George Will puts his faith in Snopes!


Who will fact-check the fact-checkers? In a recent column, George Will started out by battering Josh Hawley around.

He did so in the course of praising a new book—a book in which Chris Stirewalt, late of Fox News, offers a critique of our country's "broken news business."

In Will's view, Hawley cast a silly showboat vote against admitting Finland and Sweden to NATO. In Will's account, this is where the performance led

WILL (8/10/22): ...That evening, Hawley appeared on Fox News to receive Tucker Carlson’s benediction.

This umpteenth episode of a senator using the Senate as a stepping stone to a cable television green room illustrates what Chris Stirewalt deplores in his new book, “Broken News.” He was washed out of Fox News by a tsunami of viewer rage because on election night 2020 he correctly said Donald Trump had lost Arizona. Now he says today’s journalism has a supply-side problem—that is, supplying synthetic controversies:

“What did Trump say? What did Nancy Pelosi say about what Trump said? What did Kevin McCarthy say about what Pelosi said about what Trump said? What did Sean Hannity say about what Rachel Maddow said about what McCarthy said about what Pelosi said about what Trump said?”

In all honesty, Stirewalt's call of Arizona came remarkably early—and Biden's winning margin turned out to be scarily slim. Maybe Stirewalt knew what he was doing that night, maybe he just got lucky. 

(If you flip a coin to call a state, you'll get it right half the time!)

That to the side, Will quoted Stirewalt mocking a type of "synthetic controversy" involving our nation's cable news stars. He went on to make the highlighted claim. 

We wondered if it was accurate:

WILL (continuing directly): But journalism also has a demand-side problem: Time was, journalists assumed that news consumers demanded “more information, faster and better.” Now, instantaneous communication via passive media—video and television—supplies what indolent consumers demand.

More than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level. Video, however, requires only eyes on screens. But such passive media cannot communicate a civilization defined by ideas. Our creedal nation, Stirewalt says, “requires written words and a common culture in which to understand them.”

Is that statement about our "indolent [news] consumers" accurate? Is it true that "more than half of Americans between ages 16 and 74 read below the sixth-grade level?" 

We'd never seen a claim of that type. We wondered if it could be defended.

For starters, full disclosure! Measuring someone's "reading level" isn't like measuring their height or their weight. 

You can measure someone's height with something resembling perfect accuracy. Measuring the grade level at which a person is able to read simply isn't like that. It involves a much less objective set of assessments.

That said, we wondered if the highlighted statement could be defended as basically accurate. And so, we decided to click Will's link, a link which took us to this August 2 essay at Snopes.

There's little doubt about what the Snopes essay said. The topic was brooked in a Q-and-A format, with Madison Dapcevich starting her presentation like this:

Do More Than Half of Americans Read Below a 6th-Grade Level?

This claim is true, according to a review of the U.S. education system that was conducted in September 2020. Let’s explore.

In essence, Will was simply repeating what Dapcevich had said. (She cited the age range—16 to 74—as she continued.) That led us to wonder if there was any justification for Dapcevich's assertion.

In the next two paragraphs, Dapcevich offers a spectacularly confusing attempt to provide the source for her claim. She offers four separate links in those two paragraphs. Clicking all four links, then clicking additional links within those links, we found ourselves whirled about in a conceptual vortex.

We're not sure we've ever seen a more confounding journalistic presentation. And yet, Will had made his striking statement based upon nothing but apparent faith in the accuracy of the claim in Snopes.

Before the week is done, we may attempt to lead you through the list of Dapcevich's links. For whatever it's worth, we found no place, in any of the reports to which she linked, where evidence was offered in support of the claim which ended up in Will's column.

As we attempted to negotiate the Dapcevich links, we thought of the passage in the Iliad where mighty Achilles is almost swept away by the angry river Scamander. But we never found a way to support the accuracy of her claim.

To be fair, Will is anti-Hawley and anti-Trump. He's also anti-Carlson.

That said, he makes a sweeping claim about adult literacy in this column. For that reason, there's a certain irony involved in the following question: 

Did George Will bother to check the accuracy of his source? 

Similarly, Snopes has long been billed as a major fact-check site. The amazing confusion found in that recent Snopes report leads us to recycle a bit of Plato:

Who will fact-check the nation's fact-checkers? How can we know if they're right?


  1. "If you flip a coin to call a state, you'll get it right half the time!"

    But, dear Bob, that's not the point.

    The "tsunami of viewer rage" is justified because when media clowns call a state, people -- some people -- will not vote, who would've voted otherwise. They feel there's no point. And so that, for all intents and purposes, is election fraud, dear Bob. Comprende? for George Will writing nonsense, he has a contract. He must produce a certain number of word-salads in a year. So, that's what he does. Just like most other columnists. And that's all we need to know.

    1. Mao is unfamiliar with American voting practices, being a Russian troll. Polls are closed at the point that states are called on networks. There are no people still voting. But you go on spreading that big lie, Mao.

    2. I’m glad people are catching on. Mao is a Russian troll.

    3. Putin's getting ripped off. Mao's work is lazy.

  2. Will has been basically unreadable ever since he converted to Islam.

  3. Somerby can be remarkably obtuse when he doesn’t want to believe something, such as that Einstein understood his own theory.

    1. Not only did Einstein understand the theory, he explained it clearly and correctly.

  4. Carter conceding hours too early aside, generally news orgs wait until polls close before calling an election, as was the case with Stirewalt/Fox. This blog is a joke, written by a clown.

    1. Ahh, that explains the circus references today!

  5. It seems to me that Somerby is illustrating Will's point with his own behavior. Will says fewer people are reading and more are getting their info from passive sources such as video, because a large proportion of the population don't have the reading skills.

    Somerby complains that the Snopes (fact-checking) links are too difficult to follow: "Clicking all four links, then clicking additional links within those links, we found ourselves whirled about in a conceptual vortex." He ultimately could not figure out whether Will's statement was supported or not, but he chooses to doubt the experts anyway.

    This is what life is like for those who cannot read well. The level of effort and mental concentration required are a barrier to knowledge. The same sounds true for Somerby, who gave up on understanding the technical literature backing up the Snopes conclusion. This is very similar to Somerby's tendency to give up reading other difficult material, such as Einstein's explanations or walk-throughs of Godel's ideas.

    It sounds to me like Will is correct in his complaint. Somerby demands that the experts behind the Snopes conclusion (which is itself a simplified answer) be accessible to someone untrained, like himself. How do I know he is untrained in reading technical studies on reading? He didn't know about the lack of literacy in the general public -- something that has been in the news for decades, beginning with Why Johnny Can't Read, back in 1955. A teacher should know such things, but Somerby doesn't. But he blames the experts, not his own lack of background to read technical material (having skipped teacher education courses at Harvard in favor of a 6-week Teach for America orientation that told enrollees what is wrong with standard education, but not how to teach).

    George Will doesn't usually get his statistics wrong. Agree with him or not, he has a reputation for being careful. THAT is sufficient reason to accept his numbers instead of Somerby's approach -- let's all throw our hands in the air and concede that knowledge itself is impossible, so we might as well believe nothing at all -- except what conservatives tell us on Fox, because they have better information (Somerby has said).

    If Somerby decides to actually discuss any of those links, I will try to help him out, but I think this is another empty promise about future posts. When it comes to providing any evidence about what is confusing, Somerby will be MIA, because deriding Snopes is easy but providing evidence to back up those criticisms is hard, and Somerby is lazy these days.

  6. "In all honesty, Stirewalt's call of Arizona came remarkably early—and Biden's winning margin turned out to be scarily slim. Maybe Stirewalt knew what he was doing that night, maybe he just got lucky.

    (If you flip a coin to call a state, you'll get it right half the time!)"

    This reflects the conservative view of the calling of Arizona for Biden. Conservatives were outraged, not because the call was early, but because it interfered with Trump's plan to claim victory. The attack on Stirewalt came later, after Trump and his crones dictated the party line on the election being stolen.

    How do we know Stirewalt did the right thing? His call was mirrored by other news reports shortly after. Biden did win Arizona, claims about the closeness of the result nothwithstandng, since that closeness emerged with the counting of mail-in ballots. How close does close have to be for Somerby to call it close? Somerby doesn't say, but he DOES support the conservative indignation with his snark about getting lucky:

    "(If you flip a coin to call a state, you'll get it right half the time!)"

    Calling elections is a technical job and Stirewalt was trained to do it -- he didn't just flip a coin, and he didn't allow partisanship to interfere, which is why he has been maligned on the right -- and by Somerby. This is like claiming that a meteorologist has relied on a coin flip instead of scientific training, and it is grossly unfair to Sirewalt. But more than that, it reveals Somerby's bias and his support for the right's contention that Stirewalt did something wrong, losing the election for Trump, which is part of the big lie. But that's our Somerby!

    1. Slim but robust enough to withstand all those motivated recounts and studies. Not so slim after all. Not slim enough to make Trump’s claims of fraud plausible.

  7. Snopes is approved by the IFCN (International Fact-Checking Network):

    "The International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN) at Poynter was launched in 2015 to bring together the growing community of fact-checkers around the world and advocates of factual information in the global fight against misinformation. We enable fact-checkers through networking, capacity building and collaboration. IFCN promotes the excellence of fact-checking to more than 100 organizations worldwide through advocacy, training and global events. Our team monitors trends in the fact-checking field to offer resources to fact-checkers, contribute to public discourse and provide support for new projects and initiatives that advance accountability in journalism.

    We believe truth and transparency can help people be better informed and equipped to navigate harmful misinformation."

    IFCN conducts reviews of fact-checking sites and evaluates their performance, as it has done with Snopes and recommended that it be approved as a member of the network. Complaints about bias and accuracy are part of that review.

  8. Homer couldn’t read at the sixth-grade level. He couldn’t read at any level. Plato could read, but it’s hard to say at what level. Maybe at Nobel-laureate level.

  9. Kamala Harris is known to be a nightmare in her current position. Apparently she insists the White House staff only serve her fish. But not only that - not just fish, but fish cheeks. She insists on eating fish cheeks ONLY. And those are like less than a 16th of an ounce a piece. So the White House kitchen staff has to kill and gut up to 145 fish for this prima donna EVERY DAY. What's the deal with her?

    1. "What's the deal with her?"
      She's black, so the entire Republican Party thinks she's less human.

    2. Same thing to Republicans.

  10. There is a story in today’s NYTimes about a couple pleading guilty to espionage for trying to sell nuclear submarine secrets to Brazil. So, AC/MA and others who dismiss national security concerns, espionage still happens and it is a crime.

    1. Anon, thanks for the info about the Brazilian spies. Fortunately, it looks like we have evaded the dire consequences of Brazil building a fleet of nuclear submarines.