Donald Trump at a news conference Monday, Aug. 3, 2020.
Credit: The White House/Flickr

With a president that has told over 20,000 lies, and massive disinformation campaigns being waged both domestically and from foreign entities attempting to interfere in U.S. politics, the role of fact-checkers has become critical in sorting out what to believe. But perhaps you’ve had the experience of providing information from fact-checkers to Trump supporters only to get a response from them that is dismissive because it comes from so-called “biased media.” That pretty much encapsulates why the partisan divide in America is almost impossible to bridge.

Right-wing reporter Sheryl Attkisson has written a piece that is designed to give Trump supporters permission to dismiss fact checks. It is titled, “The Troubling Fact Is That Media Fact-Checkers Tend to Lean Left.” She claims that checking facts is basically illusory.

Many such efforts fail because they amount to a circular feedback loop of verification. The fact checkers are like-minded journalists or often liberal Silicon Valley gatekeepers, who frequently rely on partisan news sources and political activists to control narratives on a wide variety of issues and controversies.

Right out of the gate, Attkisson uses the example of Twitter adding a fact-checking label to a Trump tweet in which the president claimed that widespread use of mail-in ballots would lead to substantial fraud. In response, Attkisson writes that “the United States, in fact, has a long and ongoing history of ballot fraud.” If you check her links, you’ll find two articles from the conservative site RealClearPolitics and one archived article from the New York Times about how Lyndon Johnson engaged in voter fraud back in 1948 (I kid you not!).

Attkisson is certainly free to use sources like RealClearPolitics to make her case. But the irony is that, in her own words, she is relying on “like-minded journalists…who frequently rely on partisan news sources and political activists to control narratives on a wide variety of issues and controversies.” She also fails to acknowledge the myriad of investigations documenting that Trump’s claims about voter fraud are false.

Since Attkisson is focusing primarily on fact-checkers used by social media sites, here’s what she writes about Facebook.

The clearest example of conflicts in play regarding fact checks may be found by examining Facebook’s new oversight board, which was recently created to temper criticism over its decisions to flag certain content and accounts. According to Facebook, members of the oversight board “were chosen for their expertise and diversity” and “must not have actual or perceived conflicts of interest that could compromise their independent judgment and decision-making.” They all “have expertise in, or experience in advocating for, human rights.”

But 18 of the 20 members of Facebook’s oversight board members have ties to Soros’ Open Society Foundations, which have spent billions of dollars on global initiatives aggressively advocating for the progressive side on topics ranging from immigration policy and climate to abortion, gender, and racial policies.

As we’ve all come to see over the last few years, the mere use of the name George Soros is sufficient to send Trump supporters into fits of rage. So all Attkisson has to do is suggest that many of Facebook’s oversight board “have ties to Soros Open Society Foundation” and their fact-checking can be dismissed out of hand.

In discounting Google’s fact-checking, Attkisson focuses on FirstDraft.

First Draft is also supported by an array of liberal companies and nonprofits, including the Ford Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. First Draft tends to fact check topics in a vein that’s consistent with its major donors’ opinions and interests. This is particularly true when it comes to controversies about vaccine safety and climate change, where First Draft appears to give little consideration to opposing scientific views and information.

That one gets to the heart of the matter. In order to claim that fact-checkers are biased, Attkisson has to deny the preponderance of scientific evidence related to vaccines and climate change—claiming that there are “controversies” related to that evidence. In other words, it should come as no surprise that the party that denies science and denigrates experts is the same one that has a problem with fact-checkers.

In writing about the epistemic closure on the right, Julian Sanchez captured what all of this means.

One of the more striking features of the contemporary conservative movement is the extent to which it has been moving toward epistemic closure. Reality is defined by a multimedia array of interconnected and cross promoting conservative blogs, radio programs, magazines, and of course, Fox News. Whatever conflicts with that reality can be dismissed out of hand because it comes from the liberal media, and is therefore ipso facto not to be trusted. (How do you know they’re liberal? Well, they disagree with the conservative media!)

When science is denied and anyone who disagrees with you is summarily dismissed as biased, there is no room for conversation. That is dangerous because it stifles what our founders saw as the heart of the democratic process: debate. We will never be able to discuss policy differences if we can’t even acknowledge the facts.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.