Tim Graham's Fact-Check Failures
The Media Research Center executive's attempted dunks on fact-checkers for doing their job sometimes end badly for him.
By Terry Krepel
An example of this came in a June 2020 column, in which Graham complained that Washington Post fact-checkers compiled a book of Trump's falsehoods. Graham served up his usual hand-waving of Trump's falsehoods: "Trump has a casual relationship with the truth. Even MAGA hat-wearing Trump boosters know it." He then complained:
There's a Big Lie at the end of the "fact-checker" book: a passage from page 261, in the concluding chapter, titled "Toward a Resurgence of Truth." It was plucked out and celebrated by CNN host Brian Stelter, since it's a favorite Big Lie on the left. The authors claim Trump is like a dictator: "A hallmark of authoritarian regimes is to call truth into question except as the regime defines it. Russian president Vladimir Putin offers up a fog of disinformation to maintain power, including denying obvious facts (such as Russian involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17), spouting falsehoods and deflecting attention with nonsensical comparisons (dubbed 'whataboutism')."
So a president can't be described as "authoritarian" if he doesn't actually act on clearly articulated authoritarian impulses? Then perhaps he and the MRC should apologize for portraying President Obama and other Democrats as having gone authoritarian even they know that, by Graham's standards for Trump, they didn't.
For instance, David Limbaugh ranted in a May 2016 column published by the MRC attacking the Obama administration's policy to bring more equality to transgendered people:
The Obama administration obviously cares not a whit for the privacy of students who don't want to be forced to share a restroom with students of the opposite sex. The rights of the many will be subordinated to the rights of the very, very few -- not to protect the rights of those few but to manufacture rights that don't exist to make an authoritarian statement on behalf of Big Brother.
Graham concluded his column by ranting: "We have an election in November. No one has canceled it. But liberal journalists speculate that imaginary tyrant Trump will never leave office if he loses...which is laughable, since they've never accepted he was legitimately elected in the first place." Remember that the MRC effectively condoned Obama birtherism by not criticizing it until it was applied against Brent Bozell's preferred 2016 presidential candidate, Ted Cruz, so it can be argued that Graham and Co. never considered Obama to have been legitimately elected.
Graham devoted a July 2019 post to complaining that CNN's Brian Stelter pointed out President Trump's lengthy record of lies and falsehoods -- and that conservatives simply accept and rationalize away those falsehoods -- is "implying something ideological, not something journalistic." Graham then huffed:
Donald Trump has a casual relationship with the truth. He can keep "fact checkers" very busy. But Stelter doesn't seem to realize that if you support free markets and/or orthodox religious values against the Libertine Left and/or a strong defense and border control, you have one choice in the coming election. They're not going to be persuaded to #Resist by CNN hosts who offer supportive segments to socialists on "Is the Media Fair to Socialism?"
But Graham and his fellow ideologues know they the do not have "one choice." If Trump's lies truly bothered him, he could support another Republican. The fact that they don't is exemplified by Graham's refusing to say "lie" or "falsehood," instead eupemistically describing Trump as merely having "a casual relationship with the truth." There are, after all, other Republicans who lie less and still are simpatico with Graham ideologically. Does Graham really think Trump has core beliefs that mesh with his and is not simply glomming on to the conservative agenda as a way to hold power and generate support?
Graham is actually proving Stelter right -- Graham worships anyone with the power to push his agenda, and thus, he worships Trump because he currently has that power. Graham doesn't care that Trump doesn't actually believe what he's pushing; the agenda is all that matters, not the character of the person pushing it (which exposes how hollow the MRC's concern over character in politicians was during the Clinton years). He won't take the chance of choosing a Trump challenger with more personal integrity and ideological credibility because he's so devoted to the cause that it doesn't matter how compromised the person is who's pushing it.
Graham concluded by whining: "Clearly, Stelter is a very activist voice in the Sees a Liar Tribe, pushing the liberal media to be more opinionated. They have to say 'liar' and 'racist' and 'authoritarian.' That's CNN, constantly providing a free messaging service for the #Resistance." Graham, meanwhile, can't say those words; to do so would admit that he cares only about power, not integrity.
How in the tank was Graham for President Trump? He even tried to explain away his description of Meghan Markle as "nasty."
And here's the way Graham went into cleanup mode: "It's not misquoting the president to say he called Markle nasty (or her comments nasty). But it was clear from the exchange that he had no ill will toward the duchess at this point."
See? Trump meant "nasty" in a good way! It's all about context!
And it wouldn't be Graham without a dose of irrelevant whataboutism: "Obama brought the Queen of England an iPod with his speeches on it, and the pro-Obama media didn't blink." But Graham's sudden concern for context evaporated just as suddenly -- the iPod also contained a selection of Broadway show tunes (to accompany another gift, a songbook signed by Broadway composer Richard Rodgers) and video of the queen's 2007 visit to the U.S.
And, of course, Obama never referred to any member of the royal family as "nasty" -- not even in a way that could be taken out of context.
Graham continued his tilting at fact-checking windmills in an August 2020 post:
Matt Palumbo at Bongino.com took issue with the extremely biased nature of PolitiFact's "Truth-O-Meter" in assessing "facts." The controversy? This week, President Trump signed an executive order to prevent illegal immigrants from being counted for the purposes of re-apportioning congressional districts after the 2020 census.
After noting that PolitiFact contacted an expert in demography who noted that the state has, at best, two to four extra seats due to undocumented immigrants -- whom Graham dismissed as biased because he has "been a repetitive small donor to the Democratic National Committee," though he didn't explain how such small donations equals lying about demographics to PolitiFact -- Graham huffed:
This takes us back to the obvious point we have to make over and over again when it comes to these "fact checkers." They are taking exception to an estimate, which is not a hard fact. To disagree on an estimate on this scale should not rise to the level of "false news and misinformation."
Except that the Bongino item and the Facebook post it was based on said nothing about the number being an estimate; it was stated as "hard fact" and claimed to be based on the 2010 Census and "the number of people illegally there."
Graham then served up his usual whine about purported bias of PolitiFact: "A search of 'Bongino' at PolitiFact locates four 'fact checks' in the last year or so....all of them Mostly False or worse."Well, it's not like Graham or the MRC would ever be moved to fact-check Bongino, right? Their job is to amplify right-wingers, not fact-check them.
Graham thought he had a pretty good gotcha in a Feb. 26 post:
The reputation of PolitiFact as an "independent fact-checker" just doesn't rest on their factual accuracy. It rests on whether their selection of which facts to check demonstrate an ideological tilt (it does). Conservatives were mocking their tweet from Thursday night:Beware of Facebook posts blaming Joe Biden for insulin price hikes. Experts said any recent price changes facing individual patients are likely due to the way insurance works, not the Biden administration."Beware of Facebook posts blaming Joe Biden" is what PolitiFact is specializing in right now.
But then Graham had to concede that PolitiFact's fact-check was correct. He wouldn't go so far as to admit the claim is "false," of course, instead setting for "isn't ... very factual":
Let's stipulate that this isn't a very factual assertion. Last summer, President Trump ordered that insulin prices be reduced in the Medicare program for seniors, but it wasn't set to be implemented until January 22, and Biden suspended it (temporarily) in his wave of Trump-reversing executive orders.
That turn of phrase reminds us of Graham's attempt to dismiss Trump's barrage of falsehoods during his presidency: He's not a liar, he just has "a casual relationship with the truth."
In most non-MRC settings "isn't ... very factual" is the same thing as "false." But in Graham's fevered, hate-filled brain, proving that a claim about Biden is no different than being on the Democratic Party payroll, so he went on to whine that "PolitiFact underlined that the fact-checker community as a bloc was rushing to defend Biden,"further complaining:
Even so, this has not been a TV story. A quick search of transcripts in Nexis for “Biden” and “insulin” since January 20 on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and MSNBC found no mention of Biden’s freeze on Trump's insulin price order. There were eight stories with these two words, all of them on the cable channels, and five of the eight were about the prospect of Texans caught without insulin in the winter storm.
Yes, that's what Graham is whining about -- that PolitiFact stopped a lie in its tracks before it could gain traction in the larger right-wing media sphere. Not that Graham and the MRC would have ever told its readers this was false absent this whining about PolitiFact. (Also note that Fox News is suspiciously absent from his Nexis search.)
This is the problem with Graham's war on fact-checking -- he doesn't actually care about facts, only in pursuing right-wing gotchas that gets clicks. The fact that he left this post up tells us he doesn't understand what an utter failure this attempt was. Then again, he's failed before, so he's apparently used to the feeling.
Taking a hyperbolic claim seriously
Graham's motivation is owning the libs, not conducting legitimate "media research." Thus, an innocuous Washington Post item about a screening of the Dick Cheney-mocking movie "Vice" at the Newseum is enough to send Graham into paroxysms of rage. In his January 2019 post (in which he bizarrely and inexplicably put "Newseum" in scare quotes), Graham apparently decided to take a hyperbolic, throwaway line in the Post article about how "the showing was attended by what seemed like half the city’s press corps" literally, spending two paragraphs listing all the journalists he could uncover who allegedly attended in addition to blockquoting a paragraph from the Post noting who attended -- and still could only come up with a couple dozen names.
Even then, Graham couldn't get his facts straight. He listed two journalists as working for "Knight-Ridder newspapers"; that company ceased to exist in 2006, when it was bought by McClatchy.
(For Graham's edification, there are thousands of journalists in Washington, while the Newseum appears to have only a couple hundred seats.)
Graham bashed the movie itself (of course) and sneered that the screening was "a natural party for Democrats and the national media -- or, as Chris Plante says, 'but I repeat myself.'"
The fact that Graham gets all ranty over an obviously hyperbolic claim is why nobody outside right-wing true believers trusts the MRC's shoddy "media research."