ABC Has a Fake News Problem. So Why is it Policing Fake News for Facebook?

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By William Hicks | 9:22 pm, December 18, 2016

Facebook has compiled a crack team of outside fact checkers to police “fake news” shared on the vast social network. Users can flag articles they deem fake and fact check teams from various, supposedly respectable organizations will weigh in on whether to label the piece as untrustworthy.

Ever conscious of its desire not to get involved in journalism, Facebook is relying on these outside groups to be the verifiers of fact versus falsehood. Three of the groups are well-known fact-checking and myth-debunking organizations —  Snopes, Politifact and FactCheck.org. But another key member of the fact-checking team seems an odd choice, at best:  ABC News.

Should Facebook really be turning to ABC to objectively police news on the largest information sharing network on the planet?

ABC News is not particularly well known for their fact checking. Hell, ABC is barely known for their news. They’ve long had a pronounced and well-documented liberal bias, and have been guilty of peddling “fake news” themselves on multiple occasions. They’re even being sued at the moment for $1.2 billion over false claims.

LIBERAL BIAS

During the election many ABC anchors and reporters were clearly in the tank for Hillary Clinton. One of their main personalities, Martha Raddatz, aggressively went after Donald Trump when she co-moderated one of the debates, during which she was so disdainful of his views on Syria she could barely look at him straight. Then on election night when she was co-anchoring ABC’s coverage, Raddatz became teary-eyed and emotional as it became apparent Trump was going to win. Trump himself took her on for this tearful behavior not once, but twice post-election. Raddatz, whose second ex-husband is Barack Obama friend and former FCC chair Julius Genachowski (Obama attended their wedding), has denied she was crying but it really looked that way.

Raddatz’s third and current husband works for NPR. Enough said.

Then there’s ABC’s principal news anchor, George Stephanopoulos, who was the boy wonder of Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and first term — and is close friends with former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel. Stephanopoulos even had to recuse himself from hosting 2016 presidential debates when he got caught giving large amounts of money to the Clinton Foundation in the run-up to Hillary’s second run at the presidency.

And to top it off, there’s The View, which is produced by ABC News. The declining daytime chat show features a revolving door of extremely liberal commentators, occasionally punctuated by a token conservative. And at the same time as they share their liberal opinions daily with millions of Americans, the View panel still insists vociferously that the media isn’t biased. Go figure.

Liberal bias such as this should disqualify an organization like ABC from policing “fake news”. That’s in part because much of the news accused of being fake by the (largely liberal) journalistic establishment has been right-leaning and pro-Trump. It’s inappropriate to let an organization as avowedly left-leaning as ABC police stories — many of which have a conservative bent — for their truthfulness.

ABC ITSELF HAS BROADCAST TOTALLY FAKE NEWS, RECENTLY

When it comes to the “truth” ABC is not the gold standard. In April, ABC’s Nightline did a segment on a couple who supposedly broke up over Trump. Well, it turned out later the whole story was fake and part of a subversive advertising scheme by the website Review Weekly. The couple “breaking up over Trump” were actors, and not very good ones at that. Credulous ABC producers interviewed the couple on camera and actually broadcast the segment. They even spelled the fake woman’s fake name wrong.

The marketing consultant who created the fake couple later told Jezebel that tricking ABC News was really easy:

But otherwise he claims the process of launching a fake person into TV fame was surprisingly easy, even with the picture discrepancy. I asked if anything about it felt unethical, and he said no, pointing out that no one at ABC or Nightline ever asked for ID or any other kind of verification.

“How is it unethical?” he added. “They wanted to interview her about this story that went viral and it was a story. You know what I mean? TV is all made up anyway. Why not join the fun? That’s the state of our reporting in this country.”

When confronted with having broadcast a totally false story, ABC did what it usually does when it gets caught — it quickly tried to kill its story off the web, went under a rock and hoped not many people would notice (they didn’t). But this isn’t the first time ABC has reported an utterly fake story.

In 2011, ABC’s Good Morning America broadcast a much-ballyhooed interview with a California mom who said she gave her 8 year old daughter botox and “waxings”. Well, we later learned (thanks to TMZ) that the mom had been plucked out of the blue by a British tabloid and paid $200 to make the whole thing up. The mom — who gave ABC News a fake name — later told TMZ that ABC offered her $10,000 to retell the story she’d told the tabloid, and never checked the facts.

Upton tells TMZ, GMA — who she claims offered her $10,000 for her story — “didn’t ask me any questions to try to figure out anything” before airing the show last week — adding, they just put her straight on TV.

That notorious segment was the debut for Good Morning America‘s newly minted “lifestyle anchor” Lara Spencer, who had just returned to ABC after a spell at the syndicated entertainment show The Insider. Spencer’s reward for broadcasting a fake story? She’s since been promoted to Good Morning America co-host where she makes millions of dollars a year.

Inexplicably, the botox story is still online at ABCNews.com. Or at least it was when we published this article. Perhaps this could be the first stop for Facebook’s fake news fact checkers.

ABC’s fake news addiction continues. Just last month reporter Linsey Davis was busted for doing a standup in front of a fake crime scene — a yellow piece of crime scene tape that had been strung up purely for the benefit of her Good Morning America liveshot about the (true story) of a woman who’d been held captive in a storage container. ABC’s “vice president of communications” said “This action is completely unacceptable and fails to meet the standards of ABC News”.

ABC DISTORTS STORIES INTO FAKE NEWS AND GETS SUED

Probably ABC’s most egregious affront to the truth came from its breathless reporting on “pink slime,” a nasty term embraced by ABC for lean finely textured beef, an additive in many American beef products. In 2012, months of ABC’s inflammatory and misleading reporting on this “pink slime” (which although gross-sounding, is actually a harmless beef product) led to a drummed up public health scare .

ABC’s reporting caused many food providers, including school cafeterias, to stop using the additive, which caused its largest producer, Beef Products, Inc., to go out of business and lay off lots of people. Now BPI is suing ABC and its star anchor Diane Sawyer for a whopping $1.2 billion claiming ABC made “200 false, misleading and defamatory statements, repeated continuously during a month-long disinformation campaign.” Talk about “fake news” having real world consequences.

The case is expected to go to trial in 2017 in Elk Point, South Dakota where they are building a new courtroom to accommodate the high profile case.

ABC ENGAGES IN “CHECKBOOK JOURNALISM”

ABC is also guilty of the unethical practice of “checkbook journalism” or paying a source for information or interviews, a practice heavily criticized by the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2008 ABC paid accused murderer Casey Anthony $200,000 for exclusive access to photos and pictures (and more importantly for an interview, though Anthony bailed on that part of the deal). Anthony’s defense attorney later thanked ABC for essentially funding her legal defense.

WHY ABC NEWS?

Beyond the liberal bias and ethical issues, ABC News just seems an odd choice for Facebook. Other than its 22 minute evening news program (which broadcast the pink slime story) and Nightline (which broadcast the fake couple), ABC News’ current output is largely infotainment: Good Morning America, The View, and 20/20. ABC long ago outsourced much of its digital news coverage to Yahoo and the number of people who actually do fact checking and off-air reporting of real news is fairly limited. ABC says it’s going to have “a unit of six fact checkers” dedicated to squirreling out fake news. If that’s really the case (a dedicated, six-person unit) that’s a lot of resources for an old-school broadcast news division and we’re curious if such a unit has actually been established.

Perhaps Facebook should have looked somewhere else?

Follow me on Twitter @William__Hicks

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