Newsweek needs to shut down its 'Fact-checking' Operation

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on March 29, 2021

Newsweek magazine, which just over a decade ago sold for $1 and the assumption of tens of millions of dollars in liabilities, has a fact-checking operation. They should shut it down.

Our last Newsweek fact-checking episode

Earlier this year I pointed out the magazine's atrocious fact check regarding President Joe Biden's since-confirmed assistant secretary of health, Dr. Rachel Levine, a man who believes that he is a woman. In that piece, the fact checker, a green reporter just out of journalism school, found claims that Levine had directed nursing homes in Pennsylvania, where she was the state health secretary, to take in COVID positive patients false.

The fact checker came to this conclusion after mischaracterizing the language of the directive on nursing homes taking COVID-positive patients (changing must to can), and by making argument that because Levine was not a hospital administrator, that she didn't send anyone into those nursing homes. This conveniently ignored the fact that the public health official in question set the policy, but it required hospital administrators to carry it out.

None of the press nowadays tries this argument in New York where Gov. Andrew Cuomo made a similar decision with similar results, because they'd be laughed out of the room.

Ted Cruz gets fact-checked

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, in criticizing the Biden-backed "American Rescue Plan" pointed out that under the terms of the bill, nothing was being done to make sure that people present illegally in the the United States would not get government stimulus checks.

Newsweek did their fact check and ruled Cruz's claim "Mostly False." Of course, if you go there now, that's not what you see. You see they've rated it "True" with the following explanation and note:

Cruz's claim that millions of illegal immigrants would receive stimulus payments is true, given the amount of people who have overstayed their visas over the years. Once they overstay, they technically are considered "illegal."

Correction, March 9, 4:00 pm EST: The ruling on this story has been corrected to true. A statement from Customs and Border Protection has been added.

If you want to see the original ruling and explanation, you have to use the Internet Archive.

Mostly False.

Cruz's claim that millions of illegal immigrants would receive stimulus payments is not true, although some people who overstay their visas might be eligible for a stimulus payment based on their tax filings.

Even by its own original analysis, the worst ruling Cruz should've received from Newsweek is "Mostly True." The only part of the debate that is still an open question is whether the number of those illegally present in the United States reaches the millions. This is likely a number some government directed research could uncover, but the current administration wouldn't be interested in finding that out. The Congress could've banned people who are here illegally from getting these stimulus payments, but Democrats aren't interested in that.

All of which brings us to one of the big problems with the fact-checking industry: selection bias. Why didn't Newsweek fact check, Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) for his claim that illegal immigrants wouldn't get stimulus checks?

While it eventually, after much mockery and intense pressure, got it right on Cruz; why didn't they also fact check Durbin's initial claim illegal immigrants wouldn't be receiving stimulus checks? A falsehood that Durbin later conceded.

Cruz got Newsweek to change its ruling on his statement because he has a megaphone sufficient to advertise the falsehood and shame the publication's editors. My request for a correction on the first fact check was met with complete silence.

What's in H.R. 1?

H.R. 1, the cynically misnamed For the People Act, is a massive federal government takeover of the state elections systems along with every other Democratic Party wish list that would tend to solidify their hold on political power, free and fair elections or not.  National Review summarized the bill thusly:

It would be an understatement to describe H.R. 1 as a radical assault on American democracy, federalism, and free speech. It is actually several radical left-wing wish lists stuffed into a single 791-page sausage casing. It would override hundreds of state laws governing the orderly conduct of elections, federalize control of voting and elections to a degree without precedent in American history, end two centuries of state power to draw congressional districts, turn the Federal Elections Commission into a partisan weapon, and massively burden political speech against the government while offering government handouts to congressional campaigns and campus activists. Merely to describe the bill is to damn it, and describing it is a Herculean task in itself.

Which brought me to this article by an old colleague of mine, Ryan Teague Beckwith, who's now at Bloomberg, on the results of a poll on voting reforms.

For the record: I'm skeptical about the popularity of some of these reforms simply because the mainstream media has repeatedly and consistently failed to highlight any of the substantive arguments Republicans have against many of these measures. Beckwith himself—a fair and competent reporter, though still soaked in the milieu that is D.C. journalism—contributes to this problem with this quote:

GOP Senator Mike Lee of Utah, for example, has said the legislation -- H.R. 1, dubbed by Democrats as the “For the People Act” -- was “written in hell by the devil himself.”

While this certainly demonstrates the depth of GOP opposition to the bill, there's no substance there, but there are more specific criticisms available, and I'm sure that Lee would've been willing to provide them.

Having noted all that, the following paragraph had me scratching my head.

The survey also found 97% of Republicans supported requiring voter ID, 73% supported making all elections officials nonpartisan and 62% backed automatically updating voter registrations when people move -- all measures that aren’t in the legislation but are also backed by majorities of Democrats.

Requiring voter ID isn't in the legislation? Well, that's true. It isn't. But it's disingenuous to say it's not in the legislation, when the legislation itself effectively eviscerates state-level voter ID requirements—a fact briefly mentioned, but not highlighted lower in Beckwith's story.

The House-passed bill also would allow at least 15 days of early voting and no-excuse vote-by-mail, allow voters to register online as well as on Election Day and permit most voters without ID to cast a ballot if they sign a sworn statement. [emphasis added]

This provision is not an impediment to someone intent on committing voter fraud; it invites it. Beckwith notes that voter ID requirements are overwhelmingly supported no matter what your political persuasion, but the story glosses over the fact that H.R. 1 dismantles them.

Fact-checking H.R. 1 poorly

While double-checking my understanding of what H.R. 1 does with regard to voter ID requirements, I came across this Newsweek fact check from earlier this month.

The fact check is all kinds of a mess; devoid of reporting, facts or analysis from the opposition and parroting the Democratic line.

With conservatives' hardline opposition comes a host of allegations about what the legislation would accomplish. From complaints of ballot harvesting to use of taxpayer dollars for federal campaigns, Republican gripes with HR-1 likely will make Vice President Kamala Harris' vote the tiebreaker after the Senate votes on the bill.

Hardline opposition? Not just opposition, but hardline opposition. I would love to see a Lexis-Nexis search on the use of "hardline" to describe the positions of Democrats and Republicans.

There's also "complaints of ballot harvesting." Tell us more. Does it legalize ballot harvesting nationwide? What are the implications of ballot harvesting operations? Same with the federal funding of campaigns. Tell us more.

"Republican gripes?" Not concerns. Not worries. Gripes.

And then there's the basic misunderstanding of the way the Senate functions. Kamala Harris doesn't get to cast a tie-breaking vote on this legislation unless Democrats can convince 10 Republican senators to cross over and vote for cloture, or Democrats do away with the filibuster on a party-line vote. As to the former, it's not going to happen. As to the latter, that isn't going to happen unless senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Krysten Sinema (D.-Ariz.) flip on their vows to keep the filibuster in place.

Neither of those troublesome facts are mentioned before Kamala Harris enters the picture as the way this bill gets passed.

After noting some specific Republican opposition to the bill, we get "The Facts," according to Newsweek.

More than 30 U.S. states have some kind of voter identification requirement, a measure that voting rights advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union have denounced as a barrier between many Americans and the ballot box.

HR-1 addresses the impact that voter ID requirements have on marginalized voters, noting that, "Recent elections and studies have shown that minority communities wait longer in lines to vote, are more likely to have their mail ballots rejected, continue to face intimidation at the polls, are more likely to be disenfranchised by voter purges, and are disproportionately burdened by voter identification and other voter restrictions."

The bill also stipulates that factors, including voter ID, burden certain voters due to the costs associated with obtaining photo identification or other forms of government-issued ID. This primarily affects voter turnout among homeless individuals, Native Americans, in low-income communities and in communities of color by as much as 3 percent, according to a 2014 study by the Office of Government Accountability.

Our "facts" are courtesy the left-wing ACLU and the GAO report has certain issues with its methodology. Since Georgia's election laws are all in the news, you'd also think that maybe that state's experience with voter ID would be informative, but, alas, no. And a real reporter, Sharyl Attkisson is trying to do real reporting and having a hard time finding people affected by Georgia's voter ID laws.

Elections data reviewed by the [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] show that participation among black voters rose by 44 percent from 2006 — before the law was implemented — to 2010. For Hispanics, the increase for the same period was 67 percent. Turnout among whites rose 12 percent.

It was expected that African American turnout would spike in 2008, when Barack Obama became the first person of color to win the presidency. And it did rise to historic highs in Georgia.

Black participation fell in 2010, as it did for all demographic groups. Still, a far greater share of black voters turned out in 2010 than in 2006, showing that Obama was not the only factor driving turnout.

At the very least, a fact-checker attempting an unbiased analysis would acknowledge that there is plenty of uncertainty and debate over whether voter ID laws are discriminatory or tend to discourage minority participation.

So, what does H.R. 1 do with regard to state Voter ID laws that has Republicans "griping?"

But HR-1 does not "ban" voter identification laws. Instead, it offers a workaround to state voter IDs for individuals who do not have the means to obtain identification. Voters may alternatively present a sworn, written statement to an election official under penalty of perjury that states the voter is eligible to vote.

Oh, it offers a workaround. The voter can offer a written statement, under penalty of perjury.

Without forcing this hypothetical person to show some sort of an ID, how do you locate him after the fact if it turns out the address he gave was to an empty lot?

What would stop a group of people who wanted to commit voter fraud from going to polling place to polling place, claiming they had no ID, making up names and addresses and signing a form, under penalty of perjury, from doing so? How would you catch them? How would you prosecute them?

The "workaround," as Newsweek so blithely describes it, makes any and all state voter ID requirements unenforceable.

So you know where this is going…

Voter ID Fact-Checking

In an honest world, the answer would be "True," or possibly "Mostly True" if you were willing to play the game that the legislation didn't explicitly overturn those state laws, but instead made them little more than dead letters.

Newsweek needs to shut down its fact-checking operation

And it's not just the two fact-checks I've criticized and the one from Cruz that have proven to be wanting. A recent fact-check on the Buffalo Public Schools in Erie County, New York, had to be corrected after the subject of that fact check, Chris Rufo, proceeded to demonstrate with document after document that the curriculum was chock full of Black Lives Matter propaganda designed to demonize white people based on little more than the color of their skin.

As with the H.R. 1 analysis, Newsweek's recitation of "The Facts," in the Rufo fact-check, are an apologia for one side, rather than an analysis of conflicting claims. (You won't be surprised to learn that both fact checks were by the same reporter.)

The continual corrections necessary because Newsweek is using green reporters to do shoddy fact checks and their editors are either incompetent journalists or partisan hacks are embarrassing. They may get clicks, but no one (including Facebook, Twitter, etc.) should be linking to any of their analyses as authoritative. (It should be noted, however, that at least Newsweek allows comments on their fact checks and doesn't hide opposing views, unlike some others.)

Newsweek either needs to start doing serious reporting, editing and analysis, or drop this farce.


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March 2021



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