Earlier this week, Donald Trump made a joke at an event honoring the great World War II Navajo Code Talkers. He poked fun at Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who used to claim to be Cherokee despite not having any evidence to substantiate the claim. Democrats and their media footsoldiers decided it’s racist to mock someone for falsely claiming to be Native American. For example, Jim Acosta of CNN wrote: “WH press sec says ‘Pocahontas’ is not a racial slur. (Fact check: it is.)”
Uh, fact check: no. For one thing, as Gabriel Malor said, “No, derogatorily referring to a person who falsely claimed to be a Native American as Pocahontas is not a racial slur. It demeans no racial or ethnic group.” It definitely demeans women who claim that they’re Cherokee sans evidence.
If your friends make fun of you for falsely claiming you totally have a real, live girlfriend in Toronto and she’s really busy so that’s why they can’t meet her, that doesn’t mean they hate Canadians. If people mock you for claiming to be British royalty by unceasingly addressing you as “Her Highness,” that doesn’t mean they hate the queen. You get the idea.
For another, and more on point, it’s at best an opinion to claim that mocking someone for claiming to be Native American, etc., when she has no evidence to make that claim, is a “slur.” But that’s Jim Acosta. And publicly displaying ignorance of the difference between a fact and an opinion is kind of what he’s known for.
Fact Checkers Need to Know What Facts Are
Last week, there was a more disconcerting example of journalists confusing fact and opinion. First off, the ever-humble President Donald Trump shared with the world some thoughts about himself:
Since the first day I took office, all you hear is the phony Democrat excuse for losing the election, Russia, Russia,Russia. Despite this I have the economy booming and have possibly done more than any 10 month President. MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
The Washington Post‘s resident “fact checker” Glenn Kessler responded thusly:
False. Virtually every recent president signed more bills —and more substantial ones — than Trump in first ten months.
False? False? Did Trump’s braggadocious tweet make the claim that he had signed more bills than any other president? No. Is the “signing of bills” the proper metric, much less the only metric, by which to determine whether a president has “done more” than any other? That’s debatable at best. And it’s generous to say that it’s debatable since presidents can only sign bills that congresses pass, so it’s a metric highly dependent on factors outside the presidency. Fun fact: The United States has a divided government with separate but coequal branches of government. You can read all about it here.
Rating True Statements False
Still, it’s just a tweet. Far more troubling was the Washington Post‘s fact check of Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that “There are more Americans working today than ever before in American history.” Now, a fact check of that statement means you check whether it’s true that more Americans work today than ever before. A reasonable person would suspect it has a high chance of being true if for no other reason than there are more Americans living today than ever before.
In fact, it is factually correct to say that more Americans are working now than ever before. The Washington Post admits this, showcases the numbers (124 million, up from 65 million in 1968), and says Pence is “technically correct.” So they give him, quite amazingly, three Pinocchios, their little metric that summarizes their analysis of the truthfulness of the statement. Then they admit they wanted to give him four Pinocchios but were constrained by the fact that what he said was true. I’m not joking.
This purported “fact” “check,” then, is not a fact check. Not even close. It’s an “I wish Republicans would say things differently” check. Or an “I wish Republican politicians would not give political speeches” check. Or a “Count the ways journalists love Obama” check. Or even just a “Totally opinionated analysis of political speech” check. Which is fine! But don’t call it a fact check.
The entire Pence “check” piece is absolutely hilarious to read. It mocks people for applauding Pence’s true (albeit admittedly innocuous statement) and asks “How can Pence get away with making such a grand statement?” It says his vocalization of the statistic it admits is true “might go down as one of the more ridiculous economic claims made by the administration.”
Perhaps most amazingly, it suggests the economy was going really well during the Obama administration (“recovering from the effects of the Great Recession”) without mentioning the economic stagnation of that era — except to mock Trump officials for pointing it out! By the way, this reminds me of another great “fact” “check” by PolitiFact last year around this time. Trump said, “Obama is the first president in modern history not to have a single year of 3 percent growth.”
For that 100 percent completely true statement, which PolitiFact admitted is “accurate,” he was afforded a “Mostly True.” Why not just “True”? Well, because PolitiFact wishes Trump would have judged Obama by quarters instead of annually. Since there were a few Obama-era quarters where GDP was over 3 percent, then he wouldn’t have been accurate if he’d said “not a single quarter” instead of “not a single year.” Again, I’m not joking.
Rating False Statements … Look! Squirrel!
Okay, so if a true statement gets three — almost four — Pinnochios, what does Warren’s unsubstantiated claim of being Native American get? Eleventy billion Pinocchios? Twenty gazillion? Just the maximum of four?
If you guessed that the media would run interference, obfuscate, and decline to judge the veracity of her unsubstantiated claim, congratulations, you’re one of the millions of Americans who has finally figured out how this game works.
Last year, during the height of Trump’s insult game against Warren, the Post “fact checker” ran a fact check on Trump, headlined “Why Donald Trump calls Elizabeth Warren ‘Pocahontas’.” The fact check admitted there is precisely “no documented proof of Warren’s self-proclaimed, partial Native American heritage” but then concluded the fact check with a refusal to fact check. “We will not rate Trump’s claim, but urge readers to look into it on their own and decide whether Trump’s attacks over Warren’s background have merit.”
As the Washington Free Beacon’s Brent Scher wrote, “‘No rating’ seems to mean ‘Trump is right and we don’t want to admit it’.” Radio producer Steve Robinson wrote: “WaPo on Warren’s lies: Do your own research. WaPo on factually correct Pence statement: LIES DAMN LIES.”
This Is Why People Loathe Much Of The Media
Yesterday we looked at the problems with the Democratic/media campaign to claim it’s racist to mock someone for lying. As David Reaboi wrote, “hiding the fact that Warren isn’t actually Native American—is why people rightly hate the media.”
I previously noted the same problem with CNN’s first story about Trump’s insult of Warren — that it obfuscated the main point of her completely unsubstantiated claims of being Native American. A follow-up story, headlined “Here’s the deal with Elizabeth Warren’s Native American heritage,” might be even worse.
I mean, take the headline. The “deal” is that she’s not — or at the very least, we have no reason to believe she is and she has never provided a scintilla of evidence to explain why she led employers to report to federal regulators overseeing them that she was Native American.
“Is Warren part Native American?” the article asks. And the section is a-ma-zing:
Warren says, yes, she is, and points to ‘family stories’ passed down to her through generations as evidence.
‘I am very proud of my heritage,’ Warren told NPR in 2012. ‘These are my family stories. This is what my brothers and I were told by my mom and my dad, my mammaw and my pappaw. This is our lives. And I’m very proud of it.’
In that account and others, a genealogist traced Warren’s Native American heritage to the late 19th century, which, if true, would make her 1/32 Native American. (However, the legitimacy of those findings has been debated.)
The Washington Post’s ‘Fact Checker’ page has actually decided against judging the issue at all, offering ‘no rating’ and, in a piece Tuesday, suggesting ‘readers to look into it on their own and decide whether Trump’s attacks over Warren’s background have merit.’
Are you freaking kidding me. (And I should note that the piece attempts to exonerate Warren even more after this.) So the answer to whether a person for whom there is not a scintilla of evidence to support her previous public claims of Native American status really is part-Native American, according to CNN, is:
1) She says she is.
2) A self-serving quote about family lore that declines to mention that other family members and public records don’t share the lore.
3) No mention of falsehoods and contradictions with her previous stories.
4) A false description of a genealogical tracing being “debated” when it was actually a mistake.
5) And an appeal to the same B.S. refusal to judge the issue.
So let’s get this straight: Pence is a lying liar who lies for saying a totally anodyne true thing, But when St. Warren says a thing there’s no evidence for and no one can prove, they rush to justify and obfuscate. This is why people don’t just mistrust the media — they hate the media.