Why Resort to Such an Obvious Lie?

I want to preface this post with a caveat about the word "lie." It is often impossible to tell what a person thinks or believes, and as such, it is often impossible to know with certainty when they are lying. Because of this, I am normally hesitant to accuse people of lying. However, the individual discussed in today's post is quick to use extreme rhetoric, such as accusing people of fraudulent work, based upon very little. Given that, I will be ignoring the nuances of what exactly constitutes a "lie."

I have been a frequent critic of the modern movement of "fact checkers" due to my belief that movement often consists of punditry rather than genuine fact checking. I am hardly the only person to hold this belief. Concerns of bias in fact checking organizations have been raised by plenty of people, and I've seen people make good cases on many occasions.

However, I've also seen many people make bad cases. Some people believe it is best to ignore faulty arguments which support a "cause" as internal dispute detracts from the strength of the movement. I've never believed that. Nietzsche once wrote, "The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments." I believe that to be true. I believe even if one doesn't make the arguments themself, allowing bad arguments to promulgate can only hurt one's efforts.

Given that, I'd like to take some time today to demonstrate a person criticizing "fact checkers" of bias and other things is a liar. And perhaps even worse, he is an incompetent liar.

The person in question is José Duarte, author of this article titled, "A surprising look at the AP 'Fact Check.'” The article is lengthy and says many things so I won't attempt to address it in its entirety. Instead, I'll focus on a single, simple issue I discussed on June 18th when I first came across the article (the article itself was published January 18th). As I said at the time:

I’m way late on coming across this article, and given that I don’t see much point in responding in any detail. However, for the sake of posterity, I want to point out accusations of gross bias tend not to work too well when you start with claims which are not just false, but wildly false. The first example this piece offers of what the AP does/did quotes part of an article then says:

“This is odd. Trump was talking about CFPB’s impact on financial institutions — presumably those institutions that have tangled with it (see below). AP responds with various aggregate statistics for the banking sector. They’ve gone off on a tangent that has nothing to do with Trump’s claim. In fact, in their entire 216-word write-up, they never mention the CFPB at all. It’s as though they didn’t even Google it, and might not have any idea what Trump was talking about.”

This is a seemingly damning claim to anyone who doesn’t bother to check its veracity. To one who does, it is a seemingly deranged claim. The AP article in question begins with two paragraphs which were excluded by the author of this piece for some inexplicable reason even though included in them was, “Trump’s weekend tweet was aimed against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau….”

It is quite easy to say an article never mentions something if you’re willing to close your eyes and pretend parts of the article don’t exist. It seems like quite an effective method for informing people of bias, your own.

To go over things, President Trump posted a tweet which said:

“The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, has been a total disaster as run by the previous Administrations pick. Financial Institutions have been devastated and unable to properly serve the public. We will bring it back to life!

The Associated Press (AP) published an article which began:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — President Donald Trump’s accusation that a federal watchdog has devastated the financial industry is unsupported by the evidence that banks like best: profits.

Trump’s weekend tweet was aimed against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, little known by most people until it became the center of a struggle over who’s in charge — a Trump-named acting director or a deputy who was given the same title by a departing chief from the Obama era.

After these two paragraphs on on the AP web site, there is a bit of ad space. The article then continues:

TRUMP’s tweet: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or CFPB, has been a total disaster as run by the previous Administrations pick. Financial Institutions have been devastated and unable to properly serve the public. We will bring it back to life!”

THE FACTS: The sector is far from devastated.

Federally insured commercial banks and savings institutions reported more than 5 percent growth in the third quarter from a year earlier. Of more than 5,700 institutions reporting, more than two-thirds (67 percent) had year-over-year growth in quarterly earnings. The proportion of unprofitable banks fell. Quarterly net earnings also were up in the second quarter.

A screenshot showing this can be found here. Duarte saw this article and decided to include it as an example of wrongdoing by the AP. To do so, he quoted the three paragraphs following the ad space but not the two preceding the ad space then said:

This is odd. Trump was talking about CFPB’s impact on financial institutions — presumably those institutions that have tangled with it (see below). AP responds with various aggregate statistics for the banking sector. They’ve gone off on a tangent that has nothing to do with Trump’s claim. In fact, in their entire 216-word write-up, they never mention the CFPB at all. It’s as though they didn’t even Google it, and might not have any idea what Trump was talking about. As a result, there is no fact-check here — AP’s points don’t collide with Trump’s claim at all.

This claim is a fabrication. The only basis for it is Duarte didn't actually read the article he condemned, instead skipping the first two paragraphs. My presumption is he somehow got confused by the ad space and thought the article didn't start until after it. That's an understandable mistake for a reader casually browsing the internet, but it is a baffling mistake for a researcher claiming to demonstrate bias in a "fact checking" organization.

The day after I pointed this mistake out (June 12th), Duarte compounded his error by fabricating events that never happened, saying:

Brandon, they added that after I published my report. AP made a number of changes to the piece after I exposed them, including “Critics of the bureau say it is overbearing.”

They also include token links to their “fact checks” now after I called them out for never linking to sources.

Assume that I’m rigorous. I usually am.

That last imperative remark is amusing and rather telling, but the important part of this response is it is simply made up. Undisclosed changes like Duarte describes do happen in some publications. It is something I have been highly critical of in the past. However, such accusations do require evidence. They can't be based solely upon a single person's arrogance as this one is. The reason for this is it is typically impossible to prove things were not secretly changed so a person could make this sort of accusation about anything.

Fortunately, it is not always impossible to prove such accusations false. In this case, such proof is easy to come by. The same day Duarte posted his claims of secret changes (again, June 12th), I wrote:

José, according to this piece, you read that article on November 30th. The AP article was archived by the Wayback Machine on November 30th, an archive which shows the article beginning:

“COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — President Donald Trump’s accusation that a federal watchdog has devastated the financial industry is unsupported by the evidence that banks like best: profits.

Trump’s weekend tweet was aimed against the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, little known by most people until it became the center of a struggle over who’s in charge — a Trump-named acting director or a deputy who was given the same title by a departing chief from the Obama era.”

For your claim that they changed the article only after you “exposed” them to be true, we would have to believe you read the article on November 30th, “exposed” them that day and they altered the article in almost no time in order to add a simple, standard introduction to the article, including a location an AP tag that is routinely included in AP articles (but was not included in your version). Then, a month and a half later you chose to write about the article in this piece either without bothering to re-visit the article (at which point you would have seen the change) or without bothering to inform readers you were quoting a then out-dated version of the article which hadn’t been online for a month and a half.

Quite frankly, I find that to be unbelievable. Even if it were true, it would still show either a lack of basic rigor on your part (because you didn’t re-visit the article at any point) or outright dishonesty (as you didn’t bother to alert readers to the change). I don’t believe either to be true. I believe you missed part of the article when you first read it and have somehow formed the belief the article was changed because of you even though it was actually never changed.

Regardless of whether or not I am right about what happened, the facts make it undeniably clear the article has been the exact same as it is now since at least November 30th. This piece by you did not go up until mid-January. My criticism is entirely appropriate.

And that, is how rigor is done.

This response was facetious in its attempt to humor any possibility Duarte's claim was anything other than a blatant fabrication. The reality is an archived version of the article Duarte criticized was readily available to anyone who worried there may have been secret changes like Duarte claimed. That archived version is identicial to the one currently online. Given the archived version was made more than a month before Duarte criticized the article, it's clear Duarte just made up a story about secret changes in order to pretend he was not at fault.

Put simply, an article was published. Duarte failed to read the first two paragraphs of it, making an accusation about the article which was clearly proven false in the two paragraphs he overlooked. When the existence of those two paragraphs was pointed out to him, he fabricated a story about secret changes made to discredit him rather than just admit his mistake.

Since Duarte never responded to me on this matter again, I didn't give it any further thought. Someone spreading fabricated stories online is hardly remarkable. However, today I happened to see a tweet by Duarte:

I decided to click on the link he provided to see if it was to the the same article by Duarte I had criticized before. If it was, I was going to make a snarky response. However, when I clicked on the link and skimmed the article, I saw this had been added to it:

UPDATE (June 27, 2018): After I published this report, AP Fact Check silently altered some of its articles in ways that would eliminate some of my critiques. If you find that what I say about a particular article is no longer true of that article, it’s because AP changed it. They don’t notify readers of their changes, and as before there’s no way to comment or to contact the political activists who write their articles.

June 27th was two weeks after I pointed out Duarte's initial error. It was two weeks after Duarte responded to me with his fabricated story. It was two weeks after I demonstrated his story was entirely made up. During those two weeks, Duarte never said a word to me or addressed the evidence I presented showing his story was a fabrication. When Duarte did make this update, he didn't inform me of it or make any effort to address the evidence I provided which showed his story was false.

Why would Duate do this? How could he possibly have believed his story about secret changes when he had no evidence for it? How could he believe the story when the slightest effort put into verifying it would prove the story false? How could he continue to believe it when presented clear and conclusive evidence proving it false? That seems impossible.

Now, maybe someone could make an argument Duarte is just so arrogant and close-minded he can't behave in a manner we'd expect from any normal human being. Maybe someone could make an argument Duarte is just so lazy or stupid he can't behave in a manner we'd expect from any competent researcher. Maybe a person could come up with some other outlandish explanation for Duarte's behavior, perhaps involving a conspiracy where archived versions of an article were secretly changed solely to discred him.

But let's be realistic here. Duarte lied. The only question is, why did he resort to such an obvious lie?

2 comments

  1. How could he possibly have believed his story about secret changes when he had no evidence for it? How could he believe the story when the slightest effort put into verifying it would prove the story false? How could he continue to believe it when presented clear and conclusive evidence proving it false?

    (1) motivated reasoning

    (2) motivated reasoning.

    (3) didn't read your response.

    Maybe someone could make an argument Duarte is just so lazy or stupid he can't behave in a manner we'd expect from any competent researcher.

    I'm not sure that lazy or stupid are the only possibilities. Vulnerable to bias is another possibility. And we're all vulnerable to biases.

    Usually people don't lie when proving that more is a very easy thing to do - unless they're just a pathological liar with a deliberate strategy of leveraging lies (like Trump).

    Perhaps he felt absolutely certain that he didn't miss the first two paragraphs, and so felt no need to check on the matter?

    The question that would remain is what would explain his failure to read your response.

    In which case what becomes most problematic is his recommendation to assume rigor on his part.

  2. Joshua:

    I'm not sure that lazy or stupid are the only possibilities.

    Nor was I. That's why the sentence immediately following what you quoted began:

    Maybe a person could come up with some other outlandish explanation...

    I accept the descriptors lazy, close-minded, arrogant and stupid may not wholly (or even in part) explain Duarte's behavior. However, I think if an explanation doesn't center on those, it's going to need to be fairly outlandish. The total sequence of events is too extreme for anything else. Especially with his remarks like the one you refer to, that I should assume rigor in his work.

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