Hey, remember when the Washington Post spoke truth to power?
I don’t, actually – my parents were only 14 when the paper took down the most powerful man in the world by exposing Nixon’s role in the Watergate scandal.
Here’s the Washington Post I know: yesterday, the Post’s “Fact Checker” column purpoted to check this quote from Bernie Sanders: “There is no moral or economic justification for the six wealthiest people in the world having as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, 3.7 billion people.”
The Post gave it three out of five “Pinocchios,” meaning the statement has “significant” falsehoods and contradictions. Two things: 1. no it doesn’t, and 2., one of the “six wealthiest people” in the quote just so happens to be WaPo’s owner, billionaire Jeff Bezos.
Right off the bat, we have some problems
After fact checker Nicole Lewis gives some basic intro stuff, wherein she acknowledges (indirectly) that this statistic is from the respected researchers at Oxfam and not just made up by Sanders (which is why it makes no sense to call this a fact check of him in the first place) – we get this:
“Since the wealthiest six people own $462.6 billion and the bottom 50 percent own $409 billion, the case is closed, right?”
Um, yes, actually, the case is closed. Sanders quoted a study; the fact checker found he represented the study’s findings correctly. That is where a fact checker’s job ends. It’s not where the fact checker gets to write 25 paragraphs of misdirection to force the “facts” to fit the paper’s desired narrative.
The stuff in the piece is shady; what’s not in it is even shadier
I’m not an economist, so I’ll leave the detailed breakdown of all the half-truths and weird contradictions in the article to them. But here’s the key thing you should know: the main trick of this piece is taking some old quibbles with the methodology of the Oxfam study Sanders quoted, and then spinning them as proof that Sanders is lying.
But the shadiest stuff here isn’t necessarily the non-factual, bad faith “disagreements” disguised as facts. What’s more shady is the Post’s continuing efforts to hide the guy paying for all this. “As of September 2017,” the article says, “the six richest people have a combined net worth of $462.6 billion. (Among the names on the list: Jeffrey P. Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post.)”
That’s not how an ethics disclosure works, WaPo! It goes against the very first rule that legitimate news outlets follow, which is that you actually label your ethics disclosures. As in “Disclosure: Jeffrey P. Bezos, who is on the list, is the owner of the Washington Post.” That weak excuse for a disclosure is so blink-and-you’ll-miss-it that my first draft of this article said it wasn’t there at all (but then I carefully fact checked my claim. See how that works?)
That might not be an issue if the Post didn’t regularly fail to disclose Bezos’ ownership when they cover his businesses. But they do it all the time. This summer they published a front-page article that repeatedly touted Whole Foods as the solution to food deserts in D.C., going so far as to describe its “complimentary wifi” and “comfortable armchairs.” Less than three weeks earlier, Bezos had acquired Whole Foods. Nowhere in the article is his name even mentioned. Multiple articles about another Bezos property, Uber, pulled the same trick.
This is a textbook hit piece from a paper with a Bern-ing grudge
This all starts to make a lot more sense when you consider the way the Post has treated Bernie from the get-go. The bad-faith takes have been coming out for more than a year. At one point, around the primary debate in Michigan, the Post blasted out 16 negative headlines about Bernie in 16 hours. I don’t care what your politics are: that’s stalker-ex-boyfriend level of negative attention.
The Fact Checker article screams “conclusion first, supporting facts after.” That’s not how a newspaper is supposed to operate. That’s how bloggers operate. Which is fine until you’re presenting your paper as a literal beacon of pure, unadulterated truth, as the Post does with their new slogan “Democracy dies in darkness.” WaPo has immeasurable impact on the way this country runs: it’s not just a huge paper, it’s a huge paper in the city where our laws are written and our backroom deals are made (well not our backroom deals, unless you happen to be Jeff Bezos). When the Post – which is somehow still clinging to its reputation as a “liberal” newspaper – says something isn’t true, the effect is enormous.
Why do this?
Ultimately, my question is just… what is the point of this piece? Seriously. There are a thousand claims the Post could have “fact checked” this week. Why this one? Why decide, “Hey, I want to poke holes in a politician’s claim that inequality is really bad”? Why twist yourself into a pretzel to make your piece fit your already-chosen conclusion, then present your take as the 100% unquestionable truth, existing in a vacuum of apolitical purity? Who does this serve?
Here’s who it serves: the Post’s billionaire owner Jeff Bezos, and the Post’s elite readership. It assures them that they’re not the problem, and even if they were, the Post is here to defend them at all costs.
“Democracy dies in darkness” all right. But WaPo is helping to shut off the lights.
And for that, we have to give the Post eleven out of ten Pinnochios.