The Weekly Standard Fact Check

Organization: TWS Fact Check
Applicant: Jonathan V. Last
Assessor: Mark Coddington
Edits made by the organization after this assessment

IFCN Staff wrote:

The Weekly Standard Fact Check’s About Us section links to the full archive of fact checks (the tag section also will be updated alongside an upcoming CMS update)

The explanation of the policy on nonpartisanship required by the TWS Fact Checker was published on the About section, in line with the assessor’s recommendation

In light of edits made by TWS between iterations of the Fact Check product to meet the other criteria (see assessor recommendations), the period of 3 months was considered from launch.


Conclusion and recommendations
on 04-Jun-2018 (6 months ago)

Mark Coddington wrote:

I recommend approval for The Weekly Standard Fact Check with several edits and revisions. The Weekly Standard has made several dramatic revisions and improvements in its apparent overhaul of the Fact Check in November; the initial May-June iteration of the Fact Check did not comply with IFCN standards, but the November revisions improve many of those deficiencies. The Fact Check now appears to be a distinct unit within the organization, and it is clearly identifying, linking to and assessing specific claims, where it had not generally done so before.

Still, I recommend several changes before the Fact Check is approved. Most broadly, the current version of the Fact Check has existed for only three weeks, and the IFCN calls for three months of consistent fact-checking before it is recognized as a distinct unit. The Fact Check needs to build up a larger sample of work in order to stabilize and be fully assessed in its current form.

Second, the Fact Check and its Explainer page need to be made more accessible. It should be easily found as a part of The Weekly Standard’s website navigation, and its archive page and Explainer page should link to each other. The bio of its writer should be added to his own archive page as well as the staff listing on the site’s About page. And all of the Fact Check’s articles should be listed on its archive page. This is important to public transparency and accessibility, and also to its establishment as a full, distinct unit of The Weekly Standard.

As part of that transparency, I also recommend a more detailed Explainer page with information about what claims it will and won’t check, its political independence policy, and about how to submit claims and suggest corrections. Additionally, I would emphasize continued improvement in the Fact Check’s clear linking of statements to specific points of evidence in its fact-checks.

on 04-Jun-2018 (6 months ago)

Mark Coddington recommended Accept with edits


Section 1: Organization

Criterion 1a
Proof of registration
Evidence required: Please provide evidence that the signatory is a legally-registered organization set up exclusively for the purpose of fact-checking or the distinct fact-checking project of a recognized media house or research institution.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

We are a long-standing print magazine and news website. You can find information about the magazine on our About Us page, and subsequent information about our ownership (the parent company is Clarity Media Group) by following the link on that page. Clarity Media Group is in turn wholly-owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, a division of the Anschutz Company. All of this information is transparently available by following the links.

You can read about TWS Fact Check at the bottom of every Fact Check article by following the link to our explainer: http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check/

Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

The history of fact checks as part of this unit is sporadic, and it’s not clear to the reader that TWS Fact Check is a distinct section of The Weekly Standard rather than a landing page for a group of articles. The Weekly Standard is clearly a legally registered and well established media outlet. But the distinctness of the Fact Check is less evident. It is difficult to access both the Fact Check articles and the Fact Check explainer page within the organization’s website (I was unable to find either of them without a direct link). The Fact Check explainer page gives important information about the Fact Check’s operation and process that helps establish it as a distinct unit, but that information is not accessible from the section page collecting the Fact Check articles – only from individual articles.


done 1a marked as Partially compliant by Mark Coddington.

Criterion 1b
Archive
Evidence required: Insert a link to the archive of fact checks published in the previous three months. If you do not collect all fact checks in one place, please explain how the fact-checking is conducted by your organization.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)
Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

There are regular fact-checks for the past three weeks (Nov. 1-18), but none for the months of July through October. The author of all of the recent fact-checks, Holmes Lybrand, has also written several other fact-checks during the last three weeks that are on his author page but not TWS Fact Check. This seems to reinforce an impression that the Fact Check section page is simply an incomplete collection of the fact-checking articles published by the organization, rather than a discrete unit. It appears that Lybrand has recently been brought on as a full-time fact-checker to help establish the Fact Check as a distinct unit, but that status is not evident from its placement and organization within the website.


done 1b marked as Partially compliant by Mark Coddington.

Section 2: Nonpartisanship and Fairness

Criterion 2a
Body of work sample
Evidence required: Please share links to ten fact checks that better represent the scope and consistency of your fact-checking. Provide a short explanation of how your organization strives to maintain coherent standards across fact checks.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago) Updated: 3 months ago

What’s the Real Story on Seth Rich?

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-whats-the-real-story-on-seth-rich/article/2008190

Did the Global Seed Vault Flood Because of Global Warming?

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-did-the-global-seed-vault-flood-because-of-global-warming/article/2008203

The Bloom County Lawyer Letter

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-the-bloom-county-lawyer-letter/article/2008232

How Bad Was Trump’s Dishing About Nuclear Subs to Duterte?

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-how-bad-was-trumps-dishing-about-nuclear-subs-to-duterte/article/2008234

Why Are So Few Women’s Names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall?

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-why-are-so-few-womens-names-on-the-vietnam-memorial-wall/article/2008250

Is There a No Good, Very Bad, German Trade Deficit?

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-is-there-a-no-good-very-bad-german-trade-deficit/article/2008275

Why Did the NSA Breach Privacy Protections?

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-why-did-the-nsa-breach-privacy-protections/article/2008274

What We Talk About When We Talk About “Sequestration”

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-sequestration/article/2008289

Did James Clapper Deny Collusion Between Trump and Russia?

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-did-james-clapper-deny-collusion-between-trump-and-russia/article/2008328

Did Neil Gorsuch Issue a SCOTUS Opinion Banning Islam from America’s Schools? 

http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-did-neil-gorsuch-issue-a-scotus-opinion-banning-islam-from-americas-schools/article/2008348

We maintain the same rigorous standards for TWS Fact Check that we do for all articles published by THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Fact Checks are transparently sourced with verifiable information and include on-the-record quotes from experts in the field and/or primary sources. We do not target political parties or political actors. Instead, our Fact Checks tend to revolve around common perceptions regarding current events, and seek to explain the degree to which these perceptions are accurate, or inaccurate. We examine these questions irrespective of party or ideology solely in pursuit of greater accuracy and clarity in public discourse.

Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

The Weekly Standard is an openly conservative magazine, which in itself is not a hindrance to compliance on this point, provided that the organization does not support parties, candidates, or advocacy organizations (beyond routine election endorsements), and that the fact-checkers themselves are prohibited from involvement in political parties or advocacy. The Weekly Standard largely complies on these fronts; its opinion and news coverage approaches issues from a conservative perspective, but it does not function as an arm of any political or advocacy group. Additionally, it has asserted that Fact Check writers are prohibited from writing opinion pieces and are directed not to participate in political parties or advocacy organizations.

It appears this directive has largely been followed, with one exception: Mark Hemingway, who appears to be predominantly an opinion writer, published one fact-check in June. (He also published a piece titled “Five Terrible Arguments Being Made About Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Agreement” on the same day.) With the addition of a dedicated fact-checking staffer, this issue should be resolved at this point. I would suggest that the organization’s policy on keeping the Fact Check separate from opinion and away from party and advocacy involvement be added to the Fact Check explainer page so that it is publicly available as well.


done 2a marked as Partially compliant by Mark Coddington.

Criterion 2b
Nonpartisanship policy
Evidence required: Please share evidence of your policy preventing staff from direct involvement in political parties and advocacy organizations. Please also indicate the policy your organization has as a whole regarding advocacy and supporting political candidates.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

Our TWS Fact Checker does not have any current affiliation with political parties or advocacy organizations. Further, the TWS Fact Checker is prohibited from writing opinion pieces of the sort that would appear elsewhere on The Weekly Standard and is explicitly directed to avoid engaging in political parties or advocacy organizations.

Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

As for choice of claims, the current (i.e., November 2017) iteration of the Fact Check has been fairly even-handed, choosing claims from the conservative and liberal sides of issues and covering a variety of issues of broad public interest. It has also not simply chosen conservative claims it can check as true and liberal ones it can check as false; two conservative claims have been found largely false (both tweets by President Trump), and one liberal claim (regarding Hillary Clinton and the Uranium One contract) has been found largely true. On the whole, however, most liberally oriented claims have been found false, though the sample is too small at this point to determine whether the claims are being chosen in a fair way. This would be something to monitor closely as the Fact Check builds a larger sample of articles.

The former (i.e., May-June 2017) iteration of the Fact Check was more tendentious in its choice of claims. Almost all of the claims are either largely false liberal claims or true conservative claims, with the false Seth Rich claim as a notable exception. These claim choices don’t generally comply with the network’s principles, though they take on less weight than the more recent re-launch of the Fact Check in this assessment.


done 2b marked as Partially compliant by Mark Coddington.

Section 3: Transparency of Sources

Criterion 3a
Sources Policy
Please share a brief and public explanation (500 words max) of how sources are provided in enough detail that readers could replicate the fact check. If you have a public policy on how you find and use sources for your fact-checking, it should be shared here.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

Our policy on sourcing is simple: We rely on a number of secondary sources: Including books, journals, and major papers to corroborate claims. All references to these sources are provided as hyperlinks within the context of the Fact Checks themselves.

Further, we rely on on-the-record interviews with primary sources wherever possible. For instance: In the Fact Check about the Global Seed Vault, author Alice Lloyd sought out comments from the Crop Trust, which administers the Global Seed Vault, in order to provide clarity to somewhat confusing media reports. We do not allow off-the-record of background interviews to be used in TWS Fact Check.

Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

On this point, too, there is a sharp distinction between the May-June 2017 Fact Check posts and the November 2017 posts. In the May-June posts, the evidence is generally clearly identified and linked to, but the specific claim being checked is often unclear. In some cases there are links to various sources providing initial information that is the basis for the fact-check but it’s unclear what actual claim is being checked (e.g., the June 1 NSA check and June 2 sequestration check). In at least one other there are no links or specific sources for the original claim at all (the June 2 Clapper testimony check). The end result of either type of such posts is something closer to a news analysis piece, providing more factual context for an issue in the news, than a true fact-check.

The November 2017 posts largely resolve this problem. The claims are clear in the fact-check, and the sources for those claims are clearly identified and linked to. The sources of evidence for the fact-check are also clearly identified and linked to, though at times the statements made based on that evidence don’t clearly follow from the sources given. For example, the Nov. 6 Hillary Clinton-DNC fact-check states that by dismissing a lawsuit, a court “seems to have agreed” with the DNC’s assertion that its collaboration with Clinton was merely a “political promise” without legal obligations. It links to the court’s dismissal ruling, but it doesn’t specify where in the 28-page ruling the evidence for this particular statement about the court agreeing with the DNC’s argument lies. There are other instances such as this when assertions in the fact-check aren’t specifically tied to sources of evidence, and the Fact Check should tighten this up going forward.


done 3a marked as Partially compliant by Mark Coddington.

Section 4: Transparency of Funding & Organization

Criterion 4a
Funding Sources
Evidence required: Please link to the section where you publicly list your sources of funding (including, if they exist, any rules around which types of funding you do or don't accept), or a statement on ownership if you are the branch of an established media organization or research institution.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)
Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

The Weekly Standard’s About page clearly lists the publication’s owner – both its immediate holding company (Clarity Media Group) as well as its ultimate owner (the Anschutz Entertainment Group, a division of Anschutz Corp.). It also provides links to more information on Clarity and AEG on the AEG website, and it gives this information on the Fact Check explainer page as well. The information on the publication’s owner is clear, accessible, and relatively thorough.


done_all 4a marked as Fully compliant by Mark Coddington.

Criterion 4b
Staff
Evidence required: Please link to the section detailing all authors and key actors behind your fact-checking project with their biographies. You can also list the name and bios of the members of the editorial board, pool of experts, advisory board, etc. if your organization has those.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)
Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

The primary actor behind the Fact Check, Holmes Lybrand, is identified and described with a brief biography in one location on the site (the Fact Check explainer page), but not in other important locations. His author page (which is linked to from his bylines) does not include any information about him, and he is not listed among the website’s staff on its About page. The Weekly Standard should add this information to both locations in order to make the basic information about Lybrand more accessible.


done 4b marked as Partially compliant by Mark Coddington.

Criterion 4c
Contact
Evidence required: Please link to the section where readers can get in touch with the organization.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)
Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

Each fact check ends with a clear invitation to submit questions about the fact check or suggestions for new fact checks, with both Lybrand’s email address and a Fact Check address listed. But this invitation does not appear on the Fact Check section page with all of the fact checks, or on the explainer page. This invitation should be added to both of those pages to increase its visibility and accessibility.


done 4c marked as Partially compliant by Mark Coddington.

Section 5: Transparency of Methodology

Criterion 5a
Detailed Methodology
Evidence required: Please link to a section or article detailing the steps you follow for your fact-checking work.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

We include a description of our methodology on our Fact Check explainer page.

Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

The Fact Check’s methods are clearly explained in a step-by-step description on its Explainer page, which includes clear instructions for readers on how they can email claims to the Fact Check. The instructions on sending claims are on the Explainer page and appended to each fact-check.


done_all 5a marked as Fully compliant by Mark Coddington.

Criterion 5b
Claim submissions
Evidence required: Please link to the page or process through which readers can submit claims to fact-check. If you do not allow this, please briefly explain why.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

At the end of each Fact Check is a note inviting readers to submit questions, corrections, or requests for additional Fact Checks. It reads: If you have questions about this fact check, or would like to submit a request for another fact check, email The Weekly Standard at factcheck@weeklystandard.com.

Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

This description does not, however, include any indication of what is and isn’t fact-checkable. More detail is needed about how claims are selected – and in particular what criteria the Fact Check uses for checkable and check-worthy claims. In addition, as stated earlier, I also suggest a more accessible location on the website for the Explainer page.


done 5b marked as Partially compliant by Mark Coddington.

Section 6: Open & Honest Corrections Policy

Criterion 6a
Corrections policy
Evidence required: Please link to the page with your policy to address corrections. If it is not public, please share your organization's handbook.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

Our corrections policy is explicitly described on our Fact Check explainer page. We view Fact Checking as a collaborative process and we invite and encourage readers to help us better our understanding. When mistakes are made we eagerly correct them because we do not view the Fact Check as an adversarial dispute. Our Fact Checkers and the readers are on the same side.

Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

The Fact Check has a clear and detailed corrections policy on its Explainer page.


done_all 6a marked as Fully compliant by Mark Coddington.

Criterion 6b
Examples of corrections
Evidence required: Please provide two examples of a correction made, or correction requests handled, in the past year.

TWS Fact Check
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

To date we have only had one request for a correction, on our Global Seed Vault piece. The original piece inaccurately described the physical disposition of the tunnel entrance and the seed-vault doors. David Wood, who is a published expert on the Seed Vault, emailed a note correcting this mistake. Fact-checker Alice Lloyd then performed research to corroborate Wood’s correction, which she found in Popular Science.

We have also had one update, as new information became available. We followed the same procedures for transparency as we would for a correction. See here: http://www.weeklystandard.com/fact-check-was-it-legal-for-the-texas-shooter-to-purchase-a-firearm/article/2010367

Mark Coddington Assessor
12-Jun-2017 (1 year ago)

In its application, it has provided an example of a correction it made to a fact-check (the May 25 global seed vault post) that was conducted consistently with this policy. Since the application was submitted, the Fact Check has also applied another correction (the Nov. 17 Tehama County shooter post) that appears to have been conducted mostly consistently with this policy as well, though it is missing a note in the body text at the site of the mistake, as the corrections policy states.


done_all 6b marked as Fully compliant by Mark Coddington.