Welcome back to “Forgotten Fact-Checks,” a weekly column produced by National Review’s News Desk. This week we have social media’s head-scratchers, the Biden administration’s refusal to face reality on COVID and the southern border, and more media misses.
Who Watches the Watchers?
The independent “oversight board” tasked with evaluating Facebook’s Trump ban found that “it is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.” Having found that the ban was “not permissible,” the oversight board decided to keep it in place for another six months while CEO Mark Zuckerberg comes up with a more “permissible” reason to ban the former president. In refusing to make a final determination, the oversight board declined to play its intended role: allowing Zuckerberg to avoid the criticism inherent to policing speech on his platform.
Over the past month, National Review has been following Twitter’s curation team — which writes the platform’s “Moments” and “Trending” summaries to help “surface the best of what’s happening on Twitter,” according to its about page. As it curates what is happening around the world, Twitter pledges to “organize and present compelling content,” since “curators don’t act as reporters or creators of original work.”
The platform claims that its team aims “to uphold high standards of accuracy, impartiality and fairness in our curation.” Well, let’s take a look at some recent examples to see if they are meeting that worthy standard.
Much has already been written about the media debacle in covering the tragic death of Ohio teenager Ma’Khia Bryant, who was shot by police as she attempted to stab someone. That crucial detail — that Columbus police shot Bryant after she disregarded orders to drop the knife and charged a fellow girl with the deadly weapon — was completely ignored by Twitter’s Moments team. So what was the top-line takeaway? Police have named the officer in question, and “he has been ‘taken off the street’ while the criminal investigation is ongoing.”
While Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams retroactively stealth-edited her USA Today op-ed on the Georgia election reform bill — removing a line in which she claimed she “can’t argue with” people who choose to boycott businesses in her state — Twitter played active defense on her behalf. According to the curation team, which cited “journalists and fact-checkers,” Abrams “supports boycotts in certain circumstances but not right now in Georgia.”
A number of recent “trending” summaries, which are also curated, have raised some eyebrows.
Wtf is this??
Twitter employees now promoting florida trutherism pic.twitter.com/o8cBMueHsg
— Comfortably Smug (@ComfortablySmug) April 26, 2021
This is a blatant lie from Twitter and missing some serious context. Tucker Carlson didn't tell people to not wear masks.
He told people to stop wearing them outside because there's little to no science to suggest they help. The CDC will also soon ease outdoor mask mandates. pic.twitter.com/uXZSUM7Lmr
— David Hookstead (@dhookstead) April 27, 2021
So while Twitter may say it is not a publisher, its curation team sure acts like it is.
More Biden Head-Burying
The Biden administration tends to respond to policy criticisms by quibbling about semantics — take the southern border and COVID as two examples.
Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in an interview that the media was to blame for the use of the word “crisis” in describing the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, insisting that it “wasn’t really a crisis,” just a “huge challenge.”
Unfortunately for Psaki, prominent Democrats — including both senators from the border swing state of Arizona — have repeatedly used the “c-word” when discussing the fact that migrant apprehension records are being shattered on a monthly basis— and have been since Biden took office.
“What I didn’t hear tonight was a plan to address the immediate crisis at the border,” Senator Mark Kelly said after Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress earlier this month.
“The reality is that this is a crisis,” Senator Kyrsten Sinema said in a radio interview last week. “We all know it, and the federal government must do more.”
And on COVID, Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has defended outdoor mask mandates for children at summer camps and is now warning that the concept of “herd immunity” is “elusive” and “mystical.”
On Monday, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a meticulous documenter of the pandemic since patient zero, inserted a healthy dose of reality into the public discussion.
"We should be lifting the mask ordinances outside in a wholesale fashion, I think we should be lifting them in indoor settings as well in many states," says @ScottGottliebMD. "We've hit our own goal–we just are reluctant to relax the measures now." pic.twitter.com/BHoGLi4B25
— Squawk Box (@SquawkCNBC) May 10, 2021
The Headline Fail of the Week
As we noted last time, NBC News fluffed its coverage of a critical race theory referendum failing in a Texas school district. Well here’s supposedly neutral CNN to pick up the pieces: “A school district tried to address racism, a group of parents fought back”
Remember all that “debunking” of the COVID lab-leak theory? Well, this cautious, even-handed deep-dive into all the available evidence by a prominent veteran science reporter is well worth the read.
It also includes this nugget: “Science reporters, unlike political reporters, have little innate skepticism of their sources’ motives; most see their role largely as purveying the wisdom of scientists to the unwashed masses.”
Politico Playbook led last Friday with a “takedown” of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis driven by anonymous former staffers. Well, turns out there are ex-staffers willing to defend him on the record too!
I certainly wasn’t “scarred” @playbookdc @tarapalmeri @rachaelmbade … @GovRonDeSantis @FLCaseyDeSantis are the best of the best. Looks like anybody on-the-record here actually backs that up. https://t.co/BlMeDDjUUq pic.twitter.com/c9dNF5xYvt
— Dustin Carmack (@DustinCarmack) May 7, 2021
— Mike Howell (@MHowellTweets) May 7, 2021
Finally, Democrats on social media rejoiced when Psaki first took the podium as White House press secretary earlier this year, dubbing moments where she delivers a feisty response to reporters “Psaki bombs.” Huffpost this week seemed to get caught up in the fervor as well, publishing a piece titled, “Newsmax Reporter Tries Trump’s ‘People Are Saying’ Line. Jen Psaki Isn’t Having It.”