By and large, fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, Snopes, and FactCheck.org, along with the more recent and popular Politifact YouTube channel, are considered a pillar of the news media, helping bring clarity and accuracy to both the accuracy of the election process, as well as misinformation.
But when you look further down the lists of fact-checking organizations, as Joe Weinman did, one name stands out in the mind of many Americans: that of Ben Wattenberg, editor of FactCheck.org and the founder of Snopes.
Intro: Authorship And Attribution
Most individuals, however, recognize that Wattenberg was the founder of Snopes and the main writer and editor of FactCheck.org, but according to Weinman’s research, he was doing a number of projects under several names as well. What’s more, on at least two occasions, Wattenberg used his FactCheck.org reporting without clearly stating in the attribution that it was from FactCheck.org.
And this isn’t the first time Wattenberg’s publications came under fire for plagiarism. In 2010, he was accused of plagiarizing one of his own columns. Weinman says that his research shows that Wattenberg used one of two names in his articles. “Both the others are anonymous pseudonyms or “professional pseudonyms” and are not attributed in factchecks,” wrote Weinman in an email to CNN.
A Similarity To The Problem With Fake News
As Donald Trump regularly points out in his campaign speeches, the way information is spread through social media platforms, search engines, and news outlets is often a result of the type of information that’s presented and it’s also a result of the fact that a lot of journalists use the same sources. And while neither journalists or fact-checkers are directly involved in this ecosystem, their work can influence those who create fake news and form opinions based on this info.
Wattenberg and a number of other mainstream fact-checkers have come under fire for repeatedly using fake or fabricated sources in their factchecks.
PolitiFact and the Economist have both published apologies and have demonstrated more transparency when it comes to publishing fact-checks. The National Journalism Review also created the Elements of Fact Checking series in an effort to “educate journalists and news consumers about how to handle factual claims and innuendo.”
“The power of online news is that fact-checkers can spread the very ideas they’re trying to ‘take down’ by publication. That’s why checking exists,” reported The Associated Press at the time.