Ruminations on two fact-checks: Are we the self-ballyhooed "human beings" even conscious at all?
The overwrought question popped into our heads in the wake of our perusal of a pair of fact-checks. The first such presentation—it's actually a fact-check of a previous fact-check!—appears in a letter to the editor in today's Washington Post.
You can see that letter at this link. It appears under this heading: "Geppetto has a lot of work ahead of him."
The writer is complaining about this perfectly valid Washington Post Fact Checker report, in which Glenn Kessler gave a Democratic congressman two Pinocchios for a highly misleading, selective statement about the effects of Donald J. Trump's tax cut.
Kessler's fact-check included lots of information. The letter writer, who disapproves of the Trump tax cut, voices all sorts of complaints about the measure without addressing the specific claim under review in Kessler's piece.
The letter ends with this piffle:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (12/15/18): In addition, lowering corporate taxes, curtailing the alternative minimum tax and reducing estate taxes produced major additional benefits for the upper tier of taxpayers. In both the short run and over the years, these extra dollars help the upper-tier taxpayers accumulate more of the country’s income-producing assets, widening the economic divide between the top tiers and the rest of us. Cicilline’s percentages might be overstated, but they are much closer to reality than the fiction that the tax plan benefits us all equally."Three Pinocchios for the Fact Checker!" How brave, how stirring, how bold!
Three Pinocchios for the Fact Checker.
Admittedly, the writer's conclusion will stir the partisan soul. Unfortunately, as he closes his letter, the writer acknowledges the accuracy of Kessler's assessment—the congressman's claim was overstated—and he attacks a straw-man "fiction," one Kessler never advanced.
So we humans tend to reason, especially at times like these. The letter is massively underfed work. We're not sure why the Post would have chosen to publish it.
In fairness, that letter is an amateur effort. Earlier, though, we'd perused Linda Qiu's latest attempt at a fact-check, in today's New York Times.
Qiu is the Times' official fact-checker. We've often been puzzled by her work. Today, she starts like this:
WHAT WAS SAIDStrange. Qiu presents a range of statements by two different people, then states her verdict:
Kellyanne Conway: “Christopher, in April of 2018, Donald J. Trump, the president, and everybody else were told about the payments.”
Chris Cuomo, CNN anchor: “He knew about it from its inception. He came up with the plan.”
Ms. Conway: “No, no, no, hold on. You’re saying incontrovertible based on the testimony of people who are trying to get a better deal and a lighter sentence for themselves. Be fair here. Don’t call incontrovertible because you imbue credibility on individuals——”
Mr. Cuomo: “I have a tape of him discussing what to do with Michael Cohen.”
—in an interview with CNN on Thursday
Qiu's verdict gave tribal subscribers a thrill. But which of the various statements by Cuomo and Conway has been judged to be false?
Oddly, Qiu's initial presentation doesn't make that basic point clear. We have to stumble ahead in her presentation if we want to try to puzzle that out.
Which of those several statements was false? Qiu's presentation starts like this:
QIU (continuing directly): Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws when he arranged payments to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep them from talking about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump.Qiu's presentation wanders on from there. Presumably, though, the statement which has been declared "false" is Conway's "suggestion that the president did not know about these payments until this year."
Ms. Conway is a counselor to Mr. Trump. Her suggestion that the president did not know about these payments until this year is not credible, given the audio recording, news reports and statements from Mr. Trump’s current lawyer...
(Please note: In Qiu's presentation, the verdict has perhaps been bumped down a bit. The statement, which is now a "suggestion," has gone from "false" to "not credible.")
We hate to undermine tribal pleasure of the type the New York Times tends to provide. That said, we went back and looked at the transcript of the full exchange between Cuomo and Conway, and Qiu's account of what Conway was "suggesting" at that point strikes us as inaccurate.
That said, this sort of thing goes on all the time when Qiu attempts to do fact-checks.
We've often been amazed to think that the New York Times can't find a more skillful fact-checker than the remarkably youthful Qiu. In the larger sense, this calls attention to the remarkably limited role played by such entities as accuracy and logic when we modern "great apes" stage our attempts at debate.
At present, the mainstream press is on a stampede. In this latest manifestation, they're chasing a generally guilty party. But it's a stampede all the same.
In the current stampede, they've taken to insisting that we the people need to know who the various candidates may have sex with ten years earlier before we can pick a president. The sheer insanity of this idea only adds to the zeal with which the cable and corporate apes will rise up to advance it.
The children are staging a highly peculiar stampede. This raises the basic question we've been asking this year:
Aristotle is widely said to have said that we're "the rational animal." Professor Harari, who has called us "great apes," has said that our species runs on gossip and fiction.
Which of these two vaunted figures is perhaps more nearly correct? More and more, when we follow the press, we get a certain feeling, gestalt- or paradigm-wise:
We get the feeling we're secretly watching gaggles of well-dressed, pre-rational apes. But then, it's all anthropology now, as we charismatically told you back at the start of the year.
The younger the better: Qiu graduated from the University of Chicago in 2014. In a rational world, it would be amazing to think that the New York Times couldn't find a more skillful fact-checker.
That would be in a rational world. In our world—it's a Hamptons-based world—it isn't surprising at all.