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Welcome to the Monkey Cage

After Trump falsely claimed on Twitter that he would have won the popular vote "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally", the media (rightly) demanded to know where he got that information. And Trump told them it was from the Washington Post:

In 2014, under the headline "Could non-citizens decide the November election?" the Post had run a piece from two social scientists, Jesse Richman and David Earnest, suggesting that illegal voting by non-citizens could be regularly occurring, and could even be prevalent enough to tip elections. As they wrote:

How many non-citizens participate in U.S. elections? More than 14 percent of non-citizens in both the 2008 and 2010 samples indicated that they were registered to vote. Furthermore, some of these non-citizens voted. Our best guess, based upon extrapolations from the portion of the sample with a verified vote, is that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2 percent of non-citizens voted in 2010.

Richman and Earnest's thesis was extremely controversial, and was so heavily criticized that the Post ultimately published a note preceding the article, pointing out that many objections to the work had been made. But the Post never actually retracted or withdrew the piece.

In response, the Washington Post went in a weird direction:

Without actually linking to the Post's original article about voting by non-citizens, fact-checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee tried to claim that the study wasn't really in the Washington Post. Instead, she said, it: "was published two years ago in the Monkey Cage, a political-science blog hosted by The Washington Post. (Note to Trump's staff members: This means you can't say The Washington Post reported this information; you have to cite the Monkey Cage blog.)"

It was an embarrassing defense. The writers had explicitly said that a reasonable extrapolation from existing data was that 6.4 percent of non-citizens voted in the 2008 election. They had said so in an article that appeared on the Washington Post's website, displayed in exactly the same manner as every single other piece of reportage. And the Post had never taken the article down or retracted the claim, and had only noted that the piece was highly controversial. Yet instead of apologizing for the Post's role in spreading a dubious claim, Lee relied on ridiculous distinctions. She insisted that the Post had "hosted" rather than "published" the article. She attempted to enforce a made-up rule, that people aren't allowed to cite the article as coming from the Post, but must instead cite it as coming from something called the "Monkey Cage," which sounds far less credible. Yet on the article page itself, there is no such disclaimer to indicate a distinction between non-Post-endorsed "blog posts" and actual Post writing, and the words "Monkey Cage" appear in tiny letters beneath the ordinary full-sized Washington Post logo. There is nothing to make ordinary readers aware that the Post is not responsible for any claims made in these corners of its website.

I'll link directly to the original article and let you decide if you would cite that as coming from the Post. I would (even still).

Now (and this shouldn't need to be said) this is not a defense of Trump. That article clearly had major problems and should obviously not have been cited by anyone, let alone the President-Elect on a topic that undermines faith in our democracy and stirs up hate for immigrants. The point is how much the Washington Post sucks in a) publishing that without skepticism, b) not retracting it after it got multiple takedowns from experts, and c) resorting to the lame defense that it wasn't "really" them after Trump cited it.

This has relevance to another story. A few posts down i linked to a few discussions of the Washington Post's unskeptical article on PropOrNot, the organization that is pushing a list of "fake news" sites that, among other things, it advocates get investigated by the FBI (a list that features many legit, if non-mainstream, sites). After much pushback, the Post has put a mealy mouthed "Editor's Note" at the top of the article, saying that they don't vouch for PropOrNot and that it was only one of four organizations mentioned in their article. As Adam Johnson of FAIR says, that's bullshit. 90% of the Post's article was about PropOrNot, and it was the only part of the article that was new (i.e. "news"). PropOrNot had some very specific claims about the number of "planted" articles that were viewed. And when the Post's article first came out, it was widely cited by major pundits and Clinton campaign operatives on Twitter, all who have large followings. So talking about undermining faith in democracy, we now have a Post article shared by millions who think that it's proof that Russia hacked our election. The Post's belated editor's note won't get nearly as much coverage, and since the Post isn't actually retracting the article, it will still be there for someone to cite the same way Trump cited the election fraud article.

By the way, i did check the Post's PropOrNot article, and it says "Business" in the same place that the election fraud article said "Monkey Cage". Does that mean i should be saying that it's not a Washington Post article, it's a Business article?

P.S. The article i linked to at top also gets into the topic of fact checking sites and their flaws; it's worth a full read.

By fnord12 | December 8, 2016, 7:35 AM | Liberal Outrage