Propaganda masquerading as fact-checking

Fact-checking was devised to be a trusted way to separate fact from fiction.  In reality, many journalists use the label "fact-checking" as a cover for promoting their own biases.  A case in point is an Associated Press (AP) piece headlined "AP FACT-CHECK: Trump's inaccurate boasts on China travel ban," which was published on March 26, 2020 and carried by many news outlets.

Let us check this fact-checker.

The lead of the AP article reads as follows:

Defending early missteps in the U.S. response to the coronavirus, President Donald Trump has repeatedly boasted of travel restrictions on China that he suggests he decided on his own over the objections of health experts and saved "thousands" of lives.

The verdict of the AP piece: "His claims aren't substantiated."

To support its verdict, the AP piece presents several arguments, all of which begin with the words "THE FACTS" (in all caps).  Let us address these arguments.  For the sake of clarity, THE FACTS presented by the AP piece are italicized.  My responses begin with the words "THE REBUTTAL."

THE FACTS: His [President Trump's] decision was far from solo nor was it made over opposition from health experts, as the White House coronavirus task force makes clear. His decision followed a consensus by his public health advisers that the restrictions should take place.

THE REBUTTAL: As head of the Executive Branch, President Trump may seek advice from any expert, inside or outside the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  As the example below shows, there was no consensus among the experts.  In the end, the president makes a decision, and he and only he is responsible for it.  Curiously, Trump is usually criticized for not listening to experts.  This AP piece denies him credit because he presumably followed experts' advice.

Among the experts who opposed Trump's decision was Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), a United Nations agency responsible for international public health.  In other words, Dr. Adhanom is supposed to be an expert of the highest caliber in the field of fighting pandemics.  His reaction to President Trump's decision was harsh: "[w]e reiterate our call to all countries not to impose restrictions that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.  Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit."

Many news outlets and politicians immediately condemned the travel restrictions as racist and xenophobic.  Thus, the New York Times published an op-ed on Feb. 5 with the headline "Who Says It's Not Safe to Travel to China?" and the subhead "The coronavirus travel ban is unjust and doesn't work anyway."  Joe Biden accused Trump of xenophobia in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic on Jan. 31, on the day when the ban was announced.  But later, per CNN, Biden totally flipped on this issue.  Realizing that the public opinion supported the travel ban, on April 3, his campaign clarified that Biden supports President Donald Trump's ban.

THE FACTS: The impact [of the travel ban] hasn't been quantified. While Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health has praised the travel restrictions on China for slowing the virus, it's not known how big an impact they had or if "thousands and thousands" of lives were saved.

There were plenty of gaps in containment.

Trump's order did not fully "close" the U.S. off to China, as he asserts. It temporarily barred entry by foreign nationals who had traveled in China within the previous 14 days, with exceptions for the immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

THE REBUTTAL: Not only was the impact of the travel ban not quantified, but it also wasn't tabulated or plotted.  We are in the middle of a war.  Future historians can quantify and analyze each battle, but first we have to win this war.

The argument about "not fully closing" the travel between the U.S. and China is interesting.  Anti-Trump authors blame him for the ban that was both "xenophobic" and simultaneously "not draconian enough."  I am not even sure that banning U.S. citizens from returning to their country would be constitutional.

My verdict on this AP fact-checking piece: Baseless.

Image credit: Library of Congress, public domain.

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