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Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Are 'fact-checkers' biased? Sackerson's latest on The Conservative Woman

I give below the text of my latest post on The Conservative Woman, titled there 'Fact-checkers should check their fact-check bias.' There may be (often are) some useful nuggets in their comment thread.


ON November 7, 2020, the Sunday Express published an article by Patrick Basham, an American conservative, entitled: ‘Stalin said it’s not important who votes, but how they are counted.’  

The piece alleged ‘widespread ballot fraud’ in the US Presidential election. The Express’s link to the piece now returns a 404 message – page missing – but a copy is still available on Basham’s own Democracy Institute think-tank website

Two days later, a fact-checking organisation called Full Fact published a debunk of Basham’s claims. Under the heading: ‘Express opinion piece wrong to allege evidence of widespread voter fraud in US elections,’ staff writer Pippa Allen-Kinross claimed to have established that there was no evidence of widespread fraudulent ballots, widespread invalid votes, or widespread ballot fraud. 

Two days after that, Allen-Kinross updated her piece to say: ‘The Express has now deleted the comment piece from its website.’ A triumph! 

As confidence in news organisations declines and excited rumour and misinformation spread across the internet, fact-checking outfits have sprung up like daisies.  

It is very tempting to use their findings as shortcuts to the truth, so that it seems hardly worth turning on the television or opening a newspaper – why not go straight to a trustworthy, unbiased and authoritative source such as Full Fact? 

Except, if my experience is anything to go by, these oracles are reluctant to accept any correction to their own claims. 

On Sunday last, I used Full Fact’s online contact form to challenge two aspects of Allen-Kinross’s post: Her use of the term ‘President-elect’ in relation to Joe Biden, and her judgment that there was ‘no evidence’ of ballot fraud. 

Firstly I pointed out that though the media were quick to call Biden ‘President-elect’ to date he has not been officially confirmed as such. In a letter dated November 13, a member of Congress’s Sub-Committee on Government Operations (SGO) instructed the General Services Administration (GSA) not to use the term and quoted both law and the precedent of the 2000 Presidential election (in which Al Gore delayed conceding victory to George W Bush until December 13.) 

This is not a dry academic point: Constant repetition of the term in the media could be seen as pushing a narrative designed to use popular emotion and ignorance of the Constitution to override the legal-electoral challenges still ongoing from Mr Trump’s team. 

I supplied Full Fact with the link above, plus a Word document transcript of the body of the letter. A team editor replied (Monday a.m.): 

‘The letter you cite is now irrelevant following the GSA’s decision on 24 November to start the Biden transition: Regardless, the term “President-elect” has no constitutional definition and so the GSA does not have authority over how that term is used. The GSA does have a legal role in determining the winner of the election, but that doesn’t mean we are wrong to use the term “President-elect” with justification.’ 

I responded: ‘Preparation for handover is “just in case”; there has been no concession of victory. My point is therefore not irrelevant and to date, still stands.’ 

In fact the General Services Administrator made her reasoning quite clear in her letter to Biden why she had decided ‘to make certain post-election resources and services available to assist in the event of a presidential transition’. She also stated that she strongly believes ‘that the statute requires that the GSA Administrator ascertain, not impose, the apparent president-elect . . . GSA does not dictate the outcome of legal disputes and recounts, nor does it determine whether such proceedings are reasonable or justified. These are issues that the Constitution, federal laws, and state laws leave to the election certification process and decisions by courts of competent jurisdiction’.

These legal challenges continue, the incumbent has not conceded and the Electoral College has not yet met to determine the issue.  

It seems that Full Fact does not understand the difference between an heir presumptive and an heir apparent; and I see nothing in the team editor’s reply to convince me that he had actually read either the SGO or the GSA letter. 

Secondly I pointed out on the contact form that Ms Allen-Kinross states ‘He (Basham) also repeatedly speaks of ballot fraud, which there is no evidence of.’ (My emphasis). A fact-checker, I wrote, should know the difference between ‘evidence’ – and I understand there are over 200 sworn statements – and ‘conclusive proof’.

The editor replied: 

‘On your second point, I think again you’re claiming that certain words have undeniable definitions, which I don’t accept. In my eyes, unsubstantiated claims do not deserve the label of ‘evidence’, irrespective of whether they are sworn to be true or not.’ 

To which I responded: ‘Everyone understands that evidence is what is presented to put a case whether in court or elsewhere, and is not the same thing as proof. Mr Trump made ‘claims’ but that is not what I am referring to – there is lots of ‘evidence (whether reliable or not).’ A review of some of that evidence can be found here.

This is where it gets Lewis Carroll-ish: ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ 

On the question of evidence, there are at the very least grounds for suspicion. Notwithstanding the Sunday Express’s (cowardly, in my view) takedown of his November 7 piece, Patrick Basham returned to his theme in the American edition of The Spectator (‘Reasons why the 2020 presidential election is deeply puzzling’ – a subscription site, but a copy of the piece is also available on Zero Hedge). 

One could quibble about the word ‘widespread’, used perhaps incautiously by Basham himself in his first piece and repeated in the triple debunk by Allen-Kinross; but remove it from each of her findings and they begin to look shaky:

1. ‘… There is no evidence of widespread fraudulent ballots in the US election’. 

2. ‘… There is no evidence of widespread invalid votes’. 

3. ‘… There is no evidence of widespread ballot fraud’. 

‘Widespread’ is an ambiguous term – does it mean distributed over a wide geographical area, or on a scale large enough to affect the outcome of the electoral returns? This post by a Sharyl Attkisson lists enough to suggest both. 

Dilbert comic strip creator Scott Adams, a Trump supporter and expert in persuasion techniques, issues a daily podcast and has been arguing that since the Democrats have spent the last four years characterising the President as little better than a Nazi dictator, why wouldn’t they attempt – even, feel morally obliged to try – to remove him by any means possible? 

What is so implausible about electoral fraud? It is such an issue here in the UK that Parliament has studied the vulnerabilities of the system, both in respect of postal voting and otherwise – Sir Eric Pickles, the Government’s anti-corruption champion, has made 50 recommendations

A Californian blogger says: ‘An absentee ballot is a certificate that you receive and can be sold to a third party. This new concept of absentee voting allows people to abuse the system. Your ballot can be turned into cash. $200 to $1,000 I have heard.’ 

So English 18th century, eh! At least you could get a jolly good drink out of your MP in those days. 

These interesting issues aside, the main question for me here is, amid the fog of lies, can we trust the fact-checkers to be impartial and accurate? I ended my riposte to the Full Fact’s team editor by saying: 

‘The news media have already failed to be accurate and impartial. If your organisation is to fulfil the role of independent fact-checker, your claims and language need to be particularly scrupulous; unless you are simply a referee who has joined one team to play against the other.’ 

No further reply, so far; so other questions arise in my mind: who funds these outfits? How are the staff and writers recruited? What formal or informal links do they have with political parties and factions? 

I’m reminded of an apocryphal tale about when the England cricket team played a friendly against a rural Australian side. A local was appointed umpire and the home team opened the batting.  

When the ball thumped a shin pad, the fielders’ appeal was turned down; the same happened when a slip caught the ball off a thick edge.  

The fast bowler snorted, took a long run up and delivered a meteor that blasted the middle stump into the sight screen and the bails into orbit. ‘Owizzee?’ was the cry. ‘Noddout,’ drawled the umpire again, adding in conciliatory tone: ‘Bloody close, though.’ 


Update (htp: 'JD') -

As I say elsewhere, my main point in this article is about fact-checkers' questionable independence and accuracy, BUT readers still wondering about possible ballot fraud may be interested by this presentation:

In the video, Dr Ayyadurai says that voting machines in some states including Arizona have within their programming architecture something called a 'weighted race feature' which can increase or reduce the value of a cast vote (which is not stored as a single digit but a variable digital fraction.) His modelling of the Arizona returns suggests to him that the results as reported are 'extremely implausible' on the basis of one person, one vote. His computer having tried thousands of ways to re-create the overall voting curve, the closest match suggests that either third party voters voted very heavily for Biden, or that the machines multiplied Biden votes by 1.3 and reduced Trump votes accordingly; or, of course, some degree of both.

He says that this weighting feature has been known about since 2002. The way to check whether it has been employed in practice is to examine the ballot-paper images stored on the system, but when he ran for office in Massachusetts access to the images was denied to him and the images were deleted.

On the face of it, there seems to be a way to fudge election results without having to postulate truckloads of fake ballot papers, large-scale 'dead people voting' etc; and unless the software and data are opened to inspection, they offer a great way to hide or destroy the evidence. If Dominion (for example) dig their heels in, they may be able to block audits on the ground that their software is copyright:

This is a quite different suggestion from the one about Trump votes being simply deleted, which the NYT claims to have debunked.


Paddington said...

Let's see:

There are lots of claims of voter fraud out there, but

1. The Attorney General, William Barr, who has perverted the Constitution for Trump, can't find it.
2. The head of the cyber-security group formed by Trump can't find it.
3. Rudy Giuliani can't find it when in court, but claims widespread fraud in public.
4. The Lt. Gov. of Texas has offered $1 million in cash for actual evidence, with no takers.

"That which is claimed without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."

Sackerson said...

It's not quite over yet:

I don't think there is 'no' evidence, The term 'widespread' is fuzzy but it may turn out that such malfeasance as there likely was (when was an election ever completely free of it?), was insufficient to alter the true result; or the evidence is unobtainable, in the case of alleged voter machine tampering. Or there is enough evidence, and then Biden may stop appealing to his supporters for calm; after all, Hillary has played the woman wronged for four years.

Again this is not about whether Biden is a better man than Trump, or even whether the Dem program is better than the GOP's. I think they're all more or less disastrous and the people's ignorance and excitability is being used against them by both sides. The chances of systemic solutions to systemic problems seem slim.

American foreign policy, now there's something where there's blue water between Trump and Biden - and the GOP Establishment. What a golden opportunity did Obama have when first elected: he could have reinstated Glass-Steagall, put banksters on trial and halted Bush's wars. Instead the PTB grudgingly let him have the ACA knowing they could bugger it up at leisure.

I just don't like referees who make themselves part of the game. Here's another example - Candace Owens vs Politifact and FB 'factcheckers' on Biden not being the President-elect:

Sackerson said...

More on Candace and Paul Joseph Watson's experiences of fact-checking the fact-checkers - and the lawyers are getting involved:

Paddington said...

The officials literally can't find evidence. They have found minor irregularities on both sides, as in Wayne County, Michigan, but nothing large.

Over the past 20 years or so, there have been repeated claims by the GOP that the Democrats were having illegal immigrants vote, and other malfeasance. On serious and expensive investigation, the majority of fraud cases turned out to be GOP ones. Trump formed a commission on the subject in 2017, which quietly disbanded when they couldn't find evidence.

Our elections are reasonably secure, yet Trump and his allies are claiming massive undetectable fraud, and have been, since the primaries in March. Now, he is claiming to have won California!

This is the insanity of a cult, and I fear the worst.

Sackerson said...

I agree that it's all emotionally overheated - both sides (e.g. the Wokester anarchy in Seattle was jaw-dropping, it was 1968 with fried brains.) The country has been driven nuts.

Either the institutions - esp. the courts, but for goodness' sake the Fourth Estate needs to pull up its socks - succeed or the nation fails. This why cool heads and fidelity to the truth are vital.

Paddington said...

If you want to maintain a cool head, then remember another basic idea, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

To claim fraud which alters the results in all of the states that Trump didn't win is crazy, pure and simple. No evidence has been presented, and people like Giuliani have been very careful not to pretend in court. These are stunts, pure and simple.

Sadly, there a large number of right wing groups that are just itching to use their stored weapons to go to the cities and kill liberals and non-white people. Despite claims of left-wing problems, the FBI statistics show that something like 90% of the political violence in this country is by right wing groups.

Sackerson said...

I'm not a fan of Christopher Hitchens, who could be a bit slippery - his denial of having said he looked forward to the day when the Red Army watered its horses in the Thames was not supported by his brother and caused a permanent rift.

There may well be those right wing groups, fortunately I don't live there; but the actual rioting we have seen has been from - if not Biden supporters, then certainly not Trump's lot. If the latter are ignorant hicks, maybe that's a consequence of the way such a large propotion of the US population has been hicked, same as the working class Brexiteers who are mocked by the left-superior Eurofans for their alleged stupdity and ignorance. If being economically crushed produced pure and noble creatures then we should wish it for everyone.

I see no reason why there should not have been fraud - the opportunities are too many and varied, and as I said in my TCW piece the vulnerabilities in the UK system have long been worry. The question is the scale and whether there was more on one side than the other. Political and electoral corruption are hardly new - Tammany Hall etc.

The flames have been fanned so assiduously that one side can see all Trump's faults - a blind man could see them - and yet it cannot see a similarly sleazy, neocon brown-person-bomber on the other podium.

I freely accept what you say about the GOP generally - ghastly money-worshippers - but I do think the Left in the US - and by UK standards they're more like our Conservatives - have a similar mindset to Labour here: 'we stand for the Good so anything goes in our pursuit of the Millenium.' We got Blair and his miserable blackmailer and bully Campbell.

Maybe, as I say in the comments over on TCW, the US should have compulsory voting - properly bloody checked, please, That should drag the GOP back towards the centre and maybe liberate many of the Dem's slaves - see Candace Owens on the Dems' debilitating hold over its black voter segment and her call for 'Blexit' from the party.

Paddington said...

I'm sorry. Did the UK news not report a parade of trucks with Trump flags firing paintballs and possibly pepper balls while driving into protesting crowds?

As for election processes, most states require ID to vote in person, and absentee ballots are carefully coded. Signatures on the outside envelopes must match those on file. Interestingly, those rejected are overwhelmingly in Democratic districts in the South.

As for claiming electronic tomfoolery, the recounts in Georgia counties (one state in which they are making this claim) were done by hand, and matched the electronic numbers.

Finally, there is a positive piece of evidence in the other direction: The GOP gained House seats and other down-ballot votes. Surely, rigging by the Democrats would have done something about that?

Sackerson said...

1. I don't know. I've given up watching the news, and we only get the Daily Mail for the crossword. Your example proves it's all right-wing apes, eh?

2. Absentee ballots - are in question for the courts etc to decide.

3. OK, good for Georgia. At this distance I can't tell truth from lies.

4. Don't know. Weren't masses of the disputed ballots only voting for Biden and nothing else?

Trump is Satan, vote God? Or, shall we leave it to proper judges and not bent fact-checkers and partisan MSM? (Btw do the MSM have to TELL us that riotous behaviour is 'shocking'?)

Paddington said...

And you still don't get it.

1. The FBI's own figures show that most political violence in the US is right wing. That is a fact, like it or not.

2. The absentee ballots appear to be perfectly in order. In fact, 5 states use mail ballots exclusively. Hundreds of thousands of election officials of both major parties have certified them.

3. Every major claim appears to be produced from thin air. Again, where is the evidence.

4. No. Another lie.

It isn't an issue for judges unless you have evidence. Why is that so hard to understand? We are at the point when Trump lawyers are going to get sanctioned for wasting time.

Meanwhile, the President is calling state officials in several states, demanding that they arbitrarily overturn election results which have already been certified.

Sackerson said...

I still don't jump to your conclusions, even though you may turn out to be entirely correct. I have that luxury because I don't live there, of course.

1. Defined and counted how? What we saw with CHAZ/CHOP and disturbances in other cities was very troubling, especially because of the authorities' apparent reluctance to act. But it didn't seem to be right-wingers.

2. Still doubts about vulernabilities - my TCW piece links studies in the UK. Maybe fine in some areas and not others.

3. If no evidence, that is about to become clear as the courts address the claims. The Epoch Times, a non-aligned outfit, reports ongoing developments.

4. As 3 above.

A major issue highlighted by all this is how partisan behaviour by the Fourth Estate, Facebook, Twitter etc has eroded public trust in the media, so that we see Crucible-type wild accusations and hysteria. Russiagate didn't help.

Paddington said...

This is measured as acts of violence not protests - murders of minorities and gays, for example. If I recall, there have been 9 attacks (mostly arson) of black churches in the past decade alone. The latter have been relatively common since 1865, along with lynchings and other attacks on minorities. As in the old apartheid South Africa, these are mentioned and forgotten, but protests of them are regarded with horror.

Sackerson said...

So, not party political but good ol' racism and bigotry. Needs more than protests - in fact other than protests, which often get commandeered by would-be revolutionaries.

The Federal Government needs a program to review the recruitment and selection of police, monitoring, review of allegations of unlawful wounding and killing, and sackings, prosecution and punishment as appropriate.

And, of course, rigorous pursuit of civilian offenders.

It's not smash the system, it's make the system work.

Paddington said...

Now, we agree.

Racism is far more an issue in the US than the UK, with a very ugly history, even to the present day.

Paddington said...

That turns out to be the issue in Georgia, where Biden won the vote thanks to a significantly increased Black vote. In the South, there are lots of 'legal' efforts to suppress that vote.