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USA Today's Partisan Propagandists as “Fact-Checkers:" Pants on Fire

Daniel Funke’s Fact-Checking Fraud

During Joe Biden’s catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, thirteen U.S. service members were among more than ninety killed by a suicide bomber at the Kabul Afghanistan airport on August 26, 2021,(1) constituting the deadliest incident for U.S. forces in the country since 2011. When a ceremony was conducted to honor the fallen service members, President Joe Biden was recorded looking at his watch multiple times. Such conduct is widely understood to be disrespectful and inappropriate. This was also attested by parents of the fallen service members present at the service. 

 

Notwithstanding the clear-cut nature of the evidence, USA Today’s so-called “fact checker” Daniel Funke claimed it wasn’t so.  According to Funke’s original “fact check,” Biden looked at his watch only after the ceremony.  Gold Star family members of fallen service members who attested that Biden had looked at his watch during the ceremony, Funke implied, were lying.(2)

 

Funk’s fake “fact-check” constituted disinformation, suppressing true facts while pushing partisan spin. No credible “fact-checker” could have made Funke’s error to begin with.  Any evidence-based process would have shown that Biden did look at his watch during the ceremony.  Funke presented no evidence to support his claim, nor was it clear what supposedly “rigorous processes” Funke had followed to reach his erroneous conclusion. 

 

Amid a intense backlash to Funke’s false claims, Matt Leo wrote on Twitter:

 

“Father of one of the fallen 13 said he checked his watch multiple times, there is video of multiple watch checks. The father leaned over to his wife and said if that &$!? checks his damn watch one more time.  So there is video and multiple eyewitnesses. Wonder who is correct?”(3)

 

The facts are clear-cut. Biden looked at his watch multiple times during the ceremony for fallen service members. This is documented on video and attested by multiple eyewitnesses. In response to this documentation, there is only one appropriate response for any individual and organization with basic integrity: to acknowledge that Biden did look at his watch multiple times during the ceremony honoring fallen service members. Full stop.

 

Funke wrote on Twitter: 

“New fact check: A viral photo makes it look like President Biden checked his watch during a ceremony honoring U.S. service members killed in Kabul. But that's misleading.”(4)

 

Funke frames the issue not as the documented fact that Joe Biden looking at his watch multiple times during an honor ceremony - instead noting that “a viral photo makes it look like” Biden checked his watch.  Funke’s framing appears intended to cast doubt and delegitimize the facts.  

Funke subsequently issued a “correction” in USA Today.  Yet far from setting the record straight, Funke doubled down on criticism of the factual statement, exposing his role as censor and propagandist freely transgressing principles of ethics and factual integrity to push partisan narratives.  Even after Funke was presented with correct information, he persevered in allegations that the claim was misleading. His USA Today “correction” noted:

 

"Corrections & Clarifications: This story was updated Sept. 2 to note that Biden checked his watch multiple times at the dignified transfer event, including during the ceremony itself. The rating on this claim has been changed from partly false to missing context."(5)

 

Daniel Funke engages in logical fallacies to push partisan spin. He invokes “red herrings” for distraction and “straw men” in an attempt to transform the question into something different.  Funke notes that Biden put his hand over his heart and bowed during the ceremony. Yet such observations do not render Biden’s looking at his watch multiple times to be false or missing context. Anyone familiar with basic logic can readily identify these problems with Funke’s claims.  The message Funke attempts to convey is that Biden looking at his watch multiple times wasn’t a big deal because Biden conveyed respect in other ways. The absurdity of his reasoning is obvious to many. On Twitter, Funke engaged in grandstanding on his fact-checking “standards” and “principles,” even claiming victimhood.

 

Funke’s conduct is that of a partisan censor, and the opposite of credible, principled fact-checking. At first, he denied and attempted to suppress straightforward, proven facts. Then in the face of public outcry, he tagged inconvenient facts as “misleading” unless they carry his preferred spin and accompanying narratives. 

 

Pattern of Bias

What is actually false and misleading? USA Today’s representation that Funke and his colleagues are impartial, credible “fact-checkers” rather than partisan propagandists and opinion writers. Daniel Funke’s debacle is only the latest in USA Today’s weaponization of “fact-checking fraud” to push partisan narratives.  


Just Facts president James Agresti noted that USA today dismissed numerous robust sources documenting multiple factual errors in a politically-motivated writeup by citing the contrary opinion of a cherry-picked partisan “expert.”(6)  Agresti wrote: “The article, written by USA Today’s Chelsey Cox, contains 10 misrepresentations, unsupported claims, half-truths, and outright falsehoods.” After sourcing the contrary evidence, he continued:

 

“Cox describes this stunning array of documented facts with the phrase ‘Agresti argues’ and then rejects all of them in favor of an unsubstantiated claim from a progressive lawyer. That’s not fact checking but propagandizing.”

 

Another of USA Today’s many bizarre “fact-check” fails is its claim that the Trump campaign’s use of the eagle was a “Nazi symbol,” disregarding the eagle’s appearance in US governance, including on the Great Seal of the United States, and as an emblem of nationhood going back to Rome and Charlemagne.(7)  Impartial, objective research and basic fairness are conspicuously absent.

 

Jordan Davidson of The Federalist did not mince words in her piece “USA Today’s Fact Checks Are Actually Corrupt Partisan Spin,” writing that “many of their supposed corrections are actually just regurgitated narratives...often indistinguishable from leftist politicians’ talking points.”(8) USA Today “fact checkers,” Davidson wrote, have acted as apologists doing “damage control” for leftist politicians while taking “the offensive in the partisan battle.”

 

See also: Fact Checking Fraud and Propaganda and the War on Truth.

 

References

1. “What We Know About The 13 U.S. Service Members Killed In The Kabul Airport Attack.” National Public Radio, August 31, 2021. 

https://www.npr.org/2021/08/29/1032044382/what-we-know-about-the-13-u-s-service-members-killed-in-the-kabul-attack 

2. Wulfsohn, Joseph A. "USA Today issues correction on 'fact check' after claiming Biden checked watch 'only after ceremony' at Dover." Fox News, September 3, 2010. https://www.foxnews.com/media/usa-today-correction-fact-check-biden-watch

3. Leo, Matt. Twitter [@TheMattLeo], September 1, 2021. https://twitter.com/TheMattLeo/status/1433215755781300225 

4. Funke, Daniel.  Twitter [@dpfunke], September 1, 2021. https://twitter.com/dpfunke/status/1433134604223930368 

5. Funke, Daniel. “Fact check: Biden honored service members killed in Kabul, checked watch during ceremony.” USA Today, September 1, 2021. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2021/09/01/fact-check-biden-checked-watch-after-ceremony-dover-air-force-base/5663427001/ 

6. Agresti, James D. "USA Today & Facebook Use Slanderous “Fact Check” to Suppress Facts About Illegal Voting By Non-Citizens." Just Facts Daily, November 24, 2020. https://www.justfactsdaily.com/usa-today-facebook-illegal-voting-by-non-citizens 

7. Zanotti, Emily. “FAIL: USA Today Fact Check Claims Trump Campaign Using ‘Nazi’ Symbolism, Faceplants Spectacularly.” Daily Wire, July 13, 2020. https://www.dailywire.com/news/fail-usa-today-fact-check-claims-trump-campaign-using-nazi-symbolism-faceplants-spectacularly

8. Davidson, Jordan. "USA Today’s Fact Checks Are Actually Corrupt Partisan Spin." The Federalist, December 3, 2020. https://thefederalist.com/2020/12/03/usa-todays-fact-checks-are-actually-corrupt-partisan-spin/