Liberal Slate defends Facebook’s demotion of negative Kavanaugh article after controversy erupts

Liberal Slate defends Facebook’s demotion of negative Kavanaugh article after controversy erupts
Left-leaning Slate Magazine — unwilling to remain inside a left-wing bubble where ideology matters more than what's true — has just sided with conservative outlet the Weekly Standard's fact-check, agreeing that a ThinkProgress headline about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is indeed "false." (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Left-leaning Slate Magazine — unwilling to remain inside a left-wing bubble where ideology matters more than what’s true — has just sided with conservative outlet The Weekly Standard’s fact-check, agreeing that a ThinkProgress headline about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is indeed “false.”

Certainly Slate’s article is a study in fairness that the political left needs to digest — but those who lean to the right are subject to the same biases and can glean just as much wisdom from writer William Saletan.

What’s the background?

ThinkProgress published an article Sunday arguing that Kavanaugh’s responses at last week’s confirmation hearings, along with a speech of his last year, imply he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, Slate said.

But Slate also offered that ThinkProgress’ headline “goes further” as it claims Kavanaugh “said he would kill Roe v. Wade,” the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

The Weekly Standard’s fact-check pulled out the stop sign here. “While ThinkProgress engages in an argument to suggest how Kavanaugh might vote in a Roe v. Wade redo, the article does not provide evidence that ‘Kavanaugh said he would kill Roe v. Wade.’”

Facebook, noting The Weekly Standard fact-check, declared the ThinkProgress piece “false,” which came with a warning label and social media demotion. And ThinkProgress was furious — not only at The Weekly Standard but also at Facebook.

“Facebook’s entire relationship with The Weekly Standard appears driven by reckless disregard for the truth,” Ian Millhiser, author of the ThinkProgress article, noted later.

What’s more, Slate said, ThinkProgress wants The Weekly Standard removed from Facebook’s list of approved fact-checking organizations because of its bias.

More from Slate:

Millhiser, in a follow-up article, dismisses the Standard’s fact-checking as “ideological” and accuses the magazine of “placing right-wing ideology before accurate reporting.” He warns: “If Facebook continues its partnership with The Weekly Standard, the consequences could be quite severe for left-leaning outlets generally — or potentially for any other outlet which publishes a news article that The Weekly Standard disagrees with.” Judd Legum, the founding editor of ThinkProgress, says Millhiser’s article was rated false only because “a hack at a right-wing magazine has decided he doesn’t like” it.

And all this, believe it or not, came on the heels of a previous ThinkProgress article criticizing Facebook for not fact-checking enough — against the right.

But for Slate author Saletan — in the case of the ThinkProgress headline on Kavanaugh — the “bias is on the left.”

What else did the Slate article say?

“On Facebook, headlines are far more visible and widely read than articles are,” Saletan points out. “The headline on the ThinkProgress article was false. Kavanaugh didn’t say he would kill Roe. And the Standard was right to point this out.”

Slate added that The Weekly Standard said it would withdraw the “false” rating if ThinkProgress changes its headline, but ThinkProgress as of Wednesday was still digging in its heels. Millhiser even trotted out an argument that the dictionary definitions of “the verb ‘say’ or ‘said’ can mean to ‘indicate,’ ‘show,’ or ‘communicate’ an idea,” Slate noted, adding that Millhiser said Kavanaugh “indicated, showed, or communicated his intention to overrule” Roe v. Wade based on past and recent statements.

And Saletan went to the mat against Millhiser point by point on the latter with gusto.

The bigger picture

Saletan added that “by attacking the fact check as biased on the grounds that a conservative magazine published it,” ThinkProgress and other groups of its political ilk “proved the opposite of what they intended. They’ve confirmed that the press is full of left-leaning journalists who sometimes can’t see or acknowledge congenial falsehoods, and they’ve demonstrated how these journalists unite, when challenged, in a tribal chorus to accuse conservatives of trying to ‘censor’ them. In sum, they’ve demonstrated why we need conservative journalists to help check facts.”

More from Slate:

Watching my colleagues rationalize the false headline, accuse the Standard of imposing ideological censorship under the guise of fact-checking, and castigate Facebook for allowing “non-reality-based organizations into the fact-checking community” is humbling. It’s a reminder that most of us, including me, are good at seeing other people’s biases but lousy at seeing our own. PolitiFact, in its initial report on the Kavanaugh hearings, said the nominee “raised a few eyebrows” when he “called birth control pills abortion-inducing drugs.” Days later, PolitiFact conceded that it had “repeated uncritically a Democratic talking point” and that Kavanaugh had actually been quoting a party in the case. I don’t see any of my colleagues on the left calling for PolitiFact to be removed from Facebook’s panel.

Saletan concluded: “If progressives insist that anyone who challenges them is ‘non-reality-based’ — and that The Weekly Standard’s name on a fact check ‘tells you all you need to know about how messed up Facebook’s notion of “fact-checking” is’ — they’ll seal themselves off in a bubble of mutual affirmation.”