Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Magical PolitiFact fact-checking defies context, turns ambiguity into specificity

 When is a fact check not a fact check?

A fact check isn't a fact check when it takes an ambiguous claim and checks it as though it's specific.

Case in point (red X added):

So, twitterers said the Missouri attorney general has a website "where people can report trans individuals and the people that help them."

Report them for what? Being trans individuals?  As for the people that "help them," what kind of help? Starting their dead car batteries? Giving them directions when they're lost?

One can almost detect an implied narrative that Missouri's trans population is akin to Germany's Jews circa 1930.

Indeed, tweets in reply to the tweet in question suggested renaming Missouri as "Misstasi." The Stasi were East Germany's secret police.

The deck of PolitiFact's fact check gives away the bait-and-switch game:

Yes, Missouri's attorney general has a website for reporting concerns about trans health care 

That deck would count as perfect if PolitiFact was fact-checking a tweet that claimed something very much along the lines of "Missouri's attorney general has a website for reporting concerns about trans health care."

It's frankly appalling that the original tweet and the PolitiFact deck have so little in common.

We suggest that if the original tweet had matched PolitiFact's deck it would have cut reply mentions of the Stasi by 50 percent or more.

PolitiFact offers a nod or two to the truth before laboring to enhance the tweet's false implication:
Attorney General Andrew Bailey said March 23 he was launching the "Transgender Center Concerns Form," which he described as a "tip line" on his office’s website. Bailey said the form stems from his office’s investigation into a St. Louis pediatric transgender center.

It's true that's how Attorney General Bailey described the form hosted at the website. But PolitiFact's reporting deceives its readers by leaving out the remainder of the description (and keeping that content entirely out of its fact check; first paragraph bold emphasis added):

         Mar 23, 2023, 11:26 AM by AG Bailey
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - In an effort to protect children, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced today that his office has launched an online form where those who have experienced harm from gender transition interventions or witnessed troubling practices at transition clinics in Missouri can submit their concerns. This tip line stems from an investigation that Attorney General Bailey launched into a St. Louis pediatric transgender center that has been accused by a whistleblower of using experimental drugs on children, distributing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones without individualized assessment, and even giving children these life-altering drugs without parental consent.

“As Attorney General, I want Missouri to be the safest state in the nation for children. After receiving an alarming affidavit from a credible witness on child abuses allegedly occurring within a pediatric transgender clinic in St. Louis, I knew we had to take action and look into these allegations,” said Attorney General Bailey. “To that end, I have set up a tip line that parents can use to tell their stories as my office continues to investigate whether the Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital has broken the law. No stone will be left unturned during the course of this investigation.”

As the first paragraph makes clear, the form was intended to allow citizens to express concerns about harmful sex transition treatments. Just like the Stasi used to do. Just kidding.

Ignoring the tweet's scaremongering, PolitiFact riffed on Bailey's supposed deceptive expansion of the purpose of the form from reporting about one clinic to reporting about anything up to and including the names of trans persons and those who help them. This paragraph immediately follows the one we quoted from PolitiFact up above:

But the form’s wording is not limited to the previous investigation. It broadly invites any "complaint or concern about gender transition intervention," that anyone has experienced or observed in the state.

PolitiFact's trying to make it seem that Bailey is pulling a fast one, either failing to notice the description that precedes Bailey's or else making up stuff on purpose to support a favored narrative.

Remember, PolitiFact has not and will not discuss that the purpose of the website was described as being aimed at harmful transgender treatment or other (presumably related) concerns.

PolitiFact helpfully adds that "The form does not specifically ask people to report the names of transgender people or doctors administering care, but it does ask for  'as much detail as possible.'"

So, names of trans people and those who "help" them? Basically?

PolitiFact never gets around to mentioning the form's aim of allowing people to report harms from trans treatments. The liberal bloggers posing as fact checkers instead note that people could use the form to report on trans people and their providers, then rushes to judgment:

Our ruling 

A tweet said Missouri’s attorney general launched a website "where people can report trans individuals and the people who help them."

The attorney general’s office launched an online form on which people can submit complaints and concerns about "gender transition intervention." The form does not specifically ask people to report the names of transgender people or doctors administering care, but it does ask for "as much detail as possible."

When it was announced, Bailey said the form related to an investigation into complaints about a specific St. Louis pediatric transgender center. Though social media users have speculated that the submitted information could be used more broadly to identify trans people and their providers, it remains unclear if that will happen. 

The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information. We rate this claim Mostly True. 

PolitiFact concludes it's "Mostly True" that the Missouri AG set up a website to report trans people and those who help them.

Those curious about what kinds of complaints the AG received about the "specific St. Louis pediatric transgender center" PolitiFact declined to name are out of luck. PolitiFact saw fit to leave that kind of stuff out.

Here are the first four allegations from a longer list:

  • “On several occasions, the doctors have continued prescribing medical transition even when a parent stated that they were revoking consent.”
  • “The Center does not require children to continue with mental health care after they prescribe cross-sex hormones or puberty blockers and even continues those medications when the patients directly report worsening mental health after initiating those medications“
  • “I have seen puberty blockers worsen the mental health outcomes of children. Children who have not contemplated suicide before being put on puberty blockers have attempted suicide after.”
  • “It is my belief that the Center does not track these outcomes because they do not want to have to report them to new patients and because they do not want to discontinue cross-sex hormone prescriptions. The Center never discontinues cross-sex hormones, no matter the outcome.”
  • Why doesn't PolitiFact share so much as a hint of all that? If it's just unintentionally bad journalism, then it's bad journalism parsimoniously explained by left-leaning bias. If the fact check was deliberately slanted then left-leaning bias would also figure in.

    PolitiFact is left-biased. Oft-repeated examples such as this confirm it.


    On June 11, 2023 we reached out via Twitter to the fact check's author, Grace Abels, to point out one of the holes in the story. Our outreach met with PolitiFact's typical response: Silence, with no apparent attempt to remedy the story's shortcomings.

    We eagerly look forward to updating this article with new information, should PolitiFact break its silence.

    After Afters

    Abels' Twitter profile offers "LGBTQ+ Reporter" as her job description, which is backed by PolitiFact's description on its website: "(A) staff writer focused on LGBTQ issues."

    Abels' work history, albeit brief, includes glowing reviews of LGBT+ activists and activism. Therefore she's a neutral and objective journalist. Just in case that wasn't already obvious.

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