The Mirror

Washington Post Fact-Checker Gets Himself Into Late-Night Dustup

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Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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“What does this even mean?” asked Salvador Rizzo on late-night Twitter Tuesday after President Trump‘s address and Democrat responses were put to bed.

The Washington Post fact-checker seemed to be mocking the profound words of MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who tends to talk in a ridiculous, convoluted manner when discussing ordinary matters.

No one really knows what Hayes is saying as he falls in love with his own verbiage. But it sure sounds good, doesn’t it?

Despite all the fury that came barreling Rizzo’s way, or maybe because of it, it’s tough not to side with him here.

“I think a lot of the criticism you see online of fact-checking as a genre is motivated by a sincere concern,” Rizzo said when asked for a comment on his late-night entanglements. “We are not above reproach. But I am stunned by the bloody-murder tone of the blowback we get sometimes and I try to get in there with people in my mentions to see what’s going on there and to show them I’m a human. I do think some of the criticism has merit and I try to draw that out, too.”

And draw it out he did.

The Twitter feed known as “southpaw” took his question literally and replied, “It means the ‘fact checks’ produced by your desk and your counterparts at other outlets are regularly noxious simplistic analyses with little underpinning in fact, as we’ve seen all over the place tonight.”

Suddenly, Rizzo was taking heat for every fact checker in town when the real fact checking crime was committed by the AP. If you love fact checkers, you won’t want to read this piece on media fact checkers lying about Trump’s speech.

Rizzo wrote back, “The question stands for anyone who can handle some moxie.”

Aaron Collom, a self-described “human yo-yo” attacked Rizzo, saying, “Didn’t you ask what Chris Hayes meant? Didn’t you get involved in the defense of your personal news genre (that is fact checker in your profile right?) and now you want to be examined on your individual merits?”

Another observer piled on. “Are you going to actually respond to the constructive criticism or just continue cherrypicking whatever reply you can make a witty comment on?”

Rizzo replied, “Trying to, but I keep getting rage tweets sted of something to study.”

The WaPo fact checker was getting attacked from all angles.

“That this is your reaction to a critique that fact-checking should seek a rigorous theoretical framework is deeply troubling,” a follower wrote.

At this point, Rizzo was treading water.

“I actually am interested in what he means and what this framework would look like,” he wrote.

Think Progress‘s Ian Millhiser (who has viciously blocked The Mirror for some reason) chimed in with this piece of art: “Willful inability to understand partisan asymmetry is a disease.”

Rizzo turned cheeky. “Democrats are never wrong/should never be fact-checked,” he added.

At this point, an account called “shot, chaser” accused Rizzo of becoming the equivalent of cheese (stay with me).

“ITT Sal Rizzo of the @washingtonpost completely melts down when mildly criticized,” the individual tweeted.

Rizzo tried to defend himself: “Any attempt to respond to critics will immediately be countered as a ‘meltdown,'” he said, immediately fact checking “shot chaser’s” statement.

More attacks came his way.

“It means, Sal, that the epistemological basis of the profession is constrained in a specific ontological framework: you’re telling us everything you see on the table, but there’s never a substantive discussion of what counts as table or off-table as far as discourse is concerned,” wrote Cyrus the Bacteria.

Rizzo rallied.

“I can work with this,” he tweeted back cheerfully. “If it’s a prominent politician or group, and they say something that sounds off, we might look into it. It will never be 50/50 Rs/Ds. We’re journalists, we go off the news, we follow certain standards, and we try our best. The end.”

This is what people do when they want to end the battle. They write: “The end.”

But, of course, it wasn’t the end for this Emory graduate who earned his B.A. in English.

“I mean, you seem to expect your readers to be graduate-level researchers in political science, and yet you yourself have NO compunctions about strawmanning [sic] and dismissing others’ arguments!” a totally different follower wrote. “Your behavior in the other thread was not someone reading for nuance.”

Rizzo offered a compliment laced with sarcasm. “This is my favorite,” he wrote. “‘Only a graduate degree can prepare readers for understanding the vagaries of fact-check ratings.”

Which, of course, didn’t go over well.

“Yeah, we’re so laaaaame to CARE about something,” the follower wrote. “It’s so uncool of us to be upset that Trump lies all the time, whereas you’re MUCH better for being a professional nitpicker without the slightest concept of proportionality or priorities.”

Seagoat had advice for Rizzo. “Quit,” he wrote.

Another person suggested self-examination: “How about instead of writing off any criticism as partisan, you do some introspection?”

And still another follower asked, “Can you understand why people are upset with fact checkers tonight?”

At this point, a previous follower returned and went in for the kill with seething, dripping insults. At this point, I’m feeling sorry for Rizzo.

“Great. Aren’t you fucking savvy?” the follower wrote. “You’re SO DAMN CLEVER to notice that we don’t like Trump. Your savvy definitely absolves you from all responsibility of hearing the critique about false equivalence or pedantic fact checks and how this can mislead the public.”

More name-calling ensued.

“No, you idiot. We’re worried about the integrity of blowing tiny things out of proportion in order to maintain ‘balance’ instead of acknowledging that there is a massive partisan asymmetry in attempts to mislead the public.”

Rizzo appeared to button up the conversation with a tweet at 3:32 a.m.

“I didn’t think the Dems said things worth fact-checking tonight and I didn’t fact check them,” he wrote. “But we get the same complaints for legitimate fact checks sometimes. So I wonder what this better system would look like.”