Is Fact Checking Biased?

The advent of instant media has made it much harder for politicians to say one thing to one group and something different to another group, or to twist the facts or tell baldfaced lies – or at least to do those things without getting caught. It seems like with each election, fact checking sites become more prominent and play a greater role.

But the increasing prominence of fact checking has also led to the politicization of fact checking – i.e., to groups like the new Conservative Fact Check website accusing mainstream fact checking sites of liberal bias. Conservative Fact Check’s “about” section states that:

CFC is dedicated to providing a conservative alternative to enormously liberal-biased fact checking sites like snopes.comfactcheck.org, and politifact.com.

How does CFC back up its claim that the regular fact checking sites are biased?

We assembled this chart by sorting PolitiFact’s complete list of “Pants On Fire” rulings. We filtered out any rulings of chain email or anonymous Facebook posts (although these were virtually all conservative viewpoints), as well as politicians or organizations who had only one “Pants On Fire” ruling (but again, even these were mostly conservatives).

The results are, sadly, not surprising. … To have any semblance of fairness, PolitiFact should play it 50/50 and present an equal number of lies from both sides. They clearly are not concerned with any pretense.

Actually, that last bit is only true if both sides lie with the same frequency.

I mean, this would be like saying that if a teacher is fair, she has to give every student the same number of demerits without considering that some students might be tardy more often than other students. Isn’t that sort of thing generally something conservatives oppose?

And I should point out that CFC doesn’t actually take the time to dispute any of PolitiFact’s “Pants On Fire” rulings. Or even to discuss them. It simply counts them. See, you find evidence of liberal bias by showing that PolitiFact’s analysis of various political claims is incorrect, not by pointing out that PolitiFact has called conservatives “Pants On Fire” liars more often than it has liberals. CFC doesn’t even attempt this.

This is the bit where CFC really lost me, though:

PolitiFact (and other supposedly unbiased fact-checking sites) paint Mitt Romney as a serial liar. They also unfairly tarnish Michele Bachmann as a liar, when anybody who follows her already understands that many of her statements aren’t meant to be truthful in the first place — she simply says what she feels.

And this would be why I can’t trust sites like CFC. Bachmann’s not a liar because we shouldn’t expect her to tell the truth in the first place? What?

So let’s take a look at the assembled graphic:

Actually, that image is a pretty good reason why I trust sites like PolitiFact and FactCheck.org: they call out lies on both sides. I mean my goodness! According to this image, PolitiFact has called Barack Obama a “Pants On Fire” liar more often than it has Rush Limbaugh! Bill Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and other liberals are on the list too. Sure, the list has more conservatives than liberals, but that by itself is not evidence of bias unless we have some guarantee that conservatives and liberals lie at the same rate, and we don’t.

You know what would be evidence of bias? If PolitiFact only called conservatives “Pants On Fire” liars and never even investigated the whether things liberals said were true or false. I’m not naive enough to think that everyone on “my side” is always truthful or that everyone on “the other side” is always lying. I want a fact checker that checks both sides, because I don’t want to be taken in by lies told by my own side any more than I want to be taken in by lies told by the other side.

After the second presidential debate last month, a friend who knew I was progressive and an Obama supporter sent me a link to a fact check from Breitbart.com. In the spirit of fairness, I took a look at it. It claimed to debunk “the top ten lies” told during the debate, and you know what? Every single one was something Obama (0r in once case, the moderator) said. There was no attempt to fact check Romney. None. I responded to my friend by telling her that I don’t trust fact check articles or sites that only examine one side.

The reality is that I tend to trust sites like FactCheck.org and PolitiFact because they check both sides. And somehow I don’t think this new Conservative Fact Check site will do that. Because, you know, we’re not actually supposed to assume that what Bachmann says ought to be true in the first place, am I right?

Note: After reading this page on the Conservative Fact Check website, I’m wondering if it’s a parody. However, this page on Free Republic indicates that it’s probably legit. Further, whether or not this particular site is legit, I have over the past election cycle seen many conservatives accuse FactCheck.org and PolitiFact of liberal bias. 

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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