TL;DR version: One Daily Caller “writer,” tired of seeing his slanted and factually-challenged output debunked here at Snopes.com (such as his misleading reporting about Washington state schools teaching transgenderism to kindergarten students and a DHS subcommittee report on violent extremism) attempted to shoot the messenger (a common logical fallacy). Instead of acknowledging and correcting his mistakes, he tried to deflect attention from them by attacking the person who had the temerity to point them out, Snopes.com writer Kim LaCapria.
Usually we don’t bother responding to such blather (our long-established reputation as the Internet’s oldest fact-checking site speaks for itself), but this instance provided an opportunity to deliver an informative object lesson on bad reporting (and the importance of fact-checking) too good to pass up.
In his rant, said writer (whom we’ll spare a bit of embarrassment by not referring to by name) exhibited all the same flaws that have plagued his usual “reporting” — misrepresenting source material, eliding or ignoring relevant information, selective quoting, cherry-picking, lack of context — right from the very outset:
Snopes’ main political fact-checker is a writer named Kim Lacapria. Before writing for Snopes, Lacapria wrote for Inquisitr, a blog that — oddly enough — is known for publishing fake quotes and even downright hoaxes as much as anything else.
Two factual errors right off the bat: Kim LaCapria isn’t our “main political fact-checker,” and the Inquisitr is actually a news and media website, not a blog. And while it may be true that some Inquisitr contributors have occasionally fallen for fake news stories and other hoaxes (of which we’ve debunked our fair share), what does that have to do with our Ms. LaCapria? Did our Daily Caller writer point out a single instance of Kim’s publishing “fake quotes” or “downright hoaxes” as real news while working for the Inquisitr? Or any instance of her claiming as fact something that wasn’t true in any of her Inquisitr writing? Answer: no.
While at Inquisitr, the future “fact-checker” consistently displayed clear partisanship … She once wrote: “Like many GOP ideas about the poor, the panic about using food stamps for alcohol, pornography or guns seems to have been cut from whole cloth — or more likely, the ideas many have about the fantasy of poverty.” (A simple fact-check would show that food stamp fraud does occur and costs taxpayers tens of millions.)
A simple reading of the linked article would have shown that Ms. LaCapria wasn’t addressing welfare fraud, but rather legislative efforts to further restrict the kinds of items and services welfare recipients could spend their benefit funds on, based on common claims that welfare benefits were being used to purchase items such as pornography, alcohol, guns, tattoos, and nail salon services — despite scant evidence that this was much of a real-world problem.
The Daily Caller writer’s approach here was to “fact-check” something that hadn’t been stated in the first place, pointing to an article describing the arrest and indictment of several persons in Delaware accused of falsifying records in order to illegally obtain EBT cards to which they were not entitled as proof that welfare fraud is real — something that had nothing to do with the subject of Kim’s article, which was about how legitimate welfare recipients choose to use their benefits.
Next up, the invocation of yet another fallacy equating quality with popularity:
Her columns apparently failed to impress her readership, oftentimes failing to get more than 10-20 shares.
Nobody hits a home run every time up, but if the number of social media shares is your metric of choice, Kim’s work (163,000+ shares for a single article) seems to be impressing our readership. Could that possibly be because she’s actually good at what she does?
This was followed closely by the fallacy of confusing fact with opinion:
She wrote a “fact check” article about Jimmy Carter’s unilateral ban of Iranian nationals from entering the country that looks more like an opinion column arguing against Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban.
Stating that “this article looks more like an opinion column than a fact check” is itself an opinion (not a fact) and does not document a single factual inaccuracy in the referenced article (which is a standard compare-and-contrast piece that doesn’t argue for or against anything or anyone).
The Daily Caller writer then proceeded to dip once again into his bag of logical fallacies, this time pulling out ipse dixit (i.e., “it’s true because I say it is”):
Similarly, Lacapria — in another “fact check” article — argued Hillary Clinton hadn’t included Benghazi at all in her infamous “we didn’t lose a single person in Libya” gaffe. Lacapria claimed Clinton only meant to refer to the 2011 invasion of Libya (but not the 2012 Benghazi attack) but offered little fact-based evidence to support her claim.
It may be a foreign concept to this Daily Caller writer (who commonly relies on selective quoting and lack of context to slant his reporting), but presenting a video clip documenting what a person actually said, completely and in its full context, is indeed “fact-based evidence.”
It was quite clear in context that Hillary Clinton was speaking of a multinational military intervention in Libya that took place well before the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi. But as John Pettus succinctly noted, if the Daily Caller writer doesn’t find fact-based evidence sufficient, he could also try the application of some simple common sense:
Of course that’s what [Clinton] meant. What is the alternative? That she forgot about the Americans who died at the consulate? Or that she thought nobody would notice if she lied about it? Neither of those is remotely plausible. She was talking about the attack [on Libya].
Then Daily Caller then delved into the fallacy of making mistaken assumptions about a person’s motives and actions:
After the Orlando terror attack, Lacapria claimed that just because Omar Mateen was a registered Democrat with an active voter registration status didn’t mean he was actually a Democrat. Her “fact check” argued that he might “have chosen a random political affiliation when he initially registered.”
In fact, Kim LaCapria didn’t write any such thing — I did.
Although Kim penned the initial draft of our article about Omar Mateen’s voter registration and wanted to list it as “TRUE,” I made the editorial decision to overrule her because (as I explicated at length in the article) “registered as a Democrat” and “was a Democrat” are not manifestly the same thing — voter registration and political ideology don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand (as evidenced by the fact that the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, changed his party of registration multiple times), and I felt it would be misleading to imply that those two aspects necessarily corresponded by only addressing one part of that equation.
Avoiding this kind of error is one of the reasons why good reporters actually make attempts to contact the people they’re writing about (which didn’t happen here).
The Daily Caller writer circled back to familiar ground, once again treading the ipse dixit line:
Lacapria even tried to contradict the former Facebook workers who admitted that Facebook regularly censors conservative news, dismissing the news as “rumors.”
In fact, “former Facebook workers” didn’t “admit that Facebook regularly censors conservative news.” Rather, a single self-declared conservative former Facebook curator claimed that other Facebook curators were not putting as much conservative news as he would liked to have seen into Facebook’s training algorithm for their Trending Topics section.
But you don’t have to take our word for it. You know who else dismissed the claim that “Facebook regularly censors conservative news” as “rumors”? How about Glenn Beck — you know, that immensely popular conservative political commentator — who was involved in the issue first-hand and wrote a scathing indictment of the accusations leveled against Facebook that read (in part):
I accept the possibility there may be evidence that Facebook — or said more clearly, someone or even multiple people who work for Facebook — may have done something that skewed the output in some way to game the system. But so far, I have not seen that evidence. And we looked for it. There are people at my company who understand this stuff far better than I do and they haven’t seen that evidence.
As a reminder, this entire controversy began when one former member of the Trending team — one — claimed Faceboook was suppressing conservative voices.
[T]he reason I went to Facebook was not to find out whether there was a small issue, but to see whether there was a real issue. A top-down initiative from management to marginalize conservative voices. We can, and will, debate the merits of some of the complaints against Facebook, but, in my opinion, there is no evidence of a top-down initiative to silence conservative voices.
In a country that is deeply divided, the largest and most important company in human interaction and content consumption saw the conservative movement in an uproar over ONE person, making ONE accusation, against ONE of their products. One story and the pitchforks came out. Now that’s something we conservatives are accustomed to, but not so much for those on the left.
I sat through a meeting that, to me, felt like I was attending a Rainbow Coalition meeting, that people (not me) had come with a list of demands. I looked around the room, I heard the complaints, I listened to the perspectives, and not a single person in the room shared evidence of any wrongdoing. Maybe they had some, but it wasn’t shared. They discussed how Facebook’s organic reach and changes in algorithms has impacted their business. While at the same time admitting that Huffington Post has been struggling with the same issues. I heard people discuss community standards, pages being shut down, posts being removed — and I do believe that happens and it’s something Facebook could do better, and I hope they will — but we were not there because of that. We were there because of this ONE accusation on Trending Topics.
I sat there looking around and heard things like:
1) Facebook has a very liberal workforce. Has Facebook considered diversity in their hiring practice? The country is 2% Mormon. Maybe Facebook’s company should better reflect that reality.
2) Maybe Facebook should consider a six-month training program to help their biased and liberal workforce understand and respect conservative opinions and values.
3) We need to see strong and specific steps to right this wrong.
It was like affirmative action for conservatives. When did conservatives start demanding quotas AND diversity training AND less people from Ivy League Colleges.
I sat there, looking around the room at ‘our side’ wondering, ‘Who are we?’ Who am I? I want to be very clear — I am not referring to every person in the room. There were probably 25-30 people and a number of them, I believe, felt like I did. But the overall tenor, to me, felt like the Salem Witch Trial: ‘Facebook, you must admit that you are screwing us, because if not, it proves you are screwing us.’
Lacapria again played defense for Clinton in a fact check article when she claimed: “Outrage over an expensive Armani jacket worn by Hillary Clinton was peppered with inaccurate details.”
One of the “inaccurate details” cited by Lacapria was that, “The cost of men’s suits worn by fellow politicians didn’t appear in the article for contrast.” She also argued the speech Clinton gave while wearing the $12,495 jacket, which discussed “raising wages and reducing inequality,” wasn’t actually about income inequality.
The confirmation bias here is characterizing Kim LaCapria’s debunking rumors about Hillary Clinton as “play[ing] defense for Clinton,” while making absolutely no mention of, and finding no putative bias in, her “playing defense for Trump” in debunking negative rumors about the Republican candidate (as she did here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here … well, you get the drift).
Kim’s noting in a discussion of the infamous Hillary Clinton $12,000 Armani jacket brouhaha that male politicians are rarely (if ever) criticized over how much they spend on clothing was offered as an observation of the double standard fallacy, not as an “inaccurate detail.” The primary inaccurate detail was the erroneous reporting by multiple sources that Ms. Clinton hypocritically wore a very expensive jacket while allegedly giving a speech on “[income] inequality”:
Yet the Daily Caller writer astoundingly maintained, in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary, that the Hillary Clinton speech in question was indeed about “raising wages and reducing inequality,” even though a full transcript of Hillary Clinton’s New York primary victory speech (linked from our article) shows that assertion to be completely false.
During a speech in which Ms. Clinton touched on a panoply of progressive topics and talking points — parents finding good jobs, grandparents enjoying secure retirements, children not fearing deportation or discrimination, honoring hard work, supporting families, strengthening communities, trusting and respecting people despite their differences, creating more good jobs, raising wages, ensuring good educations for children, revitalizing inner cities, rebuilding infrastructure, combating climate change, challenging systemic racism, passing comprehensive immigration reform, guaranteeing equal pay for women, defending the rights of various groups (voters, workers, women, LGBT, the disabled), reforming the criminal justice system, and gun safety reform — she made but one reference to “reducing inequality”:
And in this campaign, we are setting bold progressive goals backed up by real plans that will improve lives, creating more good jobs that provide dignity and pride in a middle class life, raising wages and reducing inequality, making sure all our kids get a good education no matter what zip code they live in, building ladders of opportunity and empowerment so all of our people can go as far as their hard work and talent will take them.
That’s right: Hillary Clinton’s making a single reference to “reducing inequality” in a speech whose transcript spanned fourteen paragraphs was characterized by a Daily Caller writer as comprising a discussion of “raising wages and reducing inequality.” It’s difficult to conceive how one could slant a topic any further without violating some law of physics.
Does Kim LaCapria have personal political opinions and viewpoints? Of course she does, as does every other journalist, fact-checker, writer, and just about every other living human being. But having opinions doesn’t preclude one from fairly analyzing and presenting facts, as John Pettus observed:
I (and I think many people) believe journos are people, and have opinions. But their job (at least on the news side) is to write about the facts, as they research and discover them. Does having opinions — even strong opinions — mean that one cannot have the job of studiously researching the facts around a particular issue? Unless the author can demonstrate with evidence a pattern of this writer either putting out false information, or egregiously omitting easily obtainable opposing information, they have not made the case that this Snopes writer is not doing her job.
I realize this is quite possibly a novel idea to the Daily Caller writer, but here at Snopes.com we employ fact-checkers and editors who review and amend (as necessary) everything we publish to ensure its fairness and accuracy rather than just allowing our writers to pass off biased, opinionated, slanted, skewed, and unethically partisan work as genuine news reporting.
Perhaps a certain Daily Caller writer could give that approach a try sometime.