Who Is Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers?

Yesterday afternoon, one of my “local” news stations posted one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen. WRTV-6 is an ABC Affiliate in Indianapolis owned and operated by the E. W. Scripps company. They have decided that these are the sources that people should use for “fact-checking” as part of “News Literacy Week.” If you’ve somehow stumbled upon my small blog, you are likely familiar with at least a couple names on those list and recognize that the majority are NOT unbiased and reliable resources. The article linked in the post has its own set of problems as well, most notably that so-called “experts” suggest that any information that doesn’t fit the proper narrative of the mainstream media are “pollution.”

I think a more in-depth look at each of the “sources” suggested by the “News Literacy Project” and the E.W. Scripps company will be rather illuminating.

The News Literacy Project

Let’s begin with the “News Literacy Project” itself. They have some interesting “supporters” on their website. The following are a sampling of some of the people and organizations who have donated to the News Literacy Project. Note that there is an “Anonymous” donor in the top two category tiers.

$1,000,000+

  • “Anonymous.”
  • John S. & James. L. Knight Foundation
    • Current President: Alberto Ibargüen
      • Served in Peace Corps in Colombia as well as Venezuela’s Amazon Territory.
      • Former publisher of the Miami Herald.
      • Former board member of: American Airlines; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; Wesleyan University; Smith College; Council on Foreign Relations; SnagFilms; ProPublica (another of the sources listed above); PepsiCo; AOL; Norwegian Cruise Lines.
      • Former Chairman of the Board: PBS; World Wide Foundation.
      • Member of: American Academy of Arts & Sciences; Visiting Committee for the MIT Media Lab
      • Received distinctions from: American Jewish Committee; Stephens College; Fairmount Park Conservancy.
    • View their 2019 tax return here. It is 374 pages, mostly listing agencies and “charities” that have given or received money through the foundation. Additional financial information is available here.

$500,000 – $999,999

  • “Anonymous.”

$250,000 – $499,000

  • The Klarman Family Foundation
    • Their website is pretty bare-bones. Their 2018 tax form (the most recent one on their website) states that “the majority of the Klarman Family Foundation’s grand making is done on an invitation-only basis.”
    • Their founder, Seth Klarman, is also the President of the Baupost Group, a hedge fund founded in 1982. It is one of the largest hedge funds in the world.
      • Seth has an extensive list of political contributions from 2020 – 167 in total. He gave $10,000 to almost every state’s Democratic party, between $2,800 and $5,600 to many Democratic candidates, and various amounts to PACs that are very pro-Democrat.
      • For example, the Sea Change PAC says right on their home page, “We flipped the House and created a diverse new Congress – but our work isn’t done! Join us as we defend the seats we won and continue to resist the Trump agenda.”
      • $1,000,000 to the SMP Super PAC which specifically opposes Republican candidates and supports Democratic candidates, as shown in their FEC Spending Report. Some of the campaigns and PACs received multiple tens of millions from the SMP Super PAC.
      • $500,000 to the House Majority PAC (Democrat)
      • $98,000 to the DCCC PAC (Democrat)
      • $50,000 to the New Leadership PAC (Democrat)
    • For someone who has given so much to a supposedly “unbiased fact-checking” campaign, his interests seem pretty blatantly biased.

$100,000 – $249,000

  • Argosy Foundation | The Abele Family
    • John Abele: founder of Boston Scientific medical device company; estimated net worth $603 million.
    • Chris Abele (son):
      • 2002 finance committee member for Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle (Democrat) campaign
      • 2004 finance committee for John Kerry for President (Democrat)
      • 2008 large donations to Obama for President
      • A rather lengthy feature about his life in which he brags about his friendship with George Soros.
    • Alex Abele (son):
  • Dow Jones Foundation – speaks for itself.
  • FThree Foundation – financial statement. Very little else is available.
    • Donations to liberal groups such as: American Civil Liberties Union; Every Town for Gun Safety; Every Voice Center; Human Rights Watch; Issue One; Media Impact Funders; Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast; President and Fellows of Harvard; Proteus Fund; Rock the Vote; Safe & Sound; The Carter Center; World Affairs Council; Citizens Climate Education; Gifford’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Protect Democracy Project; and many more.
    • Their page on Guidestar is almost blank. It suggests going to a website for Hirsch Philanthropy Partners for more information, but that page seems to be dead.
  • The Robert R. McCormick Foundation – related to the large and wealthy McCormick family who has interests in many liberal / Democratic organizations.
  • SmartNews Inc – a news website who claims to use computer algorithms to “evaluate millions of articles, social signals, and human interactions to deliver the top 0.01% of stories that matter most, right now.” A quick glance at their home page of articles showed quite a few that I would not qualify as ones that “matter most,” such as several Hollywood/TMZ gossip type articles.
  • The Stanton Foundation – founded by Frank Stanton, long-time President of CBS.
    • They have been scrutinized for being involved in a pay-for-play scheme with editing Wikipedia pages. They donated $3.6 million to Wikimedia, with $53,000 of that being given to Harvard’s Belfer Center to edit Wikipedia pages. The head of the Stanton Foundation and head of the Belfer Center are husband and wife. This is despite their claims of supporting free speech and free access to information.

I am going to assume that going through the remainder of their listed big donors would lead to many additional left-biased organizations and individuals. The fact that some of their largest donors have clear connections to the Democratic party and related interests suggests that there may be a bias present.

AllSides.com

AllSides.com is owned and operated by John Gable. Their own analysis of themselves claim that they “lean right.” Gable worked for various members of the Republican party, including Howard Baker, Trent Lott, Mitch McConnell, and George H. W. Bush and was involved with Microsoft and Netscape in their early years.

AllSides is probably the most unique website on this list. It shows the news in two columns – one for “left-leaning” sources and one for “right-leaning” sources, showing the same stories side-by-side.

FactCheck.org

FactCheck.org is primarily funded by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania through an endowment by the Annenberg Foundation. They do take public donations, but claim that they do not accept money from unions, partisan organizations, or advocacy groups – with the exception of Facebook, “which provides funding as a part of Facebook’s initiative to debunk viral deceptions;” and with the exception of Google, “which provided a one-time grant to support our Covid-19 coverage.”

They are otherwise very transparent about their donors and list them quarterly on their website. They state that Facebook and Google “have no control over editorial decisions.” However, Facebook and Google have been proven time-and-time-again to “control” information through bias and blacklisting. Such partnerships show an avenue to bias by association; or at the minimum, show an acceptance and support of censorship and bias by Big Tech.

MediaMatters.org

This one is very blatantly biased. Claiming it is a reliable source for fact-checking is absolutely asinine.

MediaMatters.org describes itself as “a progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” Even Wikipedia describes them as, “a politically left-leaning 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization which acts as a media watchdog for scrutinizing right-leaning media outlets,” and states that it, “is known for its aggressive criticism of conservative journalists and media outlets.”

It has been owned and operated by David Brock since 2004. I’ve written and spoken about David Brock in the past. TIME Magazine, in an article that calls him “Hillary’s Bulldog” in the title, describes him as “one of the most influential operatives in the Democratic Party.” Brock is very close with the Clintons, the Podesta brothers, George Soros, and many other Democratic Party big shots.

Their funding has came from a wide array of left-wing organizations, such as: MoveOn.org, the New Democratic Network, and George Soros [proof] [proof 2] [proof 3]. Fact-checkers like to assert that George Soros has nothing to do with the Democratic party, despite their own articles admitting his connection to large groups.

Media Matters received $1-2 million in Covid-19 bailouts last year, while simultaneously complaining about the handling and recipients of the bailouts.

David Brock also orchestrates multiple PACs that support the Democratic party:

  • American Bridge 21st Century (Super PAC)
    • This PAC was created to help elect Democrats and “track every utterance of every major GOP candidate,” and “did so much damage to the Republicans in the 2012 elections that they sought to replicate his efforts.” New York Magazine referred to him as “hyperpartisan.”
    • For example: in 2012 they produced for the DNC, “a 950-page book of every business deal of Mitt Romney’s career. We spent something like $65 million, and I believe every single ad was in some way informed by Brock’s research.”
    • In 2019, they spent $250,000 for anti-Trump advertisements, and in the realm of $50 million to “weaken” Republican and Trump support.
  • Correct the Record
    • Described by the New York Times as “Hillary’s personal watchdog.” In addition to anti-Republican agendas, they produced several hit-pieces on Bernie Sanders.
    • They spent more than $1 million to pay Internet trolls to argue with Trump and Bernie supporters on social media [source 1] [source 2].

Brock also founded the American Democracy Legal Fund, which exists for the sole purpose of bringing lawsuits against Republicans. He has written a book titled, Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary Clinton and Hijack Your Government.

I could go on about the blatant bias associated with David Brock, as well as the many sketchy connections he has in government & politics, but I think this is enough to get the general idea: Media Matters is absolutely not a place anyone should ever go for unbiased fact-checking.

OpenSecrets.org

OpenSecrets has the smallest opportunity to show bias out of the entities on the list. The information on this website deals with data recording and analysis of money in politics, including independent interest groups, PACs and Super PACs, and political “nonprofits.” Dealing strictly with hard data reporting allows for a more straightforward view of the amount of money being spent on both sides of the aisle – and who is spending it.

Politifact.com

Politifact.com is primarily operated by the Poynter Institute. According to their own website, the two organizations that have contributed more than 5% of their revenue are the E.W. Scripps Company (who helped sponsor the original list in question with the News Literacy Project) and Facebook.

Politifact gives one of the more in-depth, yet simple to read, overviews of issues that may require fact-checking. However, their choice as to what stories are fact-checked and which ones are featured on their home page has historically shown bias. For example, from January 2010 to January 2011, out of the 98 statements that Politifact had rated “false,” 74 of them were from Republicans (75%). While one could easily say “well, the Republicans must lie more,” a 3:1 ratio is awfully lopsided in the world of politics where both sides are constantly stretching the truth if not outright lying.

In 2019, they created a “Fake News Blacklist” with the help of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (FactCheck.org) and Snopes (see below). They listed 515 news websites that they deemed “unreliable,” but it included primarily “conservative” labeled websites that were seen as legitimate by others in the industry. After an onslaught of complaints, they retracted the list.

The Poynter Institute has given out a Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism since 2015, with winners including: Bob Schieffer (CBS, Face the Nation), Tom Brokaw (NBC Nightly News), Judy Woodruff (PBS News Hour), Lester Holt (NBC Nightly News, Dateline NBC), Katie Couric (multiple), and Chris Wallace (Fox News Sunday). The only recipient from a “conservative-leaning” outlet (Fox News), Chris Wallace, has been blasted as being left-leaning as of late, especially after his moderating of one of the Trump vs. Biden debates, which many conservatives felt was undeniably biased.

In 2019, they formed an alliance with the left-leaning Washington Post (now owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame) to “increase diversity in media” and “stop misinformation and fake news articles.” Other sponsors include the Scripps-Howard Foundation, CNN, Craig Newmark Philanthrophies (Craigslist founder), the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation (connected to InAsMuch Foundation; head of both is a former Republican delegate), and the TEGNA Foundation.

ProPublica.org

ProPublica parades itself as an “independent nonprofit” that “produces investigative journalism with moral force.” A quick look at who funds them will show quite a few familiar names from previous entries on the fact-checker list, along with several other left-leaning organizations.

Their team of “investigative reporters” focuses almost solely on investigating things that either make liberals look good or conservatives look bad. Their CEO and President, Richard Tofel, brings in $406,196 in salary, while their Editor in Chief, Stephen Engleberg, is close behind him at $394,960. They have six additional executives who are compensated between $200,000 – $275,000. That doesn’t sound very “nonprofit” to me.

ProPublica “gives away” stories and information to partners such as ABC World News, the Associated Press, 60 Minutes, Amazon.com, The Atlantic, Bloomberg, Buzzfeed, CBS News, CNBC, The Daily Beast, Essence, Forbes, Fortune, Gawker, Gizmodo, Grist, MSN, MSNBC, Mother Jones, NPR, National Geographic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Newsweek, Politifact, Politico, The Poynter Institute, Salon, Slate, TIME, USA Today, Vice, Vanity Fair, Vox, Wired, Yahoo, and a very large number of local newspapers and news stations. One would be hard pressed to look at their full list of partners and try to deny a liberal bias.

It was founded by Herb and Marion Sandler, whose mortgage company Golden West Financial was one of the banks who extorted homeowners with negative-amortization that led to borrowers owing a larger amount on the mortgage after every payment. You may recognize the Sandlers from some of the very strange Podesta emails. They also have donated tens of millions of dollars to the DNC and Democratic campaigns. ProPublica, in return, has received donations from George Soros; not surprising with his $48 million in funds to media organizations, including some of the others on the fact-checker list.

Snopes.com

Oh, the famous Snopes. The only good thing they have ever done is turn down money from Facebook – not because of any moral reason, though, but rather because they decided it was too time-consuming. They had to cut back on Covid reporting as well, due to not having the staffing to handle “the amount of misinformation” that allegedly exists. Their advice for Covid-19 fact-checking? Go to the CDC and WHO websites – the world governments would never mislead anyone, of course.

The founder, David Mikkelson, has been the source of quite a lot of controversy. He has a history of manipulating his shares in Snopes – to compete with parent company Proper Media and his ex-wife, Barbara, who also have large stakes in the company. David also embezzled $98,000 of company money in the middle of his divorce and spent it all on prostitutes. On the brink of losing his share of the company, David received a large donation from the James Randi Educational Foundation, whose founder James Randi is a former magician. The JREF primarily funds research into paranormal investigations.

Snopes’ “fact-checking” amounts to “we asked them and they said such and such, so we believe them, and that’s our facts.” The company has only a small number of writers and researchers, and they show a clear lack of effort into “fact-checking.” Their conclusions often reflect what is politically convenient or the “easy answer” based on little or no actual research.

My advice? Always check multiple sources.

All of this is not to say that the aforementioned websites cannot be a good source of information. The problem is that most of them have inherent biases in their ownership and funding. In some cases, the bias has less to do with the content of the articles and more to do with what stories that are chosen to fact-check in the first place. I try to search for multiple sources for any big story in the news, some from the “left” and some from the “right.” The truth is usually somewhere in the middle.

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