Do the so-called "fact-checkers" — the pros whose supposed nonpartisan detective work and painstaking research guide news narratives far and wide — need fact-checkers, too?
If the answer to that question isn't obvious, consider this week's faux pas by a USA Today fact-checker in relation to President Joe Biden and his wristwatch.
Biden didn't earn any friends among the family members of the 13 U.S. service members who were killed in a recent suicide bombing in Afghanistan. But the public's perception took an even deeper dive after reports of his behavior during the dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base over the weekend.
The president got failing marks for things like going on and on to grieving families about his late son Beau — who died of cancer rather than at the hands of the enemy — and rolling his "f***ing" eyes at service members' relatives and allegedly showing "total disregard" for the dead.
And then there was the looking-down-at-his-watch-during-the-ceremony thing. Numerous relatives said they saw Biden checking his watch more than once as caskets came off the plane — and the apparent demonstration of non-concern angered them.
Enter USA Today fact-checker Daniel Funke, who penned a Wednesday piece taking issue with folks on social media for pointing out Biden's watch obsession. Funke wrote that "the claim that he checked his watch instead of honoring the fallen service members is wrong," according a Wednesday version of the story found on the Internet Archive.
Funke added, "The full video of the dignified transfer ceremony shows Biden honored each of the fallen U.S. service members. He appeared to check his watch after the ceremony ended."
But something went wrong with the fact-checker's claim.
Just a day later the story's headline changed from "Fact check: Biden honored service members killed in Kabul, checked watch only after ceremony" to "Fact check: Biden honored service members killed in Kabul, checked watch during ceremony."
"Only after" to "during." Big difference.
And the new version of the story has a correction at the top: "This story was updated Sept. 2 to note that Biden checked his watch multiple times at the dignified transfer event, including during the ceremony itself. The rating on this claim has been changed from partly false to missing context."
A two part story courtesy of the "fact checkers" in the media. https://t.co/DyBFCBJH2g— The First (@The First)1630629580.0
Speaking of that changed rating
The original "partly false" rating said: "Based on our research, we rate PARTLY FALSE the claim that Trump saluted the caskets of fallen U.S. service members, while Biden checked his watch. The pictures are real, but they don't accurately summarize the two events. The way Biden honored the 11 caskets presented at Dover Air Force Base, with a hand over his heart, was similar to how Trump paid respects to fallen service members during his presidency. Biden checked his watch, but he did so after the ceremony had ended."
The new "missing context" rating reads: "Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that Trump saluted the caskets of fallen U.S. service members, while Biden checked his watch. The way Biden honored the 11 caskets presented at Dover Air Force Base, with a hand over his heart, was similar to how Trump paid respects to fallen service members during his presidency. However, Biden did check his watch at least three times, according to photos and video reviewed by USA TODAY. Several family members of fallen service members who attended the ceremony have criticized Biden for checking his watch."
'It's easy to dunk on journalists'
Funke did acknowledge his error on Twitter: "As many of you already know, this story has been corrected. Biden checked his watch multiple times during the ceremony. I regret the error."
And on Friday Funke offered a bit of defense in a pair of additional tweets.
He first wrote that "journalists and fact-checkers are human (yes, even me!) We make mistakes. When we do, we correct them and try to make it right."
Funke then added: "It's easy to dunk on journalists when we get things wrong. I get it – to many, we're just another name on a screen. But behind that screen is a person trying to do their best."
Twitter comments restricted
However, Funke's tweet thread about his failed fact-check shows he restricted replies to it to those he's followed or mentioned on Twitter:
Image source: Twitter
And one might argue that such a move doesn't demonstrate willingness to take some hits after an unfortunate "you had one job" scenario.
How did folks react to the fact-checking fail?
As you might guess, observers sounded off anyway — both on his page and elsewhere — and were less than forgiving about the mistaken conclusion the fact-check generated:
- "Way to attempt a slam dunk on gold star families and falsely claim they lied, pronouns guy," independent journalist Jordan Schachtel shot back.
- "From 'partly false' to 'missing context,'" another commenter noted. "Is there a fact-check on a Democrat that ever gets confirmed TRUE if it makes the Democrat look bad?"
- "What is the missing context? WTF IS THE MISSING CONTEXT!?" another user wondered. "What's next.. 'story has been updated to note there is no missing context.. we just absolutely hate everyone who isn't a Biden supporter so we will never EVER admit we are biased.'"
- "Fact checkers are nothing more than propagandists," another commenter opined. "Joseph [Goebbels] wishes he'd thought of it. Hitler would be proud."
- "These people have no moral compass! That he looked at his watch was not lacking context; it was true!" another user declared. "They are so bias[ed] trying to hide the callous way Biden acted."
- "So 'missing context' is the new 'mostly peaceful protests?'" another commenter quipped.
- "Get outta here," another user exclaimed, adding "the way you guys are trying so hard everyday to minimize and downplay all his faults is staggering. Had this been Trump we wouldn't hear the end of it. This ultimately is gonna be Biden's downfall. You all are part of it."
(H/T: Red State)