Book Profile

Book Review: Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers

“I had two main goals when I began writing this book: to expose the fact-checking industry for the fraud that it is and to provide an archive of their errors extensive enough to discredit them once and for all.” In his new book, Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers, Matt Palumbo accomplished exactly what he set out to do.

Palumbo’s latest book is to fact-checking what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago was to Soviet Communism. The Gulag Archipelago’s gruesome account of life in Soviet Russia dealt a deathblow to waning intellectual support for Communism by forcing readers to reckon with the chasm between Communism’s lofty promises and realities of Siberian forced-labor camps. Likewise, Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers demolishes the remaining credibility of the fact-checking industry with page after page of demonstrable fact-checking falsehoods by the industry’s biggest names. Readers can expect to be besieged by re-emerging memories of misleading, and often outright false, fact checks that the “disinformation experts” would prefer them to forget.

The Deep Dark History of “Fact-Checking”

In Part One, Palumbo explains the origins of the fact-checking industry with a summary of its rise to power, the major players in it, and their uniform ideological bend toward the Left. Palumbo calls them “advocacy fact-checkers,” observing that, “contrary to their job title, the role of the fact-checker is to simply provide cover for liberal media narratives.” PolitiFact, Snopes, NewsGuard, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kesler—all the usual suspects—get a thorough examination highlighting the partisan sources of funding behind them, their questionable methodologies, and some of their greatest hits.

The chapter exposes a variety of the most common tactics that fact-checkers use to launder partisanship into expertise to put their fingers on the scales of public discourse. With numerous anecdotes to back it up, Palumbo shows how these groups routinely “fact-check” conservative hyperbole and satire as if they were sincere, fact-check Republican lies repeatedly while checking Democrat lies only once, give Republicans lower scores than Democrats who made identical claims, and label articles in conservative publications as false by fact-checking statements the article didn’t actually make. In one particularly poignant example, Palumbo goes through the past several years of PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” list and points out that many were later proven true, while others represented pure rhetorical nitpicking.

The chapter also talks about the concerning partnerships between fact-checkers and social media companies, and he explains how these companies accepted the expertise of the fact-checkers at face value and used it as justification to shadow-ban conservative media accounts and slap factual articles that were damaging to the Left with dismissive “fact-check” labels. It also gives a comprehensive history of how fact-checking was used to develop the government-sponsored endeavors of today like the Election Integrity Partnership and Biden’s doomed Disinformation Governance Board. The book was written too early to grapple with the full scope of material revealed in the “Twitter Files,” (which can be explored in full here), but the account of gradually increasing Big-Tech and government collusion with partisan fact-checkers effectively predicted everything the Twitter Files revealed.

It’s not all bad news, however. At the end of the chapter Palumbo points, hopefully, to the emergence of crowd-sourced fact-checking via Twitter’s “Birdwatch,” or “Community Notes,” function. “It was a novel idea,” Palumbo writes, “this sort of ‘wisdom of the crowds’ approach to fact-checking” would make “inserting political bias” into fact checks much harder.

The Hack Hall of Fame

The second part of the book, if there is a criticism to be made, is a bit repetitive. It is structured as a collection of essays describing over 100 separate instances where one or more of the major fact-checking institutions of America got things mostly or completely wrong. The repetitiveness, however, only lends itself to the argument Palumbo is trying to make. Again and again, unforgivably significant factual errors in “fact-checks” are documented. Most of these errors conveniently benefiting Democrats and the Left. The repetition shows how the same errors were made by the same people and organizations time after time, beyond the point where they could possibly be accidental.

Fact-checking’s most spectacular failures, like the COVID-19 Wuhan Lab Leak theory and the Trump-Russia scandal, are featured prominently, but Palumbo’s book reminds readers that the media also gets things tremendously wrong in the smaller, more easily forgotten, stories. Some stories tell how fact-checkers claimed to have consulted experts that reported never hearing from the fact-checkers. Others describe repeated attempts to correct inaccurate fact-check ratings, receiving no response until well-after the claim was “debunked” in the public eye. The list goes on and on.

There is no way to adequately describe all or even some of the over 100 stories, but the overall theme presented is repeated and intentional deception by an industry that cares more for guiding  public perception and narratives than actually defending the truth.

All in all, the book is a great read and well worth the purchase for anyone that needs an occasional reminder that the most trusted names in media have repeatedly and intentionally led Americans away from the truth.

Parker Thayer

Parker Thayer is a Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. A native of Michigan, he recently graduated from Hillsdale College.
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