The Original Fact Checker: How To Know What’s True

With Glenn Kessler - Editor and Chief Writer of The Washington Post's 'Fact Checker'

Episode description:


Finding your way to the truth is the informal job of the 21st-century citizen. All of us. Unless you want to be manipulated, you need some check on the claims you hear uttered by powerful people or repeated, innocently or not, by others.

For a few thousand people in this era, correcting the record is a profession, even a calling, and today’s guest was one of the first and maybe its most famous practitioner.  He’s Glenn Kessler, better known as the creator of the Washingon Post’s Fact Checker column, and maybe even better known for his Pinocchio rating of truth or falsehood.

Glenn’s a veteran journalist who got into fact checking during what now seem the innocent 1990s. The need for his work—and for that of hundreds of fact-checking organizations that sprung up in his wake—has only become more urgent in the age of social media and AI.

Glenn and Eric discuss the nature of factuality, how he and his team choose which claims to chase down, the factuality of popular memes like Joe Biden’s supposed corruption, and the particular falsehoods most repeated by both current US Presidential candidates. The day we spoke, Glenn was investigating a video released by the Republican National Committee that had been misleadingly edited to appear to show President Joe Biden wandering away from a G-7 meeting. Glenn gave that Four Pinocchio’s…





Eric Schurenberg (00:01.454)
Glenn, welcome to In Reality.

Glenn Kessler (00:03.808)
Glad to be with you.

Eric Schurenberg (00:05.486)
You know, you and I have known each other for years, but this is the first time you’ve been on the podcast and the major oversight on my part. One thing I noticed when I looked up your LinkedIn profile, which I do for all our guests, is the kind of string of tributes to you and to the fact checker for having told the truth about some issues that mattered a lot to the poster, like the truth about the causes of autism or… truth about the role of tax policy in closing the deficit and so on. You are kind of famous. How did you get on this particular beat?

Glenn Kessler (00:48.192)
You know, it was a request of my editors. I mean, at the time I was covering the State Department, and before that I covered politics. And before I came to the Post, when I was at Newsday, I was covering the 1996 presidential election, and I got a little irritated with the fact that…

Glenn Kessler (01:18.016)
Clinton or Dole, Robert Dole, would be saying things that were false and I would conclude a paragraph in my story and say, this was false. And it would often be cut for space. So I convinced the editors to give me a platform before the very first debate between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole to say, here’s what they’re saying on the campaign trail. You’re probably going to hear it in the debate and here’s why it is like false or misleading.

Eric Schurenberg (01:27.886)

Glenn Kessler (01:46.784)
And it was a huge hit. And so when I came to the Post, I kind of did a similar thing for the debates between Bush and Gore. And it evolved into one of my colleagues doing like a briefly during the 2008 election, creating something called the fact checker with Pinocchio’s. But that was just a temporary thing. And then they came to me and said,

Eric Schurenberg (02:10.574)

Glenn Kessler (02:16.224)
Could you take, when I was covering the State Department, could you take this on full time and make it a Washington Post brand? That sort of.

Eric Schurenberg (02:24.558)
Well, the Pinocchios are now famous and a very entertaining way to sort of end a long and involved fact check. And people can learn about what the meaning of the Pinocchios by checking your column at the post. Now, a funny thing about the overlap in our careers, I started my career as a fact checker at Time, Inc. But in those days, the job was just to make sure that writers got their facts right before a story went to press.

And now the modern understanding of the term is that people like you and your colleagues check claims after they’ve been let loose in the world. This is now, I think it’s fair to say, a global phenomenon. There are international fact -checking organizations. Is it fair to say that you helped launch this new meaning of the term?

Glenn Kessler (03:17.248)
Yeah, I guess I’ll take credit for that. When I started, there were only four or five organizations around the world that did something like this. It’s now about 400. And I was, you know, we meet every year in a different city around the globe. And I went to the very first meeting when it was only about 20 organizations meeting in a classroom at the London School of Economics. And now, later in June, we are going to… meet in Sarajevo and there are probably going to be 500 people there. We met in Seoul last year and there were 500, 600 people there. So it’s become a big deal. Oddly, the more fact checking has grown, the more overwhelming the world has come with false and misleading claims. So I don’t know if we’re necessarily helping stamp this stuff out.

Eric Schurenberg (04:22.926)
Well, you’re meeting a growing need. Now, I would, I think, I’d like to take a sort of detour into, or not maybe a detour, but dive a little bit deeper into the epistemology of what you do. After all, before you can say something is false, you have to believe that something else is true.

And that raises some philosophical questions about how we in this culture decide what is true. At the most chaotic end of the epistemological spectrum is a claim that everyone is entitled to their own truth based on their experiences or beliefs. And I’m assuming that that’s not a belief that you hold. But for those of us, including me, who believe that there is such a thing as objective truth, you have to reckon with…

…what that is and with the changing nature of facts, for example, how it used to be factual that, say, the COVID virus originated in a wet market in Wuhan, China, and now that one -time fact is in dispute. What do you see, Glenn? What do you have to see before you can be confident that a claim is true?

Glenn Kessler (05:40.224)
Well, I mean, just to look at a few things. I mean, you used Wuhan market. I mean, I would not have said that’s a fact. That was a, you know, I wouldn’t say it was speculation, but that was put forward as a likely explanation. And we actually did a,

Eric Schurenberg (05:55.438)

Glenn Kessler (06:09.952)
very extensive video at the time at the fact checker, we’d got something like two or three million views explaining, laying out the evidence that supported that, but also the things that raised all sorts of questions that might put that into doubt. And it was one of those things where you could say on balance, it supports the wet market, but we never said, this is a fact. We just said the other thing is less likely.

Eric Schurenberg (06:26.254)
Hmm. Hmm.

Glenn Kessler (06:39.328)
There’s more. And now, you know, I always say a fact check is never done. We can revise and change things based on new evidence. And so what has happened since then is that there have been other pieces of information that make the wet market somewhat less likely. But it doesn’t necessarily support that it came from a lab. I mean, the big issue is that we just don’t we just don’t know. And, you know, but those aren’t what I would call facts.

And the other, you know, one of the other issues that I face constantly is that people are more likely to respond to things that confirm what they already believe. So, and this is a problem with fact checks reaching people. If we, you know, if we say something about Donald Trump,

Eric Schurenberg (07:25.166)
Mm -hmm.

Glenn Kessler (07:38.656)
And it’s someone who loves Donald Trump, Regents, they’re probably, it’s not going to make much of an impact on them. It doesn’t confirm what they already believe. And in fact, part of Trump’s secret sauce was that before he first ran for president, he listened very extensively to right -wing radio, heard what people were saying there, such as millions of immigrants are flooding across the border. And then he went out and repeated it.

And those people said, my goodness, there’s finally a politician who’s saying the truth. Cause he was saying what they already believed. It was a more normal mainstream Republican at the time would not have used that kind of language and made those kinds of assertions. So, you know, that’s the, there’s a, there’s a really great study that was done where people were asked…

…questions about the effectiveness of a cold cream. They were given data. And if, depending on how it was presented, if you were good at math, you would interpret the data correctly. If you were bad at math, you would interpret the data incorrectly. Then they took the same group and they gave them data that it was fake, but purportedly showed things like that, you know, if you had more guns, elementary schools were safer, or the opposite thing on climate change. And it turned out that the people that were really good at math and could identify how to read the chart for the cold cream, when they saw the data that gave them information that conflicted with what they already believed, the people that were good at math would misinterpret the data so that it fit what they thought was the truth. So.

These are the kinds of things that I struggle with all the time as someone who tries to tell people what the truth is. And it’s often not, it falls on unreceptive ears.

Eric Schurenberg (09:45.358)
No, that is that’s really interesting. What when you do change minds when you are successful at changing minds, what happens? What does what does it take for facts to change, get people off settled beliefs, if that’s possible?

Glenn Kessler (10:04.16)
Well, a lot of it depends, it’s not me, it depends on the person and that person having an open mind. And I’ve had people that written to me, you know, was it, you’re just a left -wing hack or you’re a right -wing loony. Cause they read something that they disagreed with. And I will, I usually go back and say, read me for a month and read, you know, don’t just look at this one fact check, look at a whole month of fact checks and then determine whether or not I’m fair -minded. And usually to come back and say, you know, you were right. You actually are very disfascinated about this and you let the facts lead you where they may. But they have to be open -minded.

Eric Schurenberg (10:39.406)

Eric Schurenberg (10:51.63)
What Glenn, let’s go back. Yeah, okay, good. So it really depends on the mind that’s changing even less than the evidence that might change it. Let me go back to the example that I raised and that you clarified around the wet market and the origin of the COVID virus. In that case, I mistakenly called the…

…the kind of popular belief of fact you corrected me. What would it take for you to identify something as a fact? That clearly was more in dispute than I was aware. But for you to come down and award someone for Pinocchio, say, for a claim, you must be pretty confident. What are the things that give you that kind of confidence?

Glenn Kessler (11:47.2)
Well, usually it involves a number. I mean, those are the best kinds of fact checks. So, you know, a recent example this week, Donald Trump had said that 88 ,000 children were missing. They’d come across the border and 88 ,000 children were missing. And many of them were probably dead.

This was a horrible scandal, sort of like a Holocaust. And then he said, if it were me, can you imagine what they say about this? So this is a really interesting thing. So the 88 ,000 comes actually from a New York Times article, an article, a really great article that won, was part of a Pulitzer Prize winning series about how so many unaccompanied children were coming across the border and they were being

Basically, places sponsors were putting them at the sweatshop conditions and they wouldn’t be able to go to school and things like that. It was powerful, powerful stuff. And in there it had a statistic about how 80, it was not 88 ,000, it was 85 ,000. 85 children over two years could not be reached by the government. Okay, well, so that’s different than lost.

Eric Schurenberg (13:04.75)
Mm -hmm.

Glenn Kessler (13:12.064)
And it’s, you know, and the government, you know, as a matter of protocol, when it places kids with sponsors, is supposed to check after 30 days and make sure everything’s okay. But it’s not a requirement for the government to do this. And it’s not a requirement for the sponsor or the kids to answer. And some of these sponsors are actually here, not in the country legally, and they’re maybe reluctant to talk to a government official.

And the times decided that they would use a metric where, you know, whether the child had been reached. Sometimes they reached the sponsor, but they’re supposed to reach both the sponsor and the child. And the time since they were writing about how these sponsors were mistreating kids, felt it was more appropriate to just focus on the kids.

because the sponsor might be lying, could say they’re in school when they’re actually packing boxes of Cheerios, which is one of the examples they had in the story. So it’s a real number and it says something that’s important, but Trump turned it into 88 ,000 children are missing and they’re probably dead, which on the face of it was ridiculous because the New York Times actually interviewed dozens of these kids for their series. And, you know…

Eric Schurenberg (14:20.366)
Hmm. Mm -hmm.

Glenn Kessler (14:41.952)
…And then on top of that, Trump did say, if it were me, can you imagine what they’d say? And he actually had a point because when Trump was president, there was a similar statistic, similar thing. And that was where they couldn’t reach kids or their sponsors over a three month period. And the number was 1500. And Democrats started a whole like Twitter campaign where hashtag where are the children? And it was an outrage that Trump had lost 1500 kids. So just, it’s just an example of how this data can be weaponized and misleading. What I’m trying to do is lay out the, you know, here’s what’s really behind this number. Here’s how these politicians are misleading it. In this case, I said that Trump’s rhetoric, you know, they were probably dead, was worthy of four Pinocchios, but I gave them three Pinocchios for the overall statement because it was actually based on a number that was in the New York Times, which for Trump is somewhat unusual. But he usually takes these things and just hypes it up out of, you know, into outer space.

Eric Schurenberg (15:55.65)
Just to ask you to demonstrate your even handedness, are there favorite exaggerated claims that are made by Joe Biden on the campaign trail?

Glenn Kessler (16:08.48)
Well, he often says that he proudly says that he reduced the deficits, you know, the biggest reduction in deficit, federal budget deficit in history, which is a complete joke. Yeah, that is based on, you know, there’s an entity here in Washington called the Congressional Budget Office, which produces estimates of what the deficit will be. And they had predicted the deficit would decline greatly because COVID spending would end.

You know, it went up because of COVID and went down. So Biden comes in and he actually passes all sorts of programs that are, you know, increased to federal budgets. You know, and you can argue one way or other, whether they’re good or bad, but you know, he did pass programs that cost money, but because the deficit was supposed to go down, so the deficit was supposed to go down, say like, you know, two and a half trillion dollars. And instead under Biden, because he…

…spent money that wasn’t expected to be spent, the deficit went down only $1 trillion. So Biden says, hey, I reduced the deficits by a trillion dollars, worse than history. But actually, it was supposed to go down 2 .5 trillion. That’s a way that these numbers can be manipulated. Another thing that Biden likes to say is that when he took office, inflation was 9%. I mean, this is a big problem for him, inflation.

Eric Schurenberg (17:24.302)
Ha ha ha.


Glenn Kessler (17:36.64)
And he can make a respectable argument that no matter who was president, because of supply chain issues, the COVID pandemic, inflation was going to spike. And in fact, it spiked around the globe in every industrialized country, in many cases more than the United States. On the margins, you can argue whether Biden needed to do with stimulus packets and whether that added something to the inflation, but it’s really instead of 9%, maybe it would have been 8%. And I’ve always wondered, how would Trump have spun inflation if he had actually been reelected? But Biden likes to say it was 9 % when I took office. Well, actually, when he took office, it was about 1 .5%. It became 9 % a year later, after a year he had been in office. But he’s

Eric Schurenberg (18:35.534)
Mm -hmm.

Glenn Kessler (18:36.096)
trying to say, and this is how his people, that the conditions that were going to lead to 9 % were there when he took office. And that’s probably, you know, most economists would probably agree with that, with the exception of whether he needed to send out more stimulus checks. But in general, the conditions were there. But that’s hard to explain to people. So instead, he likes to say, well, when I became president, it placed first 9%.

Eric Schurenberg (18:59.886)
Mm -hmm.

Glenn Kessler (19:05.984)
No, it was, you know, and then, you know, Biden has so many, you know, Uncle Joe stories, I call them, where he tells these tales and he tells them over and over and over. And I mean, I kind of collect them. And then, you know, every so often I say, here’s the latest collection of Uncle Joe tales from his past or his history that he just routinely exaggerates. I mean, it’s never.

I mean, it’s never as venal or constant as the kind of stuff that Trump says, but it’s there and it’s a big part of Biden’s personality. And it’s why his first presidential campaign many decades ago imploded because he had this tendency to say things that were wrong about his past.

Eric Schurenberg (19:52.878)
Mm -hmm.


Eric Schurenberg (20:00.75)
One of the things I’ve noticed about your column is how often politicians resurface claims that you and others have long ago dismissed as bogus. I assume, for example, that Uncle Joe doesn’t stop telling those stories because you’ve debunked them in the column. And just recently, you had a piece about Marco Rubio elevating some of the previously debunked claims about fraud in the 2020 election. Do you find that frustrating? That…

Politicians sort of ignore the facts once you’ve pointed out the falsehood.

Glenn Kessler (20:33.824)
You know, I don’t write these to change the behavior of politicians. Politicians are going to do what they’re going to do. I write them to inform people what people do with them. I mean, I always say the fact, I feel like the fact checks are like little paper boats that I put on a stream. No idea what happens.

Eric Schurenberg (20:50.222)
You’re familiar with the illusory truth effect, which is a psychological phenomenon that simply repeating a claim makes it seem truthful, regardless of how truthful the claim actually is. And there are a number of persistent falsehoods that have come up around, and some of them are complex many of them have really deep roots. And I just wonder if you could run through a couple of them that where I feel the illusory truth effect is actually working on me. So one of them is the claim that the Hunter Biden laptop revealed corruption that involved Joe Biden.

Glenn Kessler (21:38.56)
Well, I mean, I would say that is mostly false. There’s no, there’s, I mean, I’ve written extensively about this. I actually won a pretty significant journalism award last year for a series of fact checks I did concerning Hunter Biden and allegations concerning him and what detailing what was wrong and right about them. You know,

Eric Schurenberg (21:50.318)
Mm -hmm.

Eric Schurenberg (21:59.31)
Mm -hmm.

Glenn Kessler (22:06.656)
There’s no question that Hunter Biden profited off his father’s position. There’s no question he had a pretty fast and loose life at times, particularly when he was in the grips of addiction. There’s no question that, I mean, you know, I mean, just as he profited off his father’s position for a long time, he’s now suffering the consequences of being the son of the vice president.

Still, it’s kind of chickens have come home the roost. But there was nothing on that laptop or any of the extensive, extensive investigations done by Republicans that showed that Joe Biden in any way benefited from what his son did. I mean, they have strained extensively to try to find a connection and

Eric Schurenberg (22:36.174)
Mm -hmm. Yes. Yeah.

Glenn Kessler (23:06.08)
They can’t find it. I mean, the most, I mean, it’s really a stretching it. Like once Joe Biden loaned his brother some money and when the brother repaid him, the brother had gotten some at the same time or earlier, some money from a Chinese business deal. So therefore, Biden was being paid by China. It’s just ludicrous. And I think the proof in the pudding is that they never went anywhere with an impeachment inquiry.

If Joe Biden were really corrupt, do you think that the Republicans in Congress would have at all hesitated to impeach him? And, you know, and the one thing they kind of ran with extensively last year was this supposed, you know, confidential source that said that Biden and Hunter were paid, you know, multimillion dollar bribes…

…having to do with Ukraine and the prosecutor in Ukraine. That guy’s now been indicted for lying to the FBI for making up the entire story. And I believe me, I’ve extensively reported out the question of Joe Biden and the prosecutor in Ukraine. And, you know, it’s a, it’s a classic example of where black has been turned into white or white has been turned into black. Joe Biden was executing a policy that had beenagreed to at the highest level of the Obama administration, which was that this prosecutor was not pursuing corruption and he needed to be removed. And they decided to use this leverage, an American loan to Ukraine to say to the president, the prosecutor must be removed if you want this loan.

Eric Schurenberg (24:39.79)
Mm -hmm.

Glenn Kessler (24:56.832)
And they’ve turned it into Joe Biden was corruptly getting rid of someone who was investigating the company that his son was part of. When in fact, the problem was the guy was not investigating that company. And that’s why they wanted out. Now, should Joe Biden have said to his son, Hunter, what the hell are you doing? Why are you getting on this company’s board when I am that administration’s point man on Ukraine?

That’s a conversation that probably should have happened. It would have saved a lot of trouble for the Biden family. But, you know, to be generous to Joe Biden, I think it was like, I got this troubled son. He’s having problems. He’s been kicked out of the Navy for cocaine abuse. I want him to succeed and I’m not going to get involved. I don’t know. There was a moment there that, you know, you can’t get into the psyche of the Biden family.

Eric Schurenberg (25:28.206)

Glenn Kessler (25:56.096)
But Hunter, you know, and people forget that when Hunter took that job, there were several very critical stories that appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post saying, this is really crazy that the son of the vice president is joining a prominent company of a country that Joe Biden is the administration’s punk man. It was an issue back then. And, you know,

Eric Schurenberg (26:20.11)
Mm -hmm. That’s it.

Glenn Kessler (26:24.928)
They knew it was an issue and that Joe Biden decided not to get in the way of his son’s career.

Eric Schurenberg (26:31.534)
That is interesting. I did not, I did not realize that. Let me turn to another persistent disputed set of facts. Is there Glenn in your research any truth to claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election among the many different avenues that stop the steal believers pursue, any of them turn up any grain of truth?

Glenn Kessler (27:01.28)
No, it’s all poppycock, crazy stuff. And you have to, you can, you know, I mean, you mentioned the Marco Rubio piece I did recently. I mean, there’s so many of these claims and it’s like running down a rabbit hole to, to, you know, debunk some of these things. I mean, there were certainly…

Eric Schurenberg (27:14.67)
Mm -hmm.

Glenn Kessler (27:29.76)
changes made to make it easier for people to vote during the pandemic. But for instance, you know, one of the cases often cited by the Stop the Steal people is Pennsylvania legislature illegally changed it, the rules. The problem is that was a Republican controlled legislature. You know, it wasn’t like the Democrats were doing this. So, you know, and they can talk about drop boxes and all these, it was just this.

Movie 2000 mules was just been completely and utterly discredited and the distributor no longer distributes it. And yet, you know, several million people saw that movie and it had all these videos, grainy videos of people supposedly manipulating drop boxes, but none of that happened. And, you know, and, you know, and people have sued and they’ve won those suits to say this, I didn’t do anything wrong.

You know, we, I mean, it’s, there were the supposed ballots that were hidden under the desk, you know, in Fulton County, Georgia, counting center. You know, again, if you looked at the videos extensively, you’d see that they were misleadingly cut and, and, and things like that. And, but I mean, the disturbing thing is that because Trump has never given up on us and he says it relentlessly and he, and he,

In his rallies, there’s always a 10 to 15 minute section where he has a blizzard of these completely debunked claims and says it with fervor. You’ll have like 70, 80 % of Republicans believing that the election was stolen. And like really smart people, recently the former head of the Federalist Society did this whole thing where he said…

…you know, finally admitting he just, he didn’t think there was any way Joe Biden could have won the election. And his evidence was the fact that Biden got so many votes in Pennsylvania, more than Barack Obama did. And, and if you just do simple math, I mean, there are many more people in the country than when Barack Obama ran for president. It was also a very high turnout election. We’re like, this is one of the highest turns out turnouts in,

Glenn Kessler (29:53.632)
American history. Of course there would be more votes. And just because you think Joe Biden is an adult old fool doesn’t mean that he couldn’t get more votes than Barack Obama, particularly when there are far more people. I mean, to me, the thing that I always point to when I want to try to discredit this is, okay, you think the Democrats were so devious and so clever that they managed to have a nationwide conspiracy to manipulate the votes in key states across the country, never been exposed how they could do that, but they did it and therefore got more votes for Joe Biden. If they were so good at that.

Why didn’t they also ensure that they retained control of the House of Representatives? How is it that all these House Republicans got more votes than Donald Trump did in their districts? Like, if the Democrats were really that good at manipulating votes, wouldn’t they have also like ensured that Nancy Pelosi could have stayed majority leader? Donald Trump was a very poor candidate in 2020. I mean, he’ve and…

He made all sorts of mistakes during the pandemic and he had a chaotic administration. And that’s why he didn’t win. He just didn’t get the votes to beat the guy that was running against him.

Eric Schurenberg (31:32.078)
People say that elections are determined by emotions. So incumbents win when voters are feeling happy and satisfied with their lives or emotionally in tune with the candidate. And when voters feel the other way, the incumbents lose. But falsehoods can play on people’s emotions too. And are you concerned that there are falsehoods that are now abroad in the land and will sway the election in 2024 or could?

Glenn Kessler (32:01.824)
Well, I mean, yeah, well, I mean, yes. Elections are run on a motion. The United States is very unusual compared to parliamentary democracies that you have in Europe where people are more attuned to saying, I support the government’s program, the party’s program. Like I’m a labor supporter because labor says they’re going to do X, Y, and Z, or I’m this supporter because they, you know, American presidential elections do not run that much on policies as much as personalities. You know, do I feel like I want to have a beer with that guy? Does he connect with me? I mean, that’s why Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were so effective as presidential candidates. And frankly, George W. Bush versus Al Gore. You know, it’s that likability thing.

The problem we have in this election is that no one, according to the polls, particularly likes either guy. They think Trump, many people think Trump is a lunatic. Many people think Joe Biden is not up to the job and is an adult old man. And what you will see in this campaign is both sides trying to emphasize the narrative of hatred against the other candidates. So the Republican National Committee has become very effective at releasing videos that show Biden as an ador -old man. And they manipulated it. There’s one just today. Well, I don’t know when you’re running this, but there was a video just recently where it looked like it was pitched as Joe Biden was wandering off from the G7 leaders.

Like, you know, and it became the cover of the New York Post. Like, why is Biden wandering? If you look at the video, which is what I’m doing today, and you compare, you know, different angles of the video of the camera shot, Biden was going to, they’re just the leaders, world leaders had just seen the bunch of parachuters come down. And Joe Biden alone among the leaders actually went over to talk to one of the parachuters and congratulate him on what they did.

Glenn Kessler (34:25.312)
But it was cut in a way that you didn’t see the parachutists and it looked like just Joe Biden wandering off and having to be dragged back by the Italian prime minister. And it turned into the cover of the New York Post. So that’s a classic example of how it’s going to, video is going to be manipulated. And the Biden people, the Biden campaign is doing similar things with Trump acting like a maniac at his rallies and saying incoherent things. And

Eric Schurenberg (34:39.118)

Glenn Kessler (34:55.328)
which he does, just like Joe Biden kind of looks sometimes older than the 81 years he is. So, you know, in terms of swaying the emotions, you are going to see both sides.

take videos and try to, I always say in Washington, I didn’t say this, someone else said this, but I like to say it. In Washington, a gaffe is when you confirm the truth. And what I often say, what I do say is that such attacks have relevance with people when they confirm what they already believe.

Glenn Kessler (35:38.496)
So if you believe that Joe Biden is an old guy who’s not up to the job, video of him wandering off like he’s an old guy, even if it’s been cut manipulatively, will confirm Biden, right? So that’s how misleading things, particularly the images, are gonna try to sway people in what is gonna be a very…

Glenn Kessler (36:07.648)
Presumably a very close election and it’s going to be decided by people that don’t really pay much attention to politics because it’s going to be so much on the margin and they are more susceptible to being manipulated by those kinds of images because they’re not committed one way or the other to Trump or Biden or Democrats or Republicans and they don’t vote necessarily in every presidential election.

Eric Schurenberg (36:29.486)
Yeah. Yeah.

Eric Schurenberg (36:36.814)
People don’t have the resources that you do as a professional or the time to fact check their newsfeed or the conversations they have around the dining room table. How would you recommend ordinary people fact check what comes across their radar screen?

Glenn Kessler (36:58.048)

I think what I often say to people is, you know, you just have to diversify your social media feeds. And these social media is really pernicious because they have these algorithms that if you start to like a bunch of conservative stuff, you’re going to be hit with a bunch of conservative stuff. If you like liberal stuff, you’re going to get liberal stuff. And that is going to really color.

the view you have and it’s gonna be not really reality. There is no conservative or liberal reality. And we have, as a nation have been sorted into ideological cul -de -sacs and it’s very hard for people to get out of them. And not only we sorted that way on social media, we increasingly sorted that way within the communities and our friend groups. I mean, there’s a, when I, wrote this book about Trump’s false and misleading claims in his first term. I did a lot of research on research on stuff like that. And there was one fact that really amazed me. In the 1960s, most people had no problem if their daughter or son married someone who was from a different political party.

In 1960, it was a bigger deal if you were a white person and they would marry a black person or something like that. When the poll was redone recently, many more people, they had no problem if your white daughter married a black man. But if your daughter who was a Democrat was going to marry a Republican, that was much more significant and vice versa. It was, it was just…

Glenn Kessler (38:56.64)
And so all these, there were all these different things that were problems, like, you know, in terms of someone of a different religion, that was a big deal. And then like, you were Catholic and you didn’t want them to marry a Jew. Now Catholics don’t care if they marry a Jew, but if you’re a Catholic Republican, you don’t want to have them marry a Democrat. So it’s, that says to me volumes about how the country has changed and how so much of people’s politics have become part of their identity. And that again is, you know, part of Trump’s political brilliance is that he has made it part of people’s identity. You are MAGA. You are now part of this group, this club. And being MAGA means, you know, that’s you. And you know what that means. And that’s, that’s as powerful as religion.

It’s as powerful as education. It’s like a, it’s, and it’s, that’s, you know, so anyway, there’s a long winded way of saying that if you want, don’t want to, if you, you as a ordinary person do not want to fall into those traps, you just have to make sure that you are reading everything and not just what confirms what you already believe.

Eric Schurenberg (40:22.99)
That is, that’s good advice. One more question. Previously on In Reality, I’ve interviewed your former boss, Marty Barron, the former editor in chief, who painted a dark picture of what would happen to news media and other sort of First Amendment freedoms in a second Trump administration. Looking ahead to the future, from your point of view, fact checking politicians on both sides and kind of… of understanding in a way that few people do, that their grasp on reality and their fealty to the truth. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Glenn Kessler (41:06.912)
well, as I said, the more we do fact -checking, the bigger the lies spread. I can’t say I’m particularly optimistic. It’s, I mean, we’ll see. But it’s, there are many examples, not just in the United States, of countries that have, I mean, you know, I mean, look at England and Brexit, where, you know, after the fact, turns out the Brexit people had won that election by by…

…issuing a slew of falsehoods and lies and they were all documented. There was an excellent fact checking organization in the UK called Full Fact. They went through and they laid it all out and said that those things you see on the bus sides of buses are wrong and here’s why they’re wrong. It didn’t matter. Fact check one. It’s enormous consequences to the future of the UK. And that’s just another example of where

You know, and there’s this, I forget one of the, I think it was Ben Bradley, one of the former editors of the post who said, a lie makes its way around the world before the truth even gets its pants on. So that’s the battle we constantly face. And it’s easier for people to spread falsehoods these days through social media. So it’s, anyway, I’m not optimistic. We’re doomed.

Eric Schurenberg (42:22.638)

Eric Schurenberg (42:37.614)
All right. Well, Glenn, I appreciate even more the fact that you are playing this very important game of catch -up that you’re covering, because people need that reference point. And later on, when it comes time to decide whether you’ve made the right choice or to believe what you’ve heard, they can always refer to the work that you and your colleagues do. Thank you for doing that, and thank you for joining us on In Reality.

Glenn Kessler (43:05.952)
Okay, you’re welcome.


Created & produced by: Podcast Partners / Published: Jun 18 2024

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