By:
November 20, 2020

They’ve been called liars and political puppets.

All for doing their jobs. All for looking at the facts and explaining what is true and what is false.

PolitiFact, the Poynter-owned fact-checking organization, has had a busy 2020, delving into everything from the coronavirus, to comments about race to, of course, the election.

Covering President Donald Trump, who lies so much that time allows for only a small percentage of his comments to actually be called out, has had PolitiFact busier than ever. Trump’s constant baseless allegations about a rigged election are unprecedented. We’ve never seen a leader — well, in this country, anyway — who has questioned our democracy and election system in this manner. And he appears to be doing it not because he has proof, but because he is unwilling to accept that he has lost the election.

Because he is being enabled by many of his political allies, many Trump supporters are buying into his reckless allegations. A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed that half of all Republicans believe Trump “rightfully won” the election, and that it is being stolen from him.

Even when presented with PolitiFact’s facts, supporters refuse to accept them. On Twitter, PolitiFact editor-in-chief Angie Drobnic Holan shared some of the comments PolitiFact has received regarding its coverage of the election. They include:

  • “As usual you lie. There are countless election poll watchers who have given sworn affidavits in illegal activities at the polls. You are so left-wing that you can’t see the forest from the trees.”
  • “I don’t know why I bother with you. You are a puppet for the Democrats. No fraud???? How about Arizona? Can you read?”
  • “And what if Trump had WON?? The Democrats would be doing the same thing and as AOC promised there would be rioting in the streets and anarchy!!”
  • “How could the truth be any more obvious? President Trump is way more popular than in his first election. There is no way he could have lost this time in a legitimate election.”
  • “Why are you opposed to a recount or legal intervention? … Those of us who support Trump are fully supportive of his actions. Are you afraid of finding out the truth? I would think you would want to legally check into possibilities of election fraud.”

Holan, with help from PolitiFact audience engagement editor Josie Hollingsworth, addressed these comments in a Twitter thread, writing:

“It’s an unfortunate product of these polarized times that information deemed unfavorable toward a candidate is perceived as partisan.

“Our role is not to make any candidate look good — and it’s certainly not to help any candidate win an election. It’s to help you navigate a confusing information landscape and make sure you have access to accurate information.

“We do take election fraud seriously, and we have checked out many statements over the years. This year, we haven’t seen evidence to support those claims. In fact, this election has been the most scrutinized of any we’ve seen in our 13 years of fact-checking.

“It wouldn’t be right for us to report election results as in dispute when they’re not, or to say that a winner isn’t clear when it is. We would apply these same standards if the situation were reversed and Trump was leading Biden in the public vote counts.

She concluded with this: “We hope you’ll keep reading PolitiFact, even if you dislike our findings. A democracy depends on people being able to consider evidence and then deliberate on the best path forward.”

Holan told me on Thursday that last week’s PolitiFact email was full of debunking election misinformation and that she heard from a lot of unhappy Trump supporters.

“So,” Holan told me, “I wanted to respond to them in a way that said, I hear you, but this is why I’m sending you what I’m sending.”

Seriously?

We’ve already long known that the supposed “news” network OANN was in the corner of President Trump. Nevertheless, it was surprising to see the network’s CEO, Robert Herring, tweeting this out on Thursday:

“Why is Biden still trying to act like he’s going to be president when he knows the Dem cheating has been uncovered? He should be working on a way to clear all the charges he faces. @realDonaldTrump @OANN.”

Rudy’s rants and ramblings

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani speaks during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Thursday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani held a press conference on Thursday that could be described as off the rails. With hair dye streaming down the sweat on his face, Giuliani, along with Trump campaign legal adviser Jenna Ellis and lawyer Sidney Powell, talked for well over 90 minutes, spewing wild unproven conspiracy theories about how the election was rigged.

NBC News’ Chuck Todd amusingly said, “Rudy Giuliani has been doing an SNL skit of sorts. … Again, this has been a bonkers press conference.”

Antifa and Hugo Chávez were brought up and Giuliani even quoted from the movie “My Cousin Vinny.”

It would’ve been funny if it wasn’t so dangerous. It was full of baseless accusations and allegations with no actual proof of voter fraud. Yet, surely millions of people are buying into all this. That is troubling.

Chris Krebs, the former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency who was fired by Trump this week after saying the election was the most secure in American history, tweeted:

“That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re lucky.”

What also was troubling, although not surprising, was that Fox News (as well as OANN and Newsmax) covered the press conference in its entirety. It’s troubling because Fox News likes to think of itself as a legitimate news outlet, and yet allowed this hour-and-a-half-plus press conference full of unproven claims to run unchecked.

Then again, it’s not surprising considering that Giuliani has been a guest on Fox News and Fox Business — where he also gets to say a bunch of things without being interrupted or challenged or called out on misinformation or lies. After the press conference, in a stunningly inept performance, Fox News’ Harris Faulkner treated it as if legitimate claims were made and did not offer up any resistance for many of the things Giuliani said that were just plain ridiculous. (A few minutes later, Fox News White House reporter Kristin Fisher did a much better job, pointing out that the news conference was “light on facts” and “so much of what he said was simply not true or has already been thrown out in court.”)

But back to Fox News’ decision to even air the press conference. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik tweeted, “For those taking the press conference live: If you’re in the news business, it’s malpractice to carry Giuliani’s press conference live at length without any cut ins to note the myriad ways the public record contradicts him.”

CNN’s Brian Stelter tweeted, “The Trump legal team’s presser is conspiracy TV. And it’s been airing on Fox for more than an hour. Hard not to conclude that Fox is feeling intense pressure from the right — from Newsmax and OANN — and making programming choices accordingly.”

It’s not at all shocking that OANN and Newsmax — clear Trump supporters — would air this dumpster fire of a press conference. Come to think of it, it’s not all that shocking that Fox News did either.

And this, too:

The headline on Fox News’ website after the Giuliani press conference was “Making Their Case: Giuliani lays out Trump campaign’s election challenges in fiery news conference with legal team.”

Making their case? That makes it sound as if a legitimate case is being made.

One final thing …

NBC News’ Kasie Hunt noted that the Giuliani news conference came on the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, held on Nov. 19, 1863.

SPONSORED POST:

The WW Higher Education Media Fellowship supports U.S. journalists interested in learning more about and covering issues related to post-secondary career and technical education (CTE). The Fellowship is a six-month, non-residential reporting fellowship which includes $10,000 in funding. Applications are open through December 11.

BuzzFeed + HuffPost

BuzzFeed plans to acquire HuffPost. It’s part of a larger stock deal involving BuzzFeed and Verizon Media, which owns HuffPost. The two websites will continue to remain separate from one another with each having its own editorial staff. The story was broken by The Wall Street Journal’s Benjamin Mullin and Keach Hagey.

Jonah Peretti, the BuzzFeed founder and chief executive, co-founded HuffPost with Arianna Huffington back in 2005 when it was called Huffington Post. He told The New York Times’ Edmund Lee and Tiffany Hsu, “The reason we were attracted to it is the brand and the audience. We want HuffPost to be more HuffPosty, and BuzzFeed to be more BuzzFeedy — there’s not much audience overlap. These are different audiences they serve. On the editorial side and the consumer side, we want to have a lot of independence and autonomy for HuffPost and for it to determine its own brand.”

Peretti will remain CEO and run both companies and plans to hire an editor-in-chief for HuffPost. That position has been open since Lydia Polgreen went to Gimlet Media in March of this year.

Washington Post exclusive

Kyle Rittenhouse at an extradition hearing in October. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, Pool)

Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who shot and killed two men during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August, has spoken publicly for the first time since that night. Rittenhouse told The Washington Post that he didn’t regret what happened.

“I feel I had to protect myself,” he told the Post. “I would have died that night if I didn’t.”

The Washington Post’s Joyce Sohyun Lee, Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Elyse Samuels were part of the team that interviewed Rittenhouse and put together a must-see 23-minute video for a piece whose title says it all:

“Kenosha: How Two Men’s Paths Crossed in an Encounter That Has Divided the Nation.”

This is important and elite journalism. Just outstanding.

Honoring Z

CBS News president Susan Zirinsky in April 2019, in Washington. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Earlier this week, CBS News president Susan Zirinsky was honored with a Fourth Estate Award from the National Press Club. Zirinsky started with CBS when she was a 20-year-old sophomore at American University. Over the years, she worked her way up, working on the “CBS Evening News” among other news programs. She eventually became executive producer of “48 Hours” and was named CBS News president in March 2019.

She was the inspiration for the Holly Hunter character in “Broadcast News.”

During the award presentation, “CBS Evening News” anchor Norah O’Donnell said, “Not even Steve Jobs of Apple could have created something so small with so much power and with an everlasting battery life. Susan Zirinsky was Hollywood famous in her 30s when Holly Hunter played her in ‘Broadcast News.’ She once jumped from a moving train to send footage of President Reagan’s visit to Augusta, Georgia, all in time for the ‘CBS Evening News’ where she was the first female senior producer. Her life is a list of firsts, including the first female president of CBS News. But Z’s life story is really about more than her many Emmys and Peabody Awards. It’s about how she takes care of all of us. She’s a great journalist because she cares, and she listens, and then she charges ahead with what is right. I once heard her say ‘I live on the edge of fear. I realize it is my most powerful life force.’ I just love that. Because I always thought the key to success was being fearless. What we learned from Z is take anything that stands in your way, or gives you doubt, and somehow make it your fuel. I’ve never had and never will (have) a better boss.”

‘Some Kind of Heaven’ trailer

In Thursday’s newsletter, I wrote about a new New York Times/Magnolia Pictures’ film about The Villages — a 130,000 resident retirement community in Florida. The movie comes out in January, but the trailer came out Thursday. The link to the trailer wasn’t working in Thursday’s newsletter, so try this link to see the very interesting trailer.

Highly recommended

My Poynter colleague Kristen Hare has an outstanding piece you should check out. It’s about the massacre of Black residents in the town of Ocoee, Florida, in 1920. As Hare writes, after a dispute over a Black man’s right to vote, “white residents led a massacre killing an unknown number of people, burning down houses of Black residents and lynching resident July Perry. Hundreds of Black citizens either were killed or left town. One hundred of them owned land that was sold off. They were never paid.”

On the 100th anniversary of this horrific event, Daralene Jones, an anchor and reporter at WFTV in Orlando, led a Cox Media Group team to produce a documentary about what happened in Ocoee. Hare talks to Jones about putting this powerful documentary together.

Media tidbits

  • A reminder: There’s a special “20/20” on ABC tonight, produced in partnership with The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s called “Say Her Name: Breonna Taylor.” The two-hour special airs from 9 to 11 p.m. Eastern.
  • Tonight’s “Washington Week” (8 p.m. Eastern on most PBS stations) will include moderator Robert Costa and guests Paula Reid (CBS News), Asma Khalid (NPR), and Peter Baker (The New York Times).

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Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for Poynter.org. He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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