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Thursday, September 20, 2018

Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters.

Facebook, a platform plagued with fake news, is reportedly looking at teaming up with the conservative outlet The Weekly Standard despite its shoddy history on getting facts correct.

Quartz White House correspondent Heather Timmons reported that Facebook plans to enlist The Weekly Standard “as a fact-checking partner, according to several people briefed on talks between the two companies.”

As Media Matters has documented, Facebook has served as a conduit for the flow of fake news stories to spread. The platform has recently faced scrutiny for having such lax advertisement policies that a Russian company was able to buy political ads during the 2016 election. The tech company has partnered with fact-checkers such as Snopes, PolitiFact, and the Poynter Institute to combat its fake news problem (though the implementation of that process has faced numerous problems).

Timmons quoted a source saying the move to bring on The Weekly Standard was an effort to “appease all sides” by adding a conservative outlet to Facebook’s stable of fact-checking partners. The platform’s past attempts to respond to conservative concerns have gone poorly, however. Last year, Facebook fired the human editorial staff responsible for writing summaries for stories in its “Trending” section after they were accused of being biased against conservatives. Shortly thereafter, as The Washington Post noted, Facebook was boosting false information and “trending fake news.”

And The Weekly Standard would hardly suffice as a reliable fact-checking partner given its history. Stephen Hayes, the editor in chief of The Weekly Standard, was a leading misinformer about the Iraq War. He authoreda 2004 book with a glaringly false premise: The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. Reporter Spencer Ackerman wrote of Hayes:

Hayes, in the Standard, has made a career out of pretending Saddam and Al Qaeda were in league to attack the United States. He published a book — tellingly wafer-thin and with large type in its hardcover edition — called “The Connection.” One infamous piece even suggested that Saddam might have aided the 9/11 attack. Hayes can be relied on to provide a farrago of speciousness every time new information emerges refuting his deceptive thesis. Unsurprisingly, Cheney has repeatedly praised Hayes’s work, telling Fox News, “I think Steve Hayes has done an effective job in his article of laying out a lot of those connections.”

William Kristol, the publication’s founder and current editor at large, is also notorious for his disastrous punditry about about the war. He once stated that American and alliance forces would be greeted as “liberators” in Iraq and that “we’ll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq.”

More recently, The Weekly Standard was forced to add an editor’s note to a February piece that attackedRumana Ahmed after she resigned from the National Security Council.  The outlet falsely claimed that Ahmed was a “political appointee in the Obama White House” who was given a “civil service position” right before Obama left office. As The Atlantic noted in response, “Ahmed held a term appointment that was not set to expire until the summer of 2018,” and her type of appointment “‘would not ordinarily be described as a political appointment.’”

The publication itself has expressed skepticism of fact-checking. Senior writer Mark Hemingway wrote in 2012 that he has “serious problems with the very idea of independent media ‘fact checking’ organizations, but compared to their peers, PolitiFact has distinguished themselves as being particularly bad at what they do. Ignoring them, or failing that, constantly reminding people they should be skeptical is a good place to start.”



Header image by Sarah Wasko / Media Matters