Way back in 2011, I started crusading against the dishonesty of the media’s so-called “fact checkers.” I gained some notoriety and did a whirlwind of media on the subject for a few years, but these days I don’t write about the topic as much, mostly because the fact-checkers have done a tremendous job of discrediting themselves.
But just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in. Here’s a howler from the Washington Post: “Fact Checker: The president said he had ‘no confidence’ in the figures issued by the Hamas-run health ministry, but it has a good track record on reporting death tolls.”
You read that right: the Post had to choose between who is more trustworthy, Joe Biden or Hamas, and they went with the terrorists. Speaking as someone who’s been pretty blunt about Biden’s legendary problems with veracity, even I’m kind of stunned.
To be clear, my objection here is not rooted in any desire to obscure or downplay the number of deaths resulting from Israel’s military action against Gaza, however justifiable it may be following the Hamas atrocities of October 7. There’s no point in pretending that war involving civilian casualties isn’t anything other than horrifying.
But this case does speak to a certain liberal internationalist view of the world, where NGOs and government agencies exist almost for the sole purpose of laundering political ideology into dubious empirical stats. Here’s essentially how the WaPo fact-checker frames his case:
Biden’s dismissal of the ministry’s statistics — that he had ‘no confidence’ in them — was striking. The State Department has regularly cited ministry statistics without caveats in its annual human rights reports. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which tracks deaths in the conflict, has found the ministry’s numbers to be reliable after conducting its own investigation. ‘Past experience indicated that tolls were reported with high accuracy,’ an OCHA official told The Fact Checker.
As a general rule, the U.N. is a viper’s nest of people who are anti-Israel at best, and openly anti-semitic at worst—what other group would allow Iran to chair a human rights forum after it enabled such a barbaric terrorist attack a few weeks ago?
While not as bad as the U.N., I’m afraid the State Department doesn’t have much credibility here either, given that Anthony Blinken is “running the State Department like a college campus” and having “listening sessions” with State Department employees traumatized by America’s foreign policy response to Hamas’ attack. Another State Department employee recently resigned over our supposed “blind support” and arms transfers for Israel.
Elsewhere the WaPo fact checker cites NGOs and, notably, Human Rights Watch saying the Gaza Health Ministry death tolls are “generally reliable.” The problem is that Human Rights Watch is not “generally reliable,” either.
Pro-Israel groups have long complained about how HRW is biased against Israel, and they might have a point. In 2009, Human Rights Watch fired one of its senior military analysts. He had authored a number of reports heavily critical of Israel. Then it emerged that he was a major collector of Nazi memorabilia and was writing on internet forums devoted to the topic under the handle “Flak88.” (Since “H” eighth letter of the alphabet, white supremacists often use “88” as code for “Heil Hitler.”)
HRW might just be the tip of the iceberg. Pro-Israel groups have long argued, and with compelling evidence, that large swaths of nongovernmental organizations are essentially Palestinian shills that take funding from terrorist groups. Many of those same NGOs were awfully quick to accuse Israel and parrot the false death totals alleged in the bombing of a Gaza hospital that was actually caused by a Hamas rocket falling short. And yes, these are the very same exaggerated death tolls that were sourced to the Gaza Health Ministry.
Along those lines, it should be noted that the Post isn’t the only media organization defending the Gaza Health Ministry’s body counts in the face of Biden’s criticism. It’s telling that such a defense is being mounted at all, when you consider how many media organizations got humiliated by their erroneous reporting on the Gaza hospital bombing sourced to the Gaza Health Ministry.
To be clear, I’m not saying we should just give up on trusting anyone who tries to quantify what’s going on in this conflict. But real reporting needs to be done, preferably by New York Times employees who don’t praise Hitler, and then sources need to be checked. Indeed, the day after the October 17 Gaza’s al-Ahli hospital blast, the hospital held a press conference where they informed everyone “two employees injured” and “no staff or patients were killed,” but it seems almost no one from the international media bothered to go. Instead, the press was busy regurgitating the work of NGOs and government agencies stuffed with ideologues who insist they aren’t.
Moreover, sometimes getting at the truth is so messy and the motivations so suspect that you shouldn’t even try and pretend whatever numbers are floating around definitively provide any sort of clarity to a heavily manipulated and politicized debate. Yet this what fact-checkers routinely do under the guise of some kind of psuedoscientific authority.
I’m well aware that Israel is not above playing its own propaganda games and the IDF isn’t always justified in its use of force, but as relative moral comparisons go, the choice here isn’t close. Even now Hamas leaders are vowing to attack Israel “again and again.” Hamas continues to hold women and children as hostages, but we’re to believe they can be trusted not to lie to the press?
It’s not hard for even a badly senescent Biden to look at the situation and see what side should be trusted and what side should not. To side with the terrorists here, it takes someone who is both blindly trusting of a lot untrustworthy institutions and enough of a sophist not to step back and ask big-picture questions about right and wrong.
Unfortunately, doing exactly that is just all in a day’s work for a “fact checker.”
Article has been updated to include information about the al-Ahli hospital press conference.