When Fact-Checks Aren’t Fact-Checks | Adam Speaking

Adam Speaking
7 min readDec 4, 2020

In so many cases fact check articles, along with the entire fact-checking scheme, no longer provide the service of logically checking facts, but rather fill a position as a well-oiled cog in the propaganda production machine.

Fact Checks Have Become Editorials With a Very Intended Purpose

The original intended purpose of a fact-checking article was to ascertain the veracity of a particular “fact,” or claim in an article. But it seems editors have decided to change the definition of fact-checking in order to justify publishing any number of editorial opinions as a fact checks.

However, if we’re being honest, what’s the point of having a fact-checking column if it’s merely providing cover for editorial opinions? Honest people know how to answer that question, but the problem is very few journalist are interested in being honest. The point is far more sinister than many realize, but I will touch on that at the end of this article.

Both editorial opinions, and fact checks, contain arguments of various kinds. A fact check article seeks to ascertain whether a fact, as stated, is true or false. It’s that simple. An editorial opinion may contain a number of other kinds of persuasive arguments for, or against, one or more propositions. Having defined the intended purpose of a fact-check article we can quite easily deduce a number of arguments that do not constitute a fact check.

A Few Examples of Arguments That Do Not Constitute Fact Checks

If you’ve been on Facebook lately you’ve seen a lot of warnings regarding news about Covid-19, and the 2020 election. If you’re like most people you probably don’t even look at the fact checks anymore. There are two reasons for this:

  1. Confirmation bias. Few people are willing to investigate arguments that may challenge their preconceived biases.
  2. Loss of faith in fact checks. Many people, after having read a number of fact check articles, have completely lost faith in the fact check scheme all-together.

I’m not like most other people. I always read the fact check articles. I enjoy the fact-checks. They’re my favorite part.

One thing you will noticed in virtually all fake fact check articles is that in one way, or another, they openly admit that the fact in question is actually true. But they attempt to obfuscate the veracity of the fact in question by some form of distraction, what-about-sim, moral equivalency, or any number of other logically fallacious arguments that don’t directly rebut the fact in question.

The most common fact check articles consist of a straw man argument. A straw man argument cannot be defined as a fact check, because a straw man argument doesn’t, in fact, check the fact in question. A straw man argument is an argument which side-steps the fact it’s supposed to be arguing against and argues against another (often related) fact. Usually the wool is pulled over the reader’s eyes by using a closely related fact, or subtly changing the opponents original claim (fact), or argument, and thereby creating a straw man to more easily debunk.

Another very common fact check takes the form of a “ missing information” fact check. This form of fact check quietly admits that the fact in question is correct, but craftily distracts from the fact’s accuracy by arguing that if you take into account other information the assumed implications of the fact are called into question.

An Example of the “Missing Information” Straw Man Fact Check Format

Here’s an example of that form of fact check. First, let’s take a look at the article (i.e., claim) the fact check attempt to rebut. A slew of articles came out recently showcasing eleven Democrat politicians who have defied their own Covid-19 restrictions. (In some cases multiple times.) Here’s an example of one of the articles.

Naturally, the left leaning news media took to writing a number of articles seeking to rebut this claim.

The only problem is that none of these articles actually rebutted the claim. They all very quietly admitted that the claim is 100% true, and accurate. The facts were checked and found to be true.

So what is a leftist to do when such a persuasive argument is being repeated through out right-wing news and social media? Well, they reach into their fact-checking toolbox and pull out a logically fallacious argument, of course.

The argument below is fallacious because it claims to be a fact check that debunks the original claim. However, it’s actually a fact check that legitimizes the original claim and merely misdirects the reader to a straw man based on the assumed implications of the original argument (i.e., fact).

The assumed implication is this: if this group of Democrats broke their own Covid-19 regulations then [here’s the part that is implied] Republicans haven’t broken their own Covid-19 regulations.

I hope you can tell simply by reading that argument that it’s a non sequitur. In other words, it doesn’t follow logically that if Democrats broke their own rules that Republicans necessarily didn’t. (No one is making that argument.) But that seems to be the way the Abby Patkin at the USA Today took the argument. She seems to have understood the aforementioned author’s (Kaylee McGhee White) argument to be that because Democrats broke their own rules, Republicans didn’t. Because Abby’s attempt to rebut Kaylee’s original article took this form:

“Politicians on both sides of the aisle have flouted COVID-19 guidelines”

Ask yourself, how does pointing out the fact that politicians on both side of the isle broke their own rules directly contradict, or rebut, the fact that Democrats have broken their own rules?

The answer to that question is obvious, it doesn’t. It’s a non sequitur.

And I’m sure Abby knows that.

As a result, rather than being a fact-check that debunks Kaylee’s original fact Abby’s argument is a fact-check that admits the original fact is correct and then seeks to argue against the assumed implication — namely, that Republicans didn’t break their own rules. (An argument Kaylee never implied.) Congratulations Abby, you’ve admitted that the original article was correct, and succeeded in forwarding a logically fallacious argument.

Note that the “claim” listed in Abby’s article is that “Several Democratic politicians urge social distancing and issuing stay-at-home advisories but host or attend gatherings.”

Does Abby go on to rebut that claim whatsoever? No, of course not. That’s not her job. Her job is to write a fact check article that can be used by Facebook to cast doubt on articles critical of Democrats for breaking their own rules — and Abby knows this.

In addition, Abby (and Facebook) knows very well that few people will read the fact-checking. The article is not meant to be read, it’s meant to add weight to the preconceived biases of those who are already critical of right-wing attempts to castigate Democrats for their hypocrisy. These left-leaning readers on social media will see the posted article criticizing Democrats, but note that there is a fact check warning, and then smugly assure themselves that the posted article’s facts regarding the Democrats are untrue. Thus they don’t need to be taken seriously, or investigated. In some cases they will even post a link to the fact check in order to further affirm to themselves and to others that the original facts aren’t true. Naturally, they often do this without having read the fact check first. If I had a dime for how many times I’ve seen that.

The Most Sinister Aim of the Fact-Checking Scheme

And this is the most sinister purpose of the fact-checking scheme. The articles aren’t meant to be read. They are, like so many other forms of content today, mean to be seen as adding weight to the overwhelming evidence that one political team is correct while the other political team is wrong. They are propaganda; they are the best form of propaganda today — memes.

Memes are cultural units (in this case an idea), analogous to viruses, that are passed from one person to another through repetition, imitation, etc., rather than through genetic means. Memes are the form the most successful propaganda takes in the current era. And much of news media today is involved not in solid argumentation, and logically persuasive rhetoric, but in the mass production of the components of immense and viral memes. The larger the viral load, the more believable the propaganda, the lie.

And it’s the job of many journalists today to produce these components, no matter how illogical, trivial, and seemingly insignificant they may seem when taken alone. Because when taken together, and un-investigated, they comprise a formidable piece of propaganda based on another illogical argument — the appeal to authority, or popularity. But I’ll delve more into that in another article.

The Good News is that Fact-Checking is Dead

The good news is that the fact checkers have worn their welcome. Their illogical arguments and outright lies have become so obvious that many people simply don’t pay them any attention. In most cases people are so used to seeing the fact check design element on various social media platforms that it no longer catches people’s attention. The propaganda campaign isn’t working. And that, more than the alleged fake facts they purport to be “checking”, angers the news media establishment more than anything — and anger I thoroughly enjoy watching them express.

Originally published at https://www.adamspeaking.com on December 4, 2020.



Adam Speaking

Political writer and podcaster focused on critical thinking and media deconstruction free from Left/Right political bias. https://www.adamspeaking.com