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How America’s fact-checkers became Biden’s Pravda

Snopes has been caught trying to cover-up for the president’s latest gaffe.

Thomas Osborne

Topics Politics USA

Last week, the hapless Joe Biden made yet another gaffe. While rubbing shoulders with construction workers in Superior, Wisconsin, the US president was pictured wearing his hard hat backwards.

This wasn’t the best look for the man who calls himself ‘Scranton Joe’, and who likes to portray himself as a president with blue-collar roots. Still, this awkward faux pas wouldn’t have been especially newsworthy were it not for the reaction from so-called fact-checkers.

The website Snopes – which proudly describes itself as ‘the internet’s definitive fact-checking source’ – described reports that Biden had worn his hard hat backwards as ‘false’. To do so, it had to employ an Olympics-worthy display of mental gymnastics.

‘The photo is genuine. And it does look, at first glance, like Biden was wearing that hard hat backwards’, Snopes said. ‘But after comparing it to other photos and videos of the same event, we were forced to reach the opposite conclusion: the hat on Biden’s head was facing forward, bill to the front, not backward.’

Citing Cooper Safety Supply’s ‘Hard Hat FAQ’, Snopes claimed the hat only appeared to be on backwards. While Biden might have looked odd to non-experts, Snopes insisted that he was wearing the hat correctly all along. Our lying eyes had simply deceived us.

After a barrage of complaints, Snopes reversed its ‘false’ rating barely a day later. ‘It’s actually true that… Biden was wearing it backwards’, it clarified. ‘The strap and tightening knob, which should have been behind Biden’s head, were on his forehead.’ Which was precisely what most internet users were mocking Biden for in the first place.

While the case of the backwards hard hat may be trivial in the grand scheme of things, Snopes’ willingness to dissemble on the president’s behalf speaks to a broader problem for journalism and ‘fact-checking’ in the Biden era.

Tellingly, around the time of Biden’s inauguration in 2021, the Washington Post announced that it was closing its presidential fact-checking database. Similarly, Markos Moulitsas, co-founder of Vox Media, declared how ‘weird’ it was ‘not having to fact-check a presidential speech’ as Biden was being sworn in. After the turbulence of the Trump years, and with a supposedly safe pair of hands in the White House, there would apparently be no need to check if the new president’s claims were true.

Those who pose as ‘fact-checkers’ today are often less interested in establishing the truth than in enforcing a particular narrative – or defending a particular politician. Indeed, as the Snopes hard-hat debacle shows us, much of the fact-checking media has turned into Joe Biden’s very own Pravda.

Who will fact-check the fact-checkers?

Thomas Osborne is an intern at spiked.

Picture by: X.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics USA

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