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.