If you’re a Democrat, chances are you didn’t watch Tuesday’s State of the Union. You probably waited until the next day, retweeted #PelosiClap and read the dozens of fact-checks instead.
Along with the typical suspects–like Snopes and FactCheck.org–most mainstream, reputable news sources took a deep dive into the logical fallacies and falsehoods they claimed the President espoused in his 82-minute-long speech.
— AP Fact Check (@APFactCheck) February 9, 2019
Outlets like The New York Times took the time to break down substantive policy claims on international affairs, immigration, abortion and the economy with nuance, specifying whether a claim was true, false or misleading.
Forbes pushed back on Trump’s economic statistics, pointing out that he fibbed facts on created jobs, wage and economic growth. The El Paso Times clarified that saying their city’s violent crime rate makes a case for “walls working” is untrue. CNN refuted Trump on undocumented crime in general, with most point-by-point analyses painting Trump’s narrative as incorrect.
Trump just ad-libbed "they came down from heaven" when quoting a Holocaust survivor watching American soldiers liberate Dachau. Jews don't believe in heaven.
— Annie Karni (@anniekarni) February 6, 2019
While most of these fact-checks weren’t partisan commentary, the sheer volume of articles published created a sense of anti-Trump bias for some. That’s without mentioning the sources that FOX interpreted as “nitpicking.”
At face value, it seems like these critiques can be dismissed.
The State of the Union is typically a U.S. president’s most watched speech of the year and goes uninterrupted by journalists who could correct him in real time. Letting falsehoods go unchecked just to seem neutral effectively enables the spread of fake news and undermines the point of an independent press in the first place. Conservative pundits are bound to spin the situation to make Trump look as favorably as possible.
Pundits like Brian Stelter went further in their defense, expressing frustration at “Trump’s [worsening] level of lying, of deceit” and calling for news organizations to be more equipped to tackle falsehoods during “the Super Bowl of fact-checking.”
But on the other hand, in an age where a whopping 75 percent of conservatives don’t feel like the media even understands them, nitpicking against conservative champions isn’t the best look.
“Ironically, nowhere is the collapse of objective journalism more on display than with the so-called fact checkers,” said conservative strategist Chris Barron.
“The ‘fact-checkers’, Hell-bent to prove Trump wrong, have become just another tool of advocacy journalism.”
Certain outlets qualifying their fact-checks after publication paints a complicated picture as to whether or not these checks’ existence could be politically motivated in the first place.
"The Republican tax bill rigged the system against working people. Rather than bringing back jobs, plants are closing, layoffs are looming and wages struggle to keep pace with the actual cost of living."- @staceyabrams in Democratic #SOTU response.
— Jessica Smith (@JessicaASmith8) February 6, 2019
NPR set the record straight on their original State of the Union analysis, qualifying their checks on Trump, and apologizing for their failure to flag Abram’s comment on the tax cut as false as AP and Politifact had for the Democratic response.
In her explanation though, Elizabeth Jensen raises an interesting point: “News media fact-checking, and not just NPR’s, has become a target for those who choose to see political motive behind every news story.”
David Harsanyi, Senior Editor of The Federalist, points out what seems to him to be partisan media hysteria, describing how fact-checking subjective assertions and talking points with hyper-precision can, itself, obscure information.
“There are plenty of legitimately misleading statements worthy of fact-checkers’ attention,” wrote Harsanyi in a column for the New York Post.
“Yet, with a veneer of impartiality, fact-checkers often engage in a uniquely dishonest style of partisanship.”
Whether you think that Trump compulsively lies or that the media’s narrative of him constantly lying has gone too far, it’s clear that the press need to hold government accountable now, as it always has.
But in order for it to do so, journalists must also hold themselves to a higher, objective standard and reflect on whether or not partisan biases are clouding their judgment.