In July, USA Today issued a “fact-check” that promoted a left-wing conspiracy theory asserting the Donald Trump campaign’s use of an eagle on memorabilia featured imagery of Nazi Germany.
The claim: Trump campaign shirts feature imperial eagle, a Nazi symbol
Our ruling: True https://t.co/3eCiYdgQvK
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 12, 2020
“President Donald Trump’s campaign website recently unveiled a T-shirt that has come under fire because of design similarities between its logo and a Nazi symbol,” the “fact-check” article said, explaining the comparisons first pointed out by a leftist Jewish group and the grifters at the Lincoln Project.
“The claims that a Trump campaign T-shirt has come under criticism for using a symbol similar to a Nazi eagle is TRUE,” the paper concluded, offering its highest level of credibility to a leftist conspiracy tying the Trump campaign to Nazi Germany. Of course, the “fact-check” wasn’t true.
The article’s own author acknowledged the eagle’s use as a longtime emblem of American patriotism embedded in U.S. governmental seals for more than 200 years, more than a century pre-dating its adoption by the Nazis. In addition, the eagle has been used by numerous governments going back thousands of years to Ancient Rome.
The hysterical, ahistorical conclusion to perpetuate a favorite, hyped narrative of the Trump-era media painting the president as a 21st-century Hitler drew well-deserved mockery online. Some poked fun at the paper’s past illustration of “chainsaw bayonets” as a possible gun modification.
Townhall’s Julio Rosas replaced the gun’s affixed chainsaw bayonet with American seals prominently featuring the eagle USA Today had painted as primarily Nazi imagery.
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) July 12, 2020
USA Today updated its “fact check” ruling days later to “inconclusive” following online outrage and reporting from outlets such as The Federalist. The “update,” however, coming a full three days later, likely missed the thousands of readers first subjected to its deceptive first conclusion.
Update: The rating on this article has been changed to inconclusive. It was updated to reflect further reporting and analysis.
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) July 15, 2020
The episode is emblematic of just about everything wrong about legacy media: its Trump Derangement Syndrome, its compulsive desire to smear Trump and his supporters as Nazi collaborators, its unaccountability. It also illustrates the dangers of a corporate media complex obsessed about fact-checking to cement a monopoly on truth, when many of its “fact-checks” aren’t truthful at all.
The USA Today story is no isolated incident of erroneous fact-checking. From 2008 to 2012, PolitiFact ran not one, but six columns promoting President Barack Obama’s claims that Americans who liked their health coverage could keep it under the Affordable Care Act while also declaring 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney a liar for saying otherwise.
In 2013, PolitiFact conceded the line “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” as the “lie of the year,” after an estimated four million Americans lost their insurance by 2014.
There’s no shortage of fake-fact checks published by corporate outlets self-righteously presenting themselves as neutral arbiters of truth. In 2013, PolitiFact conceded its 2012 “lie of the year” was the literal truth. In August, the fact-checkers at Snopes admitted a claim they rated “mostly false” as true in the same article. In December, USA Today employed a leftist college student activist to “fact-check” a piece of Federalist reporting she just didn’t understand.
The growth of the fact-checking industry has only blossomed in the last decade, with more than 300 fact-checking groups worldwide, 58 in the United States, according to the Duke University Reporters’ Lab.
The corporate fact-checking movement has especially flourished in recent months, escalating their war on dissent with the help of big tech elites weaponizing their monopoly power over the 21st-century digital public square through selective censorship. Nowhere has this partnership come into better focus than Facebook and Twitter’s October suppression of stories revealing incriminating evidence about then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden involving his family business dealings.
Moments after The New York Post published its first exposé detailing Biden’s involvement with his son’s potentially criminal overseas ventures, Facebook announced through a former Democratic staffer the platform would pre-emptively censor the story until it had been vetted by the “independent” fact-checkers it pays to conduct content moderation.
While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook's third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.
— Andy Stone (@andymstone) October 14, 2020
Which fact-checking group did Facebook employ to review the Hunter Biden stories? Was it reviewed by the fact-checker who trashed Republicans as racist and told a Russian television network the president’s speeches should not be aired? Was it the fact-checking partner funded by China?
Did the fact-checkers ever make their findings public? Have they retracted or altered their checks after Hunter Biden acknowledged the existence of an ongoing federal investigation examining his taxes? Will the entity responsible for reviewing the Hunter Biden stories remain in partnership with Facebook going forward?
The alliance between big tech and big media to monopolize the truth presents just as much a threat to American democracy than any politician. Their weaponizing of “fact-checking” is their most promising mirage to confuse a susceptible public that can be manipulated to serve elite interests.
A world where leftist elites run the nation’s legacy institutions is no pretty picture. It’s a world where critical race theory is the mandated religion, Trump is a covert agent of the Russian government, Joe Biden sees no legitimate scrutiny, there is no accountability for American corporate giants dismissing their U.S. loyalty to appease Chinese interests, and any skepticism that could undermine pandemic lockdown measures is suppressed into oblivion.
Facts matter, of course. No responsible writer would insist otherwise. But to allow left-wing institutions to develop a bulletproof monopoly on defining what is “fact” does more to undermine the truth than any piece of genuine misinformation floating around in the marketplace of ideas.