I suppose it’s the prerogative of opinion writers to twist the facts to advance their narratives, but that’s not what fact-checkers are supposed to do.
Fact-checking the fact-checkers ought to be a full-time job. It never ceases to amaze and appall how these pretend nonpartisans can take entirely true statements that threaten the mainstream media’s narrative and twist them so far as to make them appear false.
Over the weekend, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gave “three Pinocchios” to an assertion President Trump made during his speech last week about the presidential election, based on a report published by my think tank, the Crime Prevention Research Center. Trump said:
Most Americans would be shocked to learn no state in the country verifies citizenship as a condition for voting in federal elections. This is a national disgrace. No other advanced country conducts elections this way.
Many European countries have instituted major restrictions on mail-in voting specifically because they recognize the nearly unlimited potential for fraud. Out of 42 European nations, all but two prohibit absentee ballots entirely for people who reside inside the country, or else they require those who need absentee ballots to show a very, very powerful ID.
Every statement above is true, but Kessler managed to twist it into enough knots to make it sound false.
The first thing he did was cut off the first two sentences to make it appear that Trump prefaced his remarks on mail-in voting with the claim that no other advanced country conducts elections in a similar way. This would obviously be a false statement, and Trump’s speechwriters would indeed have been foolish to say that “no” advanced country conducts elections in this way, only to admit two sentences later that two European countries do.
The core statement that, out of 42 European countries all but two either prohibit absentee ballots entirely or require ID for absentee voters, is also entirely true. To pretend to debunk it, Kessler first points out that eight European countries allow all citizens to vote absentee. If Trump’s full statement had been “only two European nations allow absentee voting,” then Kessler’s fact-check would make sense. That wasn’t the end of Trump’s statement, however. The president then said, “or else require those who need absentee ballots to show a very, very powerful ID.”
Kessler even admits that “[i]n most cases, some sort of identification is required,” but he pretends not to understand the point the president was making, saying, “We have no idea what Trump means by the need to show a ‘very, very powerful ID.’” Kessler then admits he knows what Trump means: Many European nations have national ID cards, which in all but two cases are required for absentee voting.
Kessler argues that even though these countries do require ID to receive absentee ballots, national ID cards are not a perfect analog to America’s largely state-based ID system. Therefore, three Pinocchios!
It really is astonishing. Every statement Trump made was true. The overall thrust of the president’s message was also true: The United States conducts its elections in a far less secure manner than almost any other advanced nation. We truly are an outlier.
Regardless of what comes of the various legal challenges in play, the American people deserve to know this. If Americans want to have more confidence in the results of our elections, we could change the processes to make our elections more secure. That’s what France did when it banned mail-in voting after realizing the tremendous potential for fraud in 1975, after witnessing massive fraud in Corsica.
For Americans to make an informed decision, however, they should be equipped with the facts about how our system stacks up against those of other major developed nations. Trump tried speaking about this directly to the American people to present the facts to them, and then the fact-checkers twisted his words to make it seem like he was lying — all in the service of maintaining the narrative that what we do here is perfectly normal and standard.
It is also troubling how social media uses fact-checks from sources such as Kessler at the Washington Post to censor facts they don’t want others to hear.
I suppose it’s the prerogative of opinion writers to twist the facts to defend or advance their preferred narratives, but that’s not what fact-checkers are supposed to do. Unfortunately, as Kessler’s “fact-check” reveals, there really isn’t much difference between the two these days.