhan coronavirus originated in a lab.

These are the wrong people (using the wrong methods) to trust with the power of censorship.

On the positive side, PolitiFact redirected the old URL to the (temporarily?) archived version of its fact check. That's better than receiving a 404 error, as has happened in the past with PolitiFact's unpublishing.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Kevin McCarthy out of context

PolitiFact: The supposedly unbiased fact checker that takes statements from politicians out of context all the time, but punishes politicians for taking statements out of context.

If it sounds hypocritical that's because it is.

PolitiFact put its out-of-context crosshairs on Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy on May 14, 2021. Supposedly McCarthy said no one questions Joe Biden's election as president.

McCarthy might as well have said "No one in the entire universe questions Biden's election," in PolitiFact's eyes.

PolitiFact puts what's supposed to pass for its reasoning in its concluding paragraphs:

McCarthy said, "I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election." 

This runs contrary to the actions and statements of numerous members and leaders of his own party, including himself. McCarthy objected to certifying election results from two states that Biden won, claiming electoral process concerns. Those concerns haven’t been proven. McCarthy and other Republicans also supported a lawsuit that challenged the validity of Biden’s victory in some states. 

Some Republican lawmakers who have been questioned about Biden’s legitimate victory state the obvious — that Biden is president — while still suggesting that it happened unlawfully.

As usual, the context serves as the key to understanding what was said. PolitiFact pays lip service to the context with a full quote of McCarthy that will end up putting the lie to its reasoning:

Here's PolitiFact's (accurate) version of the expanded context of McCarthy's statement:

"I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the president today. So from that point of view, I don’t think that’s a problem."

PolitiFact could have done better by quoting in full the question McCarthy was answering. Here's the Washington Post's account of that question:

“You’re about to elevate someone to a leadership position who is still questioning the legitimacy of the 2020 election results,” NBC News’s Kristen Welker asked McCarthy, referring to Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who will probably replace Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as the third-ranking member of the Republican caucus in the House. “Does that not complicate your efforts to find common ground with the president?”

Was McCarthy answering that question by saying nobody at all questions Biden's election? Of course not. He was addressing the idea that questions about the election would hamper efforts to find common ground. First, he says nobody (in the leadership group, including Stefanik) currently questions Biden's election. He offers the opinion "that's over with," acknowledging that happened in the past.

When we put that information, along with one more sentence from McCarthy, in PolitiFact's concluding paragraph, PolitiFact's reasoning crashes and burns (bold emphasis added to our editorial suggestion):

McCarthy said, "I don't think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election. I think that is all over with.

This runs contrary to the actions and statements of numerous members and leaders of his own party, including himself. McCarthy objected to certifying election results from two states that Biden won, claiming electoral process concerns. Those concerns haven’t been proven. McCarthy and other Republicans also supported a lawsuit that challenged the validity of Biden’s victory in some states. 

Some Republican lawmakers who have been questioned about Biden’s legitimate victory state the obvious — that Biden is president — while still suggesting that it happened unlawfully.

With the context added, nothing McCarthy said runs contrary to any of the evidence PolitiFact offered to contradict McCarthy's claim. Things Republicans like McCarthy and Stefanik did in January 2021 do not count as continued questioning of Biden's election.

And it becomes obvious that PolitiFact misled its readers by telling them "McCarthy’s May 12 claim that the legitimacy of Biden’s victory hasn’t been questioned is wrong."

That's not what McCarthy said. "Nobody is questioning" isn't the same thing as "hasn't been questioned."

Such fact checks from PolitiFact count as an embarrassment to fact-checking.

It's a very bad idea to give this brand of fact-checking power over social media censorship.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Tucker Carlson out of context

If  politicians take facts and presents them out of context, PolitiFact uses its "Truth-O-Meter" to punish them.

If PolitiFact takes politicians out of context and issues ratings based on its own bad behavior, that's just part of a day's work for the worst mainstream fact checker in the United States.

Speak of the devil:

We're showing the presentation PolitiFact used on its Facebook page. PolitiFact used the same wording in the deck section of its PolitiFact.com website.

Immediately one should notice that the claim that a COVID-19 vaccine might not work seems consistent with estimated efficacy rates in the 70 to 96 percent range as estimated the the vaccines' manufacturers. The CDC website comes right out and says "Some people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will still get sick because no vaccine is 100% effective."

PolitiFact gave Carlson's a "Pants on Fire" rating for saying vaccines might not work. Does the CDC get that rating, too?

Let's look to the concluding paragraphs of the fact check to see what PolitiFact said Carlson got wrong.

Carlson said, "Maybe (the COVID-19 vaccine) doesn't work, and they're simply not telling you that."

That claim is countered by clinical trials and real-world studies that show the available vaccines effectively protect against COVID-19 infections and severe symptoms.

PolitiFact makes it sound like vaccines are 100% effective, regardless of the statement from the CDC. Not only do the vaccines protect you from infection, they protect you from severe symptoms after you're infected, by PolitiFact's telling. Without fail? Or is it possible the vaccine might not work?

Maybe PolitiFact simply missed Carlson's point. Perhaps the fact checkers think Carlson believes the vaccines do not work at all even though earlier in the same program he affirmed that they work.

We have two more concluding paragraphs from PolitiFact: 

Carlson based his claim largely on the fact that the CDC still recommends that fully vaccinated people wear masks and keep their distance in public spaces. Carlson said he couldn’t think of a reason why the CDC would do that, but we found some pretty simple explanations. 

Experts said those precautions are advisable because most of the U.S. population remains unprotected and because scientists are still studying to what extent the vaccines stop transmission, among other things.

Carefully note in the last paragraph how PolitiFact justifies the continued use of masks and social distancing for vaccinated people. PolitiFact mentions unprotected people and the possibility of transmission from vaccinated persons. It's two clauses describing one reason, with the reader left to guess at the "other things."

PolitiFact is saying scientists think the vaccine may not work to prevent transmission of the virus from vaccinated people to unprotected people.

Will PolitiFact rate itself or the scientists whose views it touts "Pants on Fire"?

How can fact checkers fire so wide of the mark?

It was and is obvious Carlson was making a point about the rhetoric about the vaccine. Get it, it works, said the government, and we can get back to normal. Later, the government says it's nice you got the vaccine but you can't get back to normal.

Carlson has a legitimate point, and PolitiFact's own reasoning proves it ("scientists are still studying"). Why are the scientists still studying it? Because it might not work to prevent transmission.

Fact checkers should not fail to figure out such basic stuff.

PolitiFact provided a link to Facebook for watching the relevant segment of Carlson's show. Their link didn't work for us, but we found the video independently and found the link matches what PolitiFact posted (huh? yeah). We're providing the same link in hopes that it works better for our readers.

It worked in pre-publication testing, but we shall see.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Newsbusters and fact checks not published

We at PolitiFact Bias have long noted that fact checkers have a bias against fact-checking things that seem true, or at least publishing fact checks that confirm somebody said something true.

How does that affect an entity's "Truth-O-Meter" report card? Well, depending on how many favorable ratings were spiked, it skews the report card unfavorably. It's a form of selection bias.

And that brings us to NewsBusters (hat tip to Tim Graham).

In brief, Newsbusters published a chart to Facebook. PolitiFact initiated an investigation of the information in the chart, asking NewsBusters to show the specific source of the information. Newsbusters did that, apparently to PolitiFact's satisfaction, and PolitiFact never published any fact check about it.

How often does that happen and to whom? Nobody outside of PolitiFact really knows.

It's just one more symptom of a corrupt fact-checking system. PolitiFact buttonholes Newsbusters with the threat of social media sanction hanging over the latter. If Newsbusters doesn't respond, PolitiFact may issue an unfavorable rating based on its "burden of proof" criterion.

Meanwhile, PolitiFact can preposterously report that real wages are increasing but failing to keep pace with inflation with no plausible threat of sanction to its work.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Former PolitiFact expert source Brian Riedl on PolitiFact

 The tweet:

Click the link for the other two tweets in the thread.

Add Riedl's name to a fairly impressive list of similar experiences from people like Michael F. Cannon and Judith Curry.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Layers of Editors: How fast is PolitiFact's stupidity growing?

Uh-oh! PolitiFact's incompetence unfairly harmed a Democrat again! This time it was hapless Joe Biden who ended up with the short straw by PolitiFact's blinkered judgment.

PolitiFact explained that over the past 10 years the number of Hispanics increased by about 10 million, while the number of Asian Americans went up by 5.2 million.

Why is an increase, on average, of 520,000 per year a faster increase than about 1 million per year?

PolitiFact explains, sort of:

Biden said "the fastest-growing population in the United States is Hispanic." That’s incorrect: The fastest-growing group is Asian Americans, with Hispanics ranking second. Hispanics did record the largest numerical increase in population of any group between 2010 and 2019, but that’s a different measure than "fastest growing."

Instead of recognizing more than one measure of "fastest-growing," PolitiFact arbitrarily accepts one measure while rejecting the other.

But an increase of 1 million per year on average is a rate of growth, and arguably more useful than measuring rate of growth as a percentage of an existing population.

We pointed out on Twitter that PolitiFact's reasoning would suggest that a one foot tall tree that doubles in size is growing faster than a 50 foot tall tree that grows two feet during the same span of time.

Sure, the first tree may surpass the second tree in size if it continues to double in size year-by-year. But it will never happen unless the first tree starts to surpass the second tree in the number of inches of growth per year.


And the math works similarly for population growth. Unless Asian Americans start adding more population in absolute numbers than do Hispanics, the number of Hispanics will forever be greater than the number of Asian Americans. Forever. In fact, Asian Americans will not start closing the gap between the two populations until they start adding more people in raw numbers rather than merely in terms of percentage.

So who do these fact checkers think they are?

Update March 8, 2021: Added the link to the PolitiFact "fact check" in the second paragraph.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A big problem with PolitiFact's updated website

If it was a snake, it would have bit me.

When "Unwoke Narrative" used a Twitter thread to go off on PolitiFact for the "Mostly False" rating it gave to an Unwoke Narrative Instagram post, one of the issues was a charge PolitiFact used a misquotation.

We questioned Unwoke Narrative about that charge, noting that the supposed misquotation looked like a paraphrase or summary.

Unwoke Narrative made a great point in response. PolitiFact signals to readers that its quotations/summaries/paraphrases of the claims it is checking are quotations.

The deck material of PolitiFact fact checks gets formatted the way many blog templates show quotations. There's a solid vertical bar to the left of the quoted material. And a lone quotation mark in the margin.

Here's an example:

The image of Biden to the upper left occurs in the shape of a word balloon. Just below the Biden balloon and a little to the right we find the lone quotation mark. And to the right of that a vertical yellow line. That's three cues to the reader that what is not a quotation of Biden is a quotation of Biden.

For comparison, have a look at this example from a page designed to help bloggers blog more stylishly:

It's a similar scheme. It features the vertical line, albeit with a skinnier vertical line bracketing the quotation on the right margin. And there's the lone quotation mark just to the left of the quotation.

How did I overlook this for a year?

I thought of one way PolitiFact's format might not mislead people: Maybe it's a pull quote? If it was a pull quote, then PolitiFact could justify putting partial quotations inside a bigger quotation using the standard doubled quotation marks (" instead of ').

But these aren't pull quotes. They're summaries, paraphrases, quotations or sometimes combinations of those formatted as quotations.

We find it unimaginable that professional journalists could find this presentation acceptable. We imagine the experienced journalists at PolitiFact gave the design team too much free rein and then failed to see the problem when it came time to approve the revised format.

It's a deceptive practice and needs to go.

I still can't believe I didn't notice it without having it pointed out to me.

Editor who won't do corrections makes correction request (Updated)

Here and at Zebra Fact Check we have documented obvious errors pointed out to PolitiFact that PolitiFact simply declines to fix.

How delicious, then, when we heard that PolitiFact Editor-in-Chief Angie Drobnic Holan requested corrections of the conservative publication the Federalist. And royally botched at least one of them.

The Federalist noted PolitiFact had done little to fact check Democratic Party politicians in the new Biden administration, and PolitiFact apparently objected.

The Federalist's Tristan Justice told the story on Feb. 20, 2021:

“Your report is wrong in multiple ways,” Holan wrote in a Friday email. “For one, we published three fact-checks on Feb. 16, so our last check on Biden was the day before your report was published. The link you use in the story shows that. Please issue a correction ASAP.”

Holan followed up two hours later, demanding an update.

The link embedded in the initial post to Biden’s fact-checks on the PolitiFact website, however, which remains unchanged, shows PolitiFact published three fact-checks after the story was published in The Federalist, of statements made on Feb. 16, including Biden’s remarks on vaccines. Contrary to Holan’s assertion, these fact-checks were published on Feb. 17 and 18, following the Federalist article.

The Federalist story included an image backing up Justice's description, which we independently verified. It looks like Holan probably mistook the date the claims were made as the publish date. When PolitiFact revamped its website about a year ago, it moved the claim date up to the top of the article and the publish date down and to the left to accompany the writer's byline.

Old way:

The old layout had the date of the claim in the box up top and the publish date next to the author's byline, down at the bottom of the header section.

New way:

With the new layout the claim date moved all the way up to the top, under the source of the claim. The publish date moved, along with the writer's byline, to the left margin. And shrank.

It looks like Holan believed the claim dates were the publish dates. It's not the kind of mistake an organization wants to see from its editor-in-chief.

We asked Holan for an explanation but received no reply.

It's worth pointing out that Holan claimed there were a number of errors in the Federalist article. We also asked her about those, after we asked Justice, the Federalist writer, about them. If Holan found legitimate problems with the Federalist story then Justice should not have buried the fact.

But as for Justice's allegation that Holan was mistaken with the first part of her correction request, the Internet Archive record from Feb. 17, 2021 shows no fact checks featuring Joe Biden published on Feb. 16, 2021.

Update March 5, 2021: A commenter has correctly noted that this post could benefit from added context. We inserted a short new paragraph in the three slot and added the link to the Federalist story that was always intended to be there. We appreciate comments that help us improve our work.

Monday, February 22, 2021

PolitiFact's "In Context" deception (Updated)

In (a) perfect world, fact checkers would publish "In Context" features that simply offer surrounding context with objective explanatory notes.

This ain't no perfect world.

The PolitiFact "In Context" articles tend to serve as editorials, just like its fact checks. Two "In Context" articles from the past year (actually one from 2021 and one from 2019) will serve as our illustrative examples.

The Vaccine Supply

President Biden said "It’s one thing to have the vaccine, which we didn’t have when we came into office, but a vaccinator; how do you get the vaccine into someone’s arm?"

Instead of using context to figure out what Mr. Biden meant or perhaps intended to say, PolitiFact offered that he was not saying there was no vaccine when he took office because elsewhere in the speech he said there were 50 million vaccine doses when he took office ("we came into office, there (were) only 50 million doses that were available"):

You can judge his meaning for yourself, but it’s clear to us that Biden didn’t mean there were no vaccines available before he took office.
So Mr. Biden could have meant anything except for there were no vaccines available when he took office? Oh thank you, Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checkers!

The fact checkers at CNN at least made a game attempt to make heads or tails out of Mr. Biden's words:

Biden made a series of claims about the Covid-19 vaccine situation upon his January inauguration. He said early at the town hall that when "we came into office, there was only 50 million doses that were available." Moments later, he said, "We got into office and found out the supply -- there was no backlog. I mean, there was nothing in the refrigerator, figuratively and literally speaking, and there were 10 million doses a day that were available." Soon after that, he told Cooper, "But when you and I talked last, we talked about -- it's one thing to have the vaccine, which we didn't have when we came into office, but a vaccinator -- how do you get the vaccine into someone's arm?"

Facts First: Biden got at least one of these statistics wrong -- in a way that made Trump look better, not worse, so Biden's inaccuracy appeared accidental, but we're noting it anyway. A White House official said that Biden's claim about "10 million doses a day" being available when he took office was meant to be a reference to the 10 million doses a week that were being sent to states as of the second week of Biden's term, up from 8.6 million a week when they took over.

CNN's "Facts First" went on to explain that the Trump administration released all vaccine reserves to the states instead of holding back the second doses recommended by the manufacturers. CNN also pointed out that the Biden administration continued that same policy.

The CNN account makes it appear Mr. Biden uttered an incoherent mixture of statistics. PolitiFact didn't even make an attempt in its article to figure out what Biden was talking about. PolitiFact simply discounted the statement Biden made that seemed to contradict his dubious claim about the availability of 50 million vaccine doses when he took office.

PolitiFact's "In Context" article looks like pro-Biden spin next to the CNN account. And we thought of another "In Context" article where PolitiFact used an entirely different approach.

Very Fine People

PolitiFact used Mr. Biden's statement about "50 million doses" to excuse any inaccuracy Biden may have communicated by later saying the vaccine cupboard was bare when he took office.

But PolitiFact's "In Context" article about the circumstances of President Trump's reference to "very fine people," published April 26, 2019, made no similar use of Mr. Trump's same-speech clarification "and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists -- because they should be condemned totally."

With Biden, readers got PolitiFact's assurance that he wasn't saying there were no vaccine doses when he took office, even though he used words to that effect.

With Trump, readers were left with PolitiFact's curiosity as to what the context might show (bold emphasis added):

We wanted to look at Trump’s comments in their original context. Here is a transcript of the questions Trump answered that addressed the Charlottesville controversy in the days after it happened. (His specific remarks about "very fine people, on both sides" come in the final third of the transcript.)

Not only did PolitiFact fail to use the context to defend Trump from the charge that he was calling neo-Nazis "fine people," about a year later (July 27, 2020) PolitiFact made that charge itself, citing its own "In Context" article in support:

• As president in 2017, Trump said there were "very fine people, on both sides," in reference to neo-Nazis and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va.
Making the situation that much more outrageous, PolitiFact declined to correct the latter article when we send a correction request. PolitiFact remained unmoved after we informed the International Fact-Checking Network about its behavior.

Is PolitiFact lucky or what that its owner, the Poynter Institute, also owns the International Fact-Checking Network?

This is how PolitiFact rolls. PolitiFact uses its "In Context" articles to editorially strengthen or weaken narratives, as it chooses.

It's not all about the facts.

Correction: We left out an "a" in the first sentence and also misstated the timing of the two articles our post talks about. Both errors are fixed using parenthetical comments (like this).

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Republican uses wrong embedded URL, receives "False" rating as a reward

Have we mentioned lately that PolitiFact is biased and leans left? Ready for another example?

Buckle up.

Before looking at anything PolitiFact California had to say about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's claim, we had reason to suspect something weird was going on. We knew the CBO estimated potential job losses in the millions for a minimum wage hike to $15 an hour. And PolitiFact often gives partial credit for a valid underlying point. So a politician can give a figure that's substantially off and still get a rating in the "Mostly False" to "Mostly True" range.

In McCarthy's case, it seems that his office put together a press release and used the wrong URL. The Congressional Budget Office put together a report in 2019 estimating the effects of a minimum wage hike to $15 per hour and its high-end estimate for job losses was 3.7 million.

On the other hand, the CBO recently gave a new assessment of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and revised its job loss estimates down. The high-end estimate dropped to 2.7 million.

Here's the relevant part of the Feb. 9, 2021 press release:

At this critical point, the Democrats’ big, creative response is to raise the federal national wage to $15 an hour — a move the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office previously found could cost nearly 4 million workers their jobs. Plus, these job losses would disproportionately hit already economically disadvantaged populations the most.

The new version of the CBO's report came out on Feb. 8, 2021, the day before McCarthy's office published the press release. It's plausible and perhaps likely the press release was largely composed before the CBO released the new report. The press release cited the known report, and staffers hunted up the embedded URL leading to the brand new report.

Of course we do not know that is what happened. Certainly if McCarthy knew of the new report and its updated estimates and stuck with the old estimates--even while using the qualifier "previously"--that counts as misleading.

But here's the thing: PolitiFact concluded, just as we did, that McCarthy appeared to cite the 2019 report. PolitiFact put that reveal front and center in its "If Your Time Is Short" bullet point summary:

  • McCarthy appears to be citing a Congressional Budget Office analysis from 2019 that said, at the high-end, 3.7 million jobs could be lost from the wage hike.

  • But in his statement, he cited the CBO’s new analysis published this week which found an average estimate of 1.4 million jobs would be lost.

Yes, PolitiFact, McCarthy appears to be citing the 2019 CBO analysis. And, yes, the press release "cited" the 2021 report insofar as it embedded the link to that report instead of the 2019 one.

Therefore, PolitiFact said, McCarthy's claim was "False" notwithstanding his valid point that the CBO gave a high-end estimate for job losses in the millions.

Anyone who thinks that's fair needs to learn more about PolitiFact's inconsistencies on rating numbers claims. McCarthy could easily have received a "Half True" and especially so if he was a Democrat making a claim Democrats would like to be true.

Wisconsin Democrat Steve Bullock said a quarter of gun sales avoid background checks. PolitiFact Wisconsin said his claim was "Mostly False" even though it said the true number was only 13 percent. Going by that number, Bullock exaggerated by at least 53 percent.

For comparison, McCarthy's use of the 2019 CBO figure exaggerated the truth by 37 percent. And PolitiFact ruled McCarthy's claim "False."

It's yet another reminder that PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" ratings are subjective and not ultimately rooted in objective findings.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Story Focus Shenanigans

We've pointed out for years that PolitiFact's story focus often determines the "Truth-O-Meter" rating at the end. Story focus shenanigans never go out of style at PolitiFact.

PolitiFact's method allows its fact checkers any number of ways to approach the same claim. A fact checker might focus on what the claimant said was meant. Or the fact checker could focus on how an audience might perceive the claim. One approach might lead to one "Truth-O-Meter" rating and another approach to a different "Truth-O-Meter" rating. There's no good evidence of any objective criteria guiding the process.

That brings us to two timely examples that help illustrate the phenomenon.

"Mostly False" for the Republican

President Biden set policy to allow essential workers who are undocumented to receive coronavirus vaccines. Why is Scalise's statement "Mostly False"? Apparently because American citizens who are not among the first groups eligible for the vaccine are not waiting to get the vaccine:
But, we wondered, does allowing this population access to the vaccine mean they are being invited to step in front of American citizens in the queue?

PolitiFact weasel-words "in the queue" so that Americans in low priority vaccine eligibility groups are not in the queue at all and are thus not skipped over when undocumented immigrants join those in the high priority groups.

You're not waiting for the vaccine if you're not in that narrowly-defined queue. PolitiFact quoted a Scalise spokesperson who explained his meaning. To no avail. Scalise received a "Mostly False" rating even though his statement was literally true taken in context, with "in the queue" encompassing all American citizens awaiting the vaccine.

"Half True" for the Democrat


Pointedly, PolitiFact does not look at all the ways Mr. Biden's claim fails the test of truth. It does mention some of them, but breezes past such technicalities to point out that IF the person making below $15 per hour is the sole breadwinner in a family of four AND/OR lives in an area with high living expenses THEN they would fall below the poverty level.

How many of those earning less than $15 per hour meet those conditions? Well, if that was important then PolitiFact would have given us a number. Obviously it's not important. What we need to know is that under some conditions Biden's statement could be true. Those missing conditions count as missing context and that matches PolitiFact's definition of "Half True"!

Marvel at PolitiFact's rationalization:

A spokesman for Biden said he was referring to a family of four with one full-time income using the federal government’s poverty guideline, an explanation Biden didn’t include in the interview. Using that measurement, that family with a paycheck of $13 an hour would live below the poverty line. At $15 an hour, the same family would clearly be above the poverty line. So Biden was off by about a dollar, using the existing standards.

But experts said wages alone don’t tell the full story about whether a household lives in poverty. Other factors include child care and housing costs, for example, which can vary by geography. Generalizing a "poverty wage" to a specific number ignores the different circumstances that families face. Other experts said the federal definition of a poverty level is out of date and needs changing.

We rate this claim Half True.

You wonder why similar reasoning couldn't justify a "Half True" for Scalise?

Why do you hate science?

How To Tell a Climate Science Denier

Who would believe how often professional fact-checkers fail spot-checks of their accuracy?

On Feb. 9, 2021, PolitiFact's Daniel Funke had his byline appear on a fact check that featured this:

The Epoch Times attributed the tally to John Droz Jr., who it described as a "physicist and environmental advocate in Morehead City, N.C." Droz is a political activist who has denied the science of climate change and advocated against legislation aimed at mitigating sea-level rise.

Funke's fact check looked at a chart Droz created and the Epoch Times used as the foundation for a story about the outcomes of court cases addressing the 2020 presidential election. Funke's implicit ad hominem and genetic fallacies aside, we wondered if Droz was the climate change science denier Funke claims.

Is That True?

PolitiFact says it picks which claim to check partly by simply running across claims that cause one to wonder "Is that true?" That's the method we used for this spot check.
We would expect a professional journalist using URL hotlinks in the body of a story to use them to properly back up the claims in the story. So where "has" and "denied" feature those hotlinks in the context of claiming Droz denies climate change science, we expect at least one of them to offer solid evidence of Droz denying climate change science.


The first hyperlink led to the news site WRAL.com dated June 6, 2012 (archived Feb. 10, 2021). The article claims Droz denies climate change science. It does not quote Droz to that effect (bold emphasis added) and offers no relevant examples to illustrate its claim:

On the front lines of the debate is NC-20's science consultant John Droz, a retired realtor and climate change denier who's become something of a cause celebre in conservative circles. 

Promoted by the conservative John Locke Foundation, Droz has given presentations on energy and climate change around the state. He's also a fellow of the conservative American Tradition Institute, along with former Locke Carolina Journal editor Paul Chesser.
Is it proof enough for Funke and PolitiFact that an article hosted at WRAL.com called Droz a climate change denier? Did Funke even notice the update to the article, dated the day after it published (June 7, 2012)?
Update: In response to this post, Mr. Droz contacted us to seek a retraction. He says he is not a climate change denier, and says he has "never claimed to be a climate expert."

WRAL offered no rationale for refusing Droz the requested retraction.

Funke used a news report claiming, without evidence, that Droz was a climate change denier and with an addendum that featured Droz denying he is a climate science denier.

We consider that extraordinarily weak evidence Droz counts as a climate change science denier.

Scientific American

Funke's second hyperlink led to Scientific American, a magazine and website long considered a reputable source.

The title of the Sept. 30, 2013 article said Droz "has notched a remarkable record fighting sea-rise science, coastal development limits and renewable energy plans."

And the evidence of climate science denial?

The strongest evidence in the piece appears to consist of an expert's opinion that Droz's work criticizing scientists may lead to lower trust in scientists who promote various climate change ideas. This:

The efforts of Droz – and those who present similar arguments in a similar fashion, notably Fox News and other conservative media – erode the public trust in scientists, said Dana Nuccitelli, an environmental scientist at a consulting firm in California and an advocate for responsible energy policies.

An outsized voice
It also discredits the notion of global warming, added Nucitelli, who recently co-authored a study looking at the scientific consensus on climate change.

Was Nucitelli turned into a newt or what?

Funke's evidence that Droz counts as a denier of climate change science comes across about as strong as the evidence of witchery from the witch trial in the classic film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." 

That's minus the accused turning out to weigh the same as a duck, of course.

Maybe there's good evidence Droz counts as a climate change science denier. If there is, Funke and PolitiFact should mention the evidence in the fact check.

Otherwise, take out the line accusing Droz of denying climate change science.

Friday, January 29, 2021

PolitiFact miscounts American deaths during WW2?

When a PolitiFact fact check's subject matter involves math, we (figuratively!) smell blood in the water.

This item came from the PolitiFact article "Joe Biden's inaguration in extraordinary times, fact-checked," published Jan. 20, 2021. Notably, PolitiFact has only done one Truth-O-Meter rating on claims from President Joe Biden since mid-December. That's assuming PolitiFact's page showing Biden's fact checks is accurate.

As it turned out, PolitiFact was right that Biden was "close to accurate." But PolitiFact made a significant methodological blunder in reaching its conclusion. The mistake appears right away in PolitiFact's explanation for its judgment:

As Biden was speaking, the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker was reporting 402,269 deaths in the United States. That is just shy of the 405,399 U.S. deaths during World War II, according to the Congressional Research Service. With the seven-day moving average of coronavirus deaths reaching 3,015 on Inauguration Day, the four-year World War II total was due to be matched by the coronavirus either on Jan. 20 or 21, less than a year after the virus reached the United States.

PolitiFact reports incorrectly in the second sentence of the above paragraph. The Congressional Research Service source document does not give a total for all the American lives lost in World War II. It gives a total for the number of military personnel lost during the war (bold emphasis added):

This report provides U.S. war casualty statistics. It includes data tables containing the number of casualties among American military personnel who served in principal wars and combat operations from 1775 to the present. It also includes data on those wounded in action and information such as race and ethnicity, gender, branch of service, and cause of death. The tables are compiled from various Department of Defense (DOD) sources.

The total PolitiFact used omits more than 10,000 civilian casualties, including nearly 10,000 from the U.S. civilian merchant marine. We don't see where Biden limited his statement to military personnel.

PolitiFact went on to suggest Biden would be right by extrapolating the numbers forward for a full year since the U.S. started to log covid deaths. But doing that turns Biden's claim into a prediction. PolitiFact supposedly does not fact check predictions. Going on the facts alone, Biden was off by more than 10,000 deaths. PolitiFact made his error appear considerably smaller by using a flawed approach to its fact check.

It's what we call PolitiFact's "Rubberstamps for Democrats" program. We argue that the tendency to award lazy favorable ratings to Democrats (and not Republicans) counts as one evidence of PolitiFact's political bias.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

PolitiFact's Layers of Editors: Biden says he will ensure enough supply to vaccinate 300 Americans by early fall (Updated)

PolitiFact reported President Biden's plans would ensure covid-19 vaccine supplies large enough to vaccinate 300 Americans by early fall.

The Biden administration has envisioned a more prominent federal role, including setting up 100 vaccine centers across the nation by the end of February. Officials say the biggest roadblock is lack of vaccine supply. Biden announced that his administration aims to purchase enough doses to fully vaccinate 300 Americans by the end of the summer or beginning of the fall.

 That's an average of three vaccines per planned vaccine center, by our reckoning.

Of course, PolitiFact pretty obviously omitted the word "million" that belonged between "300" and "Americans." So why do we even bother to mention such a small error? It's not even an example of bias, is it?

There are two related reasons why.

First, because PolitiFact loves to trumpet its rigorous system for reporting accurately. Did you know that PolitiFact's system calls for three editors to review each fact check?

The reporter who researches and writes the fact-check suggests a rating when they turn in the report to an assigning editor. The editor and reporter review the report together, typically making clarifications and adding additional details. They come to agreement on the rating. Then, the assigning editor brings the rated fact-check to two additional editors.

The three editors and reporter then review the fact-check by discussing the following questions.

We hope we're correctly assuming that two editors aside from the assigning editor would not dream of discussing the critical questions without bothering to read the fact check. Under that assumption, three editors and one writer together failed to keep the fact check from including a figure that was off by a factor of one million.

So our first point consists of the observation that PolitiFact's system may allow for considerable error, even obvious error.

So far as we're concerned, that by itself is no big deal. Everybody makes mistakes. So that brings us to our second reason for writing this up.

Thanks to its performance since its inception, we have a very low expectation that PolitiFact will run a correction or update and include this item on its page of "corrections and updates."

That's troublesome.

The best journalists make thorough corrections a priority. Take a gander at the expectation the International Fact-Checking Network lays down for its verified signatory fact-checking organizations:

6.3 Where credible evidence is provided that the applicant has made a mistake worthy of correction, the applicant makes a correction openly and transparently, seeking as far as possible to ensure that users of the original see the correction and the corrected version.
PolitiFact makes many--perhaps most--of its corrections secretly and without transparency.

PolitiFact has a sort of loophole in its corrections policy allowing that lack of transparency. And we've written about it before.

Here's the loophole (bold emphasis from the original):

Typos, grammatical errors, misspellings – We correct typos, grammatical errors, misspellings, transpositions and other small errors without a mark of correction or tag and as soon as they are brought to our attention.

The section on "Typos, grammatical error, misspellings" sneaks in an extra category that PolitiFact feels needs no notice of correction. That is the "other small errors." We think that most likely PolitiFact will treat reporting 300 instead of 300 million as a small error and insert the correction without any notice at all to its readers. Under that scenario, PolitiFact will make no attempt to correct the error openly and transparently, and will likewise make no attempt to bring the corrected number to the attention of those who read the erroneous reporting in the original version.

If PolitiFact surprises us and issues a correction notice, we expect it to follow the form "We reported the wrong number of vaccines Biden promised in the original version of this story." PolitiFact prefers to report vaguely on its mistakes instead of detailing the exact nature of the error as full transparency would demand.

Doing the right thing isn't hard: "We reported Biden would acquire vaccines for 300 Americans when we intended to specify 300 million Americans." Nobody would have a real problem with that.

Whatever one thinks about the significance of the error, the PolitiFact method of treating substantive errors the same as it does typos, grammatical errors and misspellings does not scrupulously follow the IFCN's requirement on corrections.

Supposedly the IFCN requires its signatory organizations like PolitiFact to "scrupulously" follow its guidance on corrections. But the truth is the IFCN has turned a blind eye on PolitiFact's correction shenanigans for years. They know about it because I've informed them about it periodically. The IFCN has never directly addressed any of the reports I've sent detailing PolitiFact's failures to follow policy despite showing no clear evidence that the reports have in any way affected PolitiFact's signatory status.

If the complaints carry no validity, the IFCN should transparently declare the how and why of its judgments.

So this isn't evidence of bias. It's evidence that PolitiFact tries to trick its readers into believing it strives to meet the highest journalistic standards. It advertises a system with failsafes that would prevent the type of error it made. PolitiFact and the IFCN assure readers that PolitiFact performs corrections to appropriately high standards.

It's deception.

We'll update this post to report on whatever actions PolitiFact takes to correct its mistake. A sufficiently pathetic response may result in yet another complaint filed with the IFCN.

Update Jan 28, 2021: We sent an email pointing out PolitiFact's error about 1 p.m. When we checked at about 3:30 p.m., the error was fixed. PolitiFact also appended a correction with the milquetoast-style wording we expected. Oddly, neither the correction nor the tag denoting the correction show up for the archived version of the story. Only the corrected wording in the story shows up.

Here's the correction notice:
CORRECTION, Jan. 28: We corrected the number of Americans the Biden administration hopes to fully vaccinate by the end of summer or early fall.
On the plus side, PolitiFact corrected the error, posted a correction notice and even placed the "corrections and updates" tag.

On the negative side, the correction falls well short of full transparency. PolitiFact told readers on what specific topic it erred but not the specific error it made. That style of correction hides from readers the magnitude of the error. And that was probably the plan.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

PolitiFact writes up Capitol riot, omits mention of John Sullivan

PolitiFact wants you to know right-wing groups were solely responsible for the Capital riot in early 2021--even if it's not necessarily true.

PolitiFact politisplained it in a Jan. 20, 2021 article by Daniel Funke:

Since Jan. 6, we’ve fact-checked several claims that blame antifa, short for anti-facist, for the breach of the U.S. Capitol Building. Republican lawmakers, conservative pundits and social media users have said the loose coalition of communists, socialists and anarchists infiltrated a crowd of Trump supporters to stoke violence.

There is no evidence to support those claims.

PolitiFact plays an interesting game with antifa. On the one hand, it's a "loose coalition of communists, socialists and anarchists" but on the other hand it's just an idea with no structure of membership, so it's next to impossible to identify people as "antifa" even if they are communists, socialists or anarchists.

Funke's article struck us as fascinating for its failure to mention John Sullivan, the left-winger who took video of the rioting and exhorted the rioters with cries such as "We accomplished this s**t. We did this together." (Newsweek)

Sullivan was among those charged in association with the rioting. But he remained unmentioned when Funke gave the rundown of those who were charged:

FBI Assistant Director Steven D'Antuono said during a Jan. 8 press briefing that there was "no indication" that antifa activists were involved in the insurrection. Since then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has charged more than 100 people with crimes related to the Capitol riot, many who bragged on social media about taking part, and the FBI has arrested more than 40. Several suspects appear to have connections to militia and far-right groups.

 Guess what? Sullivan was one of those charged (Deseret News, via MSN):

John Earle Sullivan, 25, was charged federally on Wednesday with being on restricted property, civil disorder and “violent entry or disorderly conduct,” according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia.
These days the media do not associate Sullivan with antifa or Black Lives Matter.

But let's dwell on the past.

Sullivan's History in the Media

The media have reported that Sullivan organized Insurgence USA. The Insurgence USA website peddles the kind of protest gear the public associates with antifa.

Is Sullivan just a right-wing capitalist trying to take advantage of left-wing rubes? Maybe. Let's look for press reports using "Sullivan" and "Insurgence USA" as our search terms, focusing on 2020 and before.

The Guardian (July 27, 2020)

That same Black Lives Matter protest that inspired Robertson’s fear was originally planned as a pro-police event in downtown Provo. John Sullivan, 26, the founder of Insurgence USA, a group for racial justice and police reform, organized a counter-protest alongside several other organizers. Protesters were to meet at the Provo police station at 6.30pm that night.
Newsweek (July 23, 2020):

John Sullivan, of the Insurgence USA activist group, was armed with a rifle for around two hours during what was promoted online as a "Solo Armed Stance" in protest at the unidentifiable agents who have been seen forcing protesters into unmarked vehicles in Portland, Oregon.

It's entirely worth noting that the left-wing protest community aired concerns about Sullivan in late 2020, as reported by the Daily Dot (links lead to profanity-laced reports). At the same time, the reports acknowledge Sullivan's connection to BLM/antifa activity:

last night he leaked the details of a secret event. luckily spotters OTG were able to shut it down before it started once they began to see an increase in police activity.

The report suggests Sullivan received the details of a secret event involving illegal activity. Without receiving such details, leaking them proves difficult.

"Sullivan denied being affiliated with antifa"

The Daily Dot article also contains an amusing (and common) example of liberal press credulity. It points to a Rolling Stone interview of Sullivan in which he supposedly "denied being affiliated with antifa."

But the supposed denial is a non-denial denial (bold emphasis added):

Sullivan carried a simple setup: a cellphone mounted on an image-stabilizing gimbal. Fitting into the mob, he says, required mirroring its revolutionary sentiments. “I was worried about people recognizing me and thinking that I was Antifa or, like, BLM or whatever,” he says. “The entire time they’re yelling, ‘Fuck Antifa! Fuck, BLM.’ I’m not saying I’m Antifa, by any means. But I definitely believe Black Lives Matter.”

Reported accurately, Sullivan did not deny affiliation with antifa. He denied he was saying he was affiliated with antifa. That's not the same thing. We're in trouble when journalists either can't tell the difference or apply spin to obscure the difference.

And if Sullivan had offered a full-throated denial of an affiliation with antifa, that would still not serve as dispositive evidence that no affiliation existed when he gave the interview. How many members of antifa have been publicly identified based on their own admission?

As things stand, we do not have definitive evidence Sullivan sustained a relationship with the antifa movement. But we do have evidence of at least a temporary connection to a secretive left-wing organization planning illegal activity.

Why is Sullivan entirely missing from Funke's report?

When PolitiFact Reported About Sullivan

We found Sullivan's absence from Funke's report even more strange given that PolitiFact previously did some reporting on Sullivan. The "fact check," by Bill McCarthy, supposedly covered the same subject as Funke's,the allegation that antifa incited the riot:

(C)laims faulting antifa for the violence at the Capitol keep coming. The latest target is Utah’s John Sullivan, the founder of Insurgence USA, an activist group against police brutality.

McCarthy's article published on Jan. 8, 2021. Did Funke somehow not know about it? It's not linked in Funke's story, though he linked other fact checks about the Capitol riot.

On Jan. 15, 2021, PolitiFact updated McCarthy's story noting Sullivan's arrest over his part in the D.C. riot. Did Funke also not know about that?

To be sure, McCarthy's article tries to downplay Sullivan's involvement in the riot, even assuring readers there's no proof he incited the insurgency. That occurs shortly before including quotations of things Sullivan said during the riot, such as "Let's burn this s--- down."

We can't help but think that if the Democratic managers of the Trump impeachment case had Trump on record telling the D.C. crow "Let's burn this s--- down" it would improve the case for Trump's impeachment. Supposedly Trump incited the Capitol insurrection, requiring his impeachment.


While there's no unequivocal case, at least for now, that John Sullivan counts as antifa or Black Lives Matter, a competent debunking of antifa/BLM involvement in the Capitol riot should not omit all mention of the strongest evidence of that involvement. 

And PolitiFact may want to look up the definition of "incited." 

It's a bit absurd to claim there's no evidence antifa incited the Capitol riot, quote somebody saying "Let's burn this s--- down" and then take the man at his word that he's not antifa when that wasn't what he said.

Correction Jan. 26, 2021: We misspelled "Capitol" as "Capital"in one of two instances in our summary section. That's fixed with this update.