Factchecking the media’s antigun factcheckers
From the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Program
For today’s media, factchecking is an entry-level job.
Most media factcheckers are liberal, woke, in their early 20s and politically biased. Most have never even touched a weapon, yet they wade into gun and Second Amendment issues as though they’re the reincarnation of Jeff Cooper or Bill Jordan. But unlike these distinguished gentlemen, the factcheckers usually get it wrong.
This is the problem, because even though most factcheckers are fresh out of college and lack any real journalism experience, they wield tremendous power. If a factchecker determines that a progun story is false or misleading, social media giants like Facebook or Twitter will limit its reach and the story won’t be seen on any feeds. It will go largely unread. That’s a lot of power for a kid who’s usually not old enough to even purchase a firearm.
The legacy media’s sudden obsession with factchecking wasn’t caused by any journalistic desire to seek and publish the truth. For at least one media giant, it was a financial decision.
Case in point: Gannett’s factcheckers for hire
In March 2020, Gannett announced it was partnering with Facebook to “identify misinformation.”
“As a media organization with unparalleled local-to-national reach, we take our commitment to providing people with truthful information very seriously, and fact-checking is integral to the journalism being done by USA TODAY and in Gannett newsrooms across the country,” Maribel Perez Wadsworth, Publisher of USA TODAY, said in a press release.
USA TODAY, Gannett’s flagship paper, created a dedicated factchecking page on their website, and assigned a managing editor to oversee the project.
Facebook was jubilant.
“Continuing to expand our fact-checking program is an important part of our work to fight misinformation,” Keren Goldshlager of Facebook Integrity Partnerships said in the press release. “We welcome USA TODAY to the program and value their cross-country coverage and perspective on misinformation spreading at the state level.”
What the public wasn’t told — what I learned while I was still working at a Gannett newspaper — was that Facebook paid Gannett millions of dollars for the partnership. Gannett couldn’t have cared less about the “distribution of false information on social media.” They viewed this payoff as their due, because Facebook had cost them millions of dollars in lost advertising revenue. These were dollars Facebook “owed us,” Gannett editors were told. Facebook benefitted because they were able to tout that they had enlisted actual journalists as factcheckers. Most of the stories they chose were political. Many involved President Trump — many still do.
Today, Gannett’s factcheckers are young and inexperienced, since seasoned journalists want to write their own stories, rather than being a whiny hall monitor censoring other people’s work. As a result, the only folks available to fill the positions are the aforementioned kids.
Case in point: Biden’s 9mm handgun ban
During a CNN townhall July 21, Joe Biden said he wanted to ban 9mm handguns.
“The idea you need a weapon that can have the ability to fire 20, 30, 40, 50, 120 shots from that weapon, whether — whether it's a 9 mm pistol or whether it's a rifle, is ridiculous,” Biden said. “I'm continuing to push to eliminate the sale of those things.”
The NRA wrote about Biden’s statement. The Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms wrote about it. House Republicans issued a statement. I wrote about it. Dozens of other progun sites wrote about it, and millions of Americans shared and discussed Biden’s comments on Facebook and other social media.
Turns out we were all wrong, according to David Funke, a 20-something factcheck reporter who covers online misinformation for USA TODAY. According to his bio, Funke previously worked for the Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact. He has never worked as a real journalist.
“Independent fact-checking organizations, gun policy experts and the White House have debunked the claim that Biden wants to ban 9 mm pistols,” Funke wrote.
He then found an expert to agree.
"President Biden has never proposed the ban of 9 mm pistols or other caliber pistols," Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy, reportedly told Funke in an email. "He certainly has never taken pistols away from people who are legal gun owners."
Professor Webster is not exactly the unbiased expert Funke would have you believe.
Webster is also the Bloomberg Professor of American Health and a Professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management. His areas of study include “the prevention of gun violence, gun policy, gun acquisition and carrying by underage youth and other prohibited persons, intimate partner violence, and youth violence prevention. He developed one of the first courses on violence prevention in a school of public health. Dr. Webster was also co-editor and contributor to Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy and Evidence and Analysis.”
Webster actually believes background checks will keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
“When criminals get guns, they get them from friends, family, or from an underground market source. Without universal background check requirements, there is little deterrent to selling guns to criminals or gun traffickers. State laws mandating universal background checks deter the diversion of guns to criminals,” Webster wrote in in a June 26, 2014 article titled: “Guns Kill People. And If We Had Universal Background Checks, They Wouldn’t Kill So Many.”
An examination of Funke’s factchecking topics reveals he is as biased as his so-called expert.
Funke’s stories have targeted: MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, Donald Trump, QAnon, election fraud, anti-vaxxers, gun owners and the NRA, while providing cover for Biden, Kamala Harris, mask mandates, mandatory vaccinations and Dr. Fauci.
Funke did not respond to several requests seeking his comments for this story.
“I'm a reporter/editor who fact-checks and writes about online misinformation for USA TODAY. When I'm not debunking viral memes, tracking disinformation or editing fact checks, I'm probably cycling, binge-reading or walking my hounds,” his LinkedIn page states.
Politics, not science
Factchecking is nothing new. For more than 100 years newspapers, and especially magazines, have employed factcheckers, although they operated behind the scenes, before stories were published. They weren’t public-facing like their counterparts are today, and they certainly never wrote bylined stories.
Today’s factchecking process is far from scientific — keep in mind they factcheck editorials, opinion pieces, satire and even memes.
Once a checker finds a story they don’t like, usually because it offends their leftwing politics, they call a likeminded source or two, get a couple quotes and then, as young Mr. Funke demonstrated, label the entire story false. To be clear, these are judgement calls by young reporters of stories they cherry-picked themselves.
Once the story is published, it’s not a kid like Funke saying the story is wrong, it’s now USA TODAY, the Washington Post or the Associated Press labeling it false. In Funke’s case, millions of Americans heard Biden say he wanted to ban 9mm pistols, yet a 20-something reporter and an anti-gun professor concluded we were all wrong. The gun banners know this, and they tout every progun story the factcheckers label false. They use them as ammunition in their calls for more antigun laws and regulations.
There are other concerns.
In a scientific paper published in January, two journalism scholars found that for more than one-third of all factchecking stories published by PolitiFact that involved a “complex proposition” — statements that involved multiple claims — PolitiFact assigned only one truth rating to the entire statement, rather than singling out the false portion of what was said. “This is problematic as the reader might misinterpret the truthfulness of an individual claim. PolitiFact also checks claims that we considered uncheckable,” the authors noted. Labeling a complex statement as entirely false, is, again, cherry-picking and deceptive.
The “uncheckable” stories the authors referenced are clearly opinion pieces. For example, if I write a column that says guns save lives, the factcheckers may not agree with my opinion, but the column is not false. It is my opinion. Labeling opinions as false makes even less sense than factchecking memes.
The new censors
“The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty more innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”
Malcolm X said that of the news media in the 1960s, and it’s even more true today. He’d be shocked by the political powerhouse today’s media has become.
Nowadays, the antigun left — aided and abetted by their supporters in the legacy media — are using factcheckers to shut down any speech they disagree with. That’s censorship, pure and simple, but they don’t care. They consider anything they find offensive false, untrue, a lie, something that needs to be concealed from the public. They consider the public nothing but a bunch of ignorant rubes who need to be shielded from offensive statements, because they’re too stupid to decide for themselves what is true and what is false. The media considers it their duty to be society’s sole arbiter of the truth. I’ve always considered this elite, ivory-tower and paternalistic attitude one of the media’s greatest failings.
Readers should be able to decide the truth for themselves. They don’t need it rammed down their throat, especially by kids who are barely old enough to shave. In short, the ability to make up one’s own mind is freedom, and we all know how the antigun left feels about freedom.
Today’s media has short-circuited one of journalism’s most basic tenets, which says the best way to counter any offensive speech is by more speech. Unfortunately, if the speech involves guns or gunowners, today’s media prefers to censor rather than debate.
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