Fact-checkers sparred with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez over their alleged ‘bias.’ But it ended on a high note.

Category: Fact-Checking

The Week in Fact-Checking is a newsletter about fact-checking and accountability journalism, from Poynter’s International Fact-Checking Network & the American Press Institute’s Accountability Project. Sign up here.

United States Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s interview Sunday with Anderson Cooper on CBS’s “60 Minutes” was notable for a number of reasons. For one, not many first-year members of Congress get that kind of platform.

But one comment in particular touched a nerve for the fact-checking community. When Ocasio-Cortez was asked about a Washington Post fact check awarding her four Pinocchios for an inaccurate tweet about Pentagon accounting, she responded: “If people want to really blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they’re missing the forest for the trees. I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

For some, that comment echoed the much-quoted 2016 argument, first made in an Atlantic article and later amplified by tech investor Peter Thiel, that the media had missed the larger phenomenon of Donald Trump because they were taking him literally but not seriously, while his supporters were taking him seriously but not literally. A number of columnists reminded Ocasio-Cortez that precision and morality are not mutually exclusive. Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum suggested “she’d be well-advised to slow down and study up just a little bit.”

Beyond the fracas, though, the episode touched off a larger — and public — back-and-forth about fact-checking, how claims are chosen and the standards used in checking them. That’s because Ocasio-Cortez, in a Twitter thread, asked how fact-checkers do their work, their rules and whether she is being treated fairly compared to other high-profile officials, like White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The fact-checkers answered, tweeted out their rules of engagement and explained how she was not being held to a standard different than anyone else.

And from there, the congresswoman pivoted away from conflict. She called fact-checking “critically important,” said it’s important for everyone to know the rules and thanked fact checkers for their work. Responded the Post’s Sal Rizzo: “This is classy and I appreciate it.”

As confrontations over fact-checking go, the outcome was as close to a win-win as can be had in this hyper-polarized environment. Ocasio-Cortez’s cordial exit let her reclaim some high ground, even if the original tweet is still there. And fact-checkers got a high-profile opportunity to explain what they do, how they do it — and why.

President Donald Trump speaks from the Oval Office of the White House as he gives a prime-time address about border security Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Washington. (Carlos Barria/Pool Photo via AP)

This is new

  • PolitiFact to major U.S. TV networks: We’re ready to do live fact-checking of political speeches.
  • Poynter’s MediaWise launched its Teen Fact-Checking Network, which is native to social media platforms like Instagram. Here’s a write-up from Digiday.
  • Nieman Lab rounded up its 2019 predictions about misinformation — and the future is either bleak or unclear, depending on who you ask.

The Bad Place

French riot police officers hold back demonstrators wearing yellow vests as they demonstrate in front of the french public television network (France Televisions) in Paris, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

A closer look

  • A document ordering French citizens with certain categories of weapons to give them to authorities to prevent violence during the Yellow Vest protests made the rounds on social media — but it’s fake. The interior minister even debunked it himself on Twitter.
  • Fact-checking was front and center leading up to and after Trump’s immigration speech. Here’s a sample of the coverage.
  • Daniel updated his ongoing guide to anti-misinformation actions around the world. At least 39 governments have either moved to outlaw fakery — or to scapegoat it in an attempt to regulate the media.

Welcome, Susan!

This newsletter has a new co-author! Join us in welcoming Susan Benkelman, the new director of accountability journalism at API.

China's National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, is seen under polluted skies a month before the opening of the Olympic Games, in Beijing Tuesday July 8, 2008. (AP Photo/Greg Baker)

If you read one more thing

In a book excerpt published by CJR, Meedan’s An Xiao Mena explained how memes became a tool to cut through government misinformation about pollution in Beijing.

10 quick fact-checking links

  1. Want to attend the world’s premier fact-checking conference? Apply by Jan. 14.
  2. Motherboard: A Fake Nude of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Was Debunked By Foot Fetishists.
  3. The Orlando Sentinel has launched an in-house fact-checking project run by … its editorial board.
  4. Esquire: In 2019, The Media Has to Do Better in Calling Out Trump’s Shit.
  5. A new study on how fact checks can reduce misperceptions but have minimal effects on vote choice was accepted into the journal Political Behavior.
  6. The Financial Times: Why there is no need to panic about fake news.
  7. The Verge: People older than 65 share the most fake news, a new study finds.
  8. Last year, fact-checkers around the world were threatened for doing their jobs. Now, there’s a legal defense fund specifically for them.
  9. Bloomberg: Smart People May Be More Likely to Fall for Fake News (or Not).
  10. Fact check of the week: BuzzFeed News’ story about puppy scams on the internet. Yep, that’s a thing now.

Until next week,

Daniel, Susan and Alexios

Getting it Right: Accuracy and Verification in the Digital Age