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.

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