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Fact-checking has always been a rigged game, particularly after social media platforms began using it to decide what content was verboten.
Most mainstream media outlets have been fine with this for reasons that might be obvious to the casual observer.
Some controversy was recently created when a fact-checker affiliated with conservative website The Daily Caller was allowed to do official fact-checking for Facebook. This requires the fact-checker to meet certain criteria, however — criteria which, blessedly for them, CNN doesn’t have to meet to post its own so-called fact-based takes on the news of the day.
They’re the network, in case you missed it, that took President Donald Trump to task for his claim that the United States had done more coronavirus testing than South Korea.
“Just reported that the United States has done far more ‘testing’ than any other nation, by far! In fact, over an eight day span, the United States now does more testing than what South Korea (which has been a very successful tester) does over an eight week span,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Just reported that the United States has done far more “testing” than any other nation, by far! In fact, over an eight day span, the United States now does more testing than what South Korea (which has been a very successful tester) does over an eight week span. Great job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2020
On Tuesday, he’d said something similar during a town hall-style meeting broadcast on Fox News: “We now have 370,000 tests that have been done. The majority of those — over 220,000 in the last eight days, which, those of you who have been tracking the South Korea numbers, put us equivalent to what they did in eight weeks that we did in eight days,” he said.
CNN had an issue with this declaration:
Fact check: President Trump says the US had done more coronavirus testing than any other nation.
While the US has overtaken South Korea in total numbers of coronavirus tests administered, it has conducted far fewer tests per capita. https://t.co/UqqVCFaTSJ
— CNN (@CNN) March 26, 2020
Former CIA analyst (and current conservative radio host) Buck Sexton didn’t quite see how this added up.
“A ‘fact check’ in which CNN changes the fact being checked in order to take a cheap shot at a Trump,” Sexton tweeted Thursday.
“He said ‘more,’ not ‘more per capita.’ He’s right. Stop being the worst, CNN.”
A “fact check” in which CNN changes the fact being checked in order to take a cheap shot at a Trump
He said “more,” not “more per capita.” He’s right.
Stop being the worst, CNN. https://t.co/JMuBWHBrVZ
— Buck Sexton (@BuckSexton) March 26, 2020
But wait! According to CNN, when epidemiologists talk about tests, they don’t usually talk about “more,” just “more” per capita!
“I think the important clarification is that we should be considering the number of cases per 1 million population and considering a rate of people tested and not the absolute numbers,” Jennifer Horney, who founded the University of Delaware’s epidemiology program, said.
“The absolute number of tests is not very meaningful.”
Trump isn’t an epidemiologist, however, and the fact remains that he was relatively unambiguous about what he meant.
Furthermore, this was also more about the fact that the United States had caught up somewhat on testing after a shaky beginning.
And the fact that the United States had indeed administered more total tests wasn’t in dispute.
Although, please, let’s let CNN dispute it:
“As of Wednesday, South Korea, which has a population of 51 million, had conducted 357,896 tests, based on reports from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the fact-check article read.
“Comparatively, the United States, with a population of 329 million, had administered at least 418,810 tests, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a group led by Alexis Madrigal, a staff writer for The Atlantic magazine, with more than 100 volunteers that compiles coronavirus testing data from state government websites and government officials.
“But because, as the Kaiser Family Foundation reported, several states are not reporting the numbers of negative test results or pending tests, it’s hard to get a complete count of how many people have been tested for coronavirus in the US,” it continued.
“Based on the available data and the population of each country, 1 in 142 South Koreans and 1 in every 786 Americans have been tested for the coronavirus.”
Again, this is all very informative, but it only works if Donald Trump said otherwise, which he didn’t.
This isn’t checking a fact.
This is CNN saying they didn’t like the context around a truth — which therefore became lie-like.