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COMMENTARY: The new 'fact checking'
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COMMENTARY: The new 'fact checking'

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Many Americans have noted the increasing censorship of (and bias against) conservatives by the mainstream media.

Previously, the bias by the mainstream media was through emphasizing or exaggerating events favorable to the liberal cause, while doing the opposite to the conservative cause. A great example was with the reporting of the civil unrest this past summer and fall.

The media overemphasized alleged police misconduct to the point of delivering a false perception of police “hunting” minorities. Then in covering the resulting protests and rioting, the media completely ignored the violence, looting and mayhem involved to deliver a perception of almost solely peaceful protests with almost no rioting.

When the American people stopped buying the false impression of solely peaceful protests, the media began covering the rioting but showed bias in not covering the previous silence of Democratic politicians in the face of the riots. While that sort of bias continues, another more insidious bias is becoming commonplace even in small-town, Southern newspapers. Let me explain.

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The Sumter newspaper of record, The Item, is a daily paper with around 20,000 in total readership. It is a member of the AP, but primarily serves the local community and has traditionally allowed citizens the ability to publish “letters to the editor” (with the sole caveat from the paper that the views expressed were those of the letter writer). Those reading the paper understand the letters are not being endorsed by the paper, and debates have flourished in letters with opposing views. That has now changed with “fact checking” by the paper in favor of the liberal viewpoint.

On Jan. 26, former state Sen. Phil Leventis published a passionate anti-Trump letter in the Sumter Item, arguing Trump needed to be tried and convicted in the impeachment trial. His letter went beyond hyperbole, into non-factual and arguably defamatory attacks on all Trump supporters.

Leventis wrote: “(Trump) supporters came to Washington on his directions. His radical supporters, riled up by Trump's words, went straight to the Capitol expressly to interfere with the Constitutional process of a peaceful change of power. Many said that they wanted to kill Pence and Pelosi and many others.”

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As had happened previously, Leventis’ letter was published without any attempts to clear up the factual errors. For example, it is a matter of record that the vast majority of those who attended the Trump rally never went inside the Capitol or engaged in unlawful activity outside the Capitol. Additionally, we know from the FBI timeline and investigation that the primary group of those committing the unlawful acts were not in attendance at Trump’s speech almost two miles away (a speech which went well past the time of when the rioting started).

We also have no evidence that “many wanted to kill Pence and Pelosi and many others." There were individuals expressing what they later claimed as hyperbolic statements to that end, but the allegation that “many” of the “Trump supporters” said they wanted to murder these individuals is just factually wrong.

On Jan. 29, the counter to Leventis came from a fellow former South Carolina legislator, Richard Hines. Hines began his letter acknowledging Leventis’ service in the Air National Guard but expressed his disappointment with the factual inerrancies against Trump supporters.

Hines wrote, “What a shame to see him swept along by the fanatical 'zeitgeist' of the establishment and portray Trump and his supporters as 'insurrectionists' against 'our democracy.' There is ample evidence that radical Antifa elements, whom the left never criticize, infiltrated the Trump rally of Jan. 6. There is no evidence that genuine Trump supporters intended to 'murder' Nancy Pelosi, Mike Pence and other members of Congress.”

Hines used license with mention of the “fanatical ‘zeitgeist,’” but his points were arguably factually correct or, at the least, more factual than Leventis’ allegations. The motivations of those who broke the law at the Capitol are quite unclear at this point, and quite complex and varied.

For example, left-wing activist John Sullivan was on video at the Capitol urging people to invade the Capitol. He destroyed a window, went inside and even filmed the fatal shooting of Ashley Babbit.

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According to the Deseret News, John Sullivan was part of the “Antifa” (anti-fascist) movement: “Sullivan, 26, founded Insurgence USA, a social justice group that calls itself anti-fascist and protests police brutality.” Sullivan had been invited on CNN to offer commentary after the event, but was later arrested when videos showed him at the forefront of the riot. Therefore, Hines was factually correct in his assertions, including antifa infiltrating the rally.

Unfortunately, the Sumter Item felt it necessary to provide a disclaimer “fact check” to Hines’ letter that included a factually incorrect statement: “There has been no evidence to show the violence at the Capitol was perpetrated by Antifa members. Arrests show the people who broke into the Capitol had been at previous rallies for Trump.”

The newspaper made no mention of the arrest of Sullivan nor the fact that he directly incited people to enter to the Capitol, nor that he videotaped the killing of Babbit, nor that he had founded an antifa organization in Utah. They made other disclaimers about election fraud that have been disputed. The disinformation with regard to John Sullivan was astounding in this “fact check” context.

This kind of new bias by selective (only conservative) “fact checking” and “correcting” the record of conservative writers is insidious. The new bias allows for what we have seen with John Sullivan: Directly misinforming the public in a seemingly unbiased, undisputed and authoritative manner. This then allows commentators and others to “cancel” people making conservative claims, even when the claims are true. It will be the end of freedom of speech for all if it continues.

Bill Connor, an Army Infantry colonel, author and Orangeburg attorney, has deployed multiple times to the Middle East. Connor was the senior U.S. military adviser to Afghan forces in Helmand Province, where he received the Bronze Star. A Citadel graduate with a JD from USC, he is also a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Army War College, earning his master of strategic studies. He is the author of the book "Articles from War.”

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