The Journal.ie, a signatory of the International Fact-Checking Network’s [IFCN] code of principles and the only Irish media organisation recognised as a fact-checker by Facebook, appears to be having trouble sorting fact from allegation in some of their latest articles.
The Week in Quotes, a regular fixture where the Journal.ie, as you probably guessed, go through the best quotes from the previous week, this week was headlined “Why Should I go to that cemetery? It’s full of losers.” The article says that the quote was said by Donald Trump when he “cancelled a visit to a ceremtary [sic] of American war dead in 2018.”
It’s a great quote but there is a small issue with it; there’s no proof Trump actually said it. The quote was reported in a piece in the Atlantic, based on the recounts of four anonymous sources, but that’s not proof that Trump said it, that’s an allegation. A reporter from Fox News later said two anonymous sources had made the same allegation to them, a move which was reported by both RTE and the Journal.ie as being “confirmation” of the original claims. Again, that’s not confirmation of the claims, that’s confirmation that particular, anonymous individuals had made an allegation.
Two named sources, former National Security Advisor John Bolton and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Zach Fuentes, have publicly said that they were with Trump on that trip and that they never heard him make any comment like the one the Atlantic alleged he had made. Bolton left the White House with a terrible relationship with Trump and was in and out of courts regarding a tell-all book about the administration he wrote, and yet he publicly said that he’d never heard Trump make remarks like that “or anything resembling them.” Fuentes says that he was told that there were security concerns about flying to the ceremony through rain and fog.
Jason Leopold, a senior investigative reporter with Buzzfeed, has released documents he received from the Navy, under a Freedom of Information Act, that state that Trump’s visit to the cemetery was indeed cancelled due to adverse weather concerns. This directly contradicts a statement made in the Atlantic story which said that claims that the visit was cancelled due to rain were unture.
But that’s all beside the point here, the fact of the matter is that the Journal.ie reported as fact a statement alleged made by the President of the United States, during a presidential election campaign, with absolutely no proof that that statement had actually been made. In at least two articles they have said that Trump made that statement. And the Journal.ie, through its partnership with Facebook, has been given wide powers to decide if what others write is accurate or if it should be labelled as fake news and blocked from sight.
They got their position with Facebook due to their status as “the only Irish fact-checking resource independently audited by the International Fact-Checking Network.” The IFCN says that their code of practice, which the Journal.ie is a signatory of, is for “organizations that regularly publish non-partisan reports on the accuracy of statements by public figures and prominent institutions and other widely circulated claims related to public interest issues.” Determining the accuracy of a quotation allegedly made by the President of the United States would certainly seem to fit that bill.
The Journal.ie have now edited the article to include the phrase “Trump denied making the comments”, which seems like a bit of an odd thing to have on a list of the best quotes in a week – “this quote we used as a headline may not actually have been said”. You wouldn’t know that the piece has been edited unless you saw the original, by the way, as the Journal.ie didn’t note that they’d edited the piece. A situation which would seem to fall short of Principle 5 of the IFCN, “A commitment to an open and honest corrections policy” although perhaps they don’t see those as binding on anything they write that doesn’t have a Fact Check stamp on it.
It is worth noting that the Journal.ie has had issues abiding by that particular principle before. During the abortion referendum they amended a previous fact-check after pro-life sources starting using it as confirmation of some of their claims, and somehow forgot to highlight all of the things they had changed when they edited it to be less positive towards the pro-life side.