Each week, AllSides will deliver a brief summary of notable fact checks and adjacent coverage across the media spectrum.
Fact Check From the Left
As the death toll from the Maui wildfire rises, officials are still unclear what caused the fires to start. Since the fires began, theories have circulated that the U.S. government intentionally set them via the use of a Direct Energy Weapon (DEW). This notion has since been fact checked by many fact checkers in the center and on the left.
Several videos have circulated online of alleged DEW use, showing what a strike looks like — most notably, this video of an “attack” on a gas station. The video garnered significant traction on Twitter. However, a fact check from Associated Press shows the video was altered to make it appear as if a DEW was used to set the blaze.
The original, unaltered video is actually a nine-year-old clip from an explosion in the Russian Republic of Dagestan, in which a gas station exploded and caught on fire. AP says it consulted an aerospace engineering expert, who said that such powerful lasers would not be visible to the human eye, as they use infrared technology.
AP rated the claim that the video shows a DEW in use as “false.”
Fact Check From the Right
There has been a lot of media chatter in recent weeks about July 2023 being the hottest month in Earth’s history, partly because of climate change.
A recent fact check report, provided to Washington Examiner’s “Washington Secrets” section by “a group of fact checkers,” dove into some of those claims. The July “Media Climate Fact Check” (MCFC) analyzed claims made by The New York Times (Lean Left bias), The Washington Post (Lean Left bias), Associated Press (Lean Left bias), and USA Today (Lean Left bias) regarding Earth’s high temperatures this July.
The MCFC added context to an Associated Press report regarding the 31-day streak of 110 Fahrenheit temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona that happened during July. The MCFC seems to imply that AP’s coverage was misleading because it did not factor “urban island” heat effects in its comparison to the previous streak of over 110 Fahrenheit days in Phoenix was 18, set in 1974.
The MCFC points to a 5-degree overall warming of Phoenix from the “urban heat island effect” caused by the city’s rapidly increasing infrastructure. Subtracting this effect, 2023 saw two 6-day weather-caused hot streaks, not one 31-day streak — thus supporting the idea that “weather-caused heat was far hotter in 1974.”
It should be noted that AP itself did not report this previous streak, however, and several other Lean Left sources like NBC News, CBS News, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today did mention the 1974 record.
The MCFC looked at another AP report, one that said Florida seawater hit “hot tub” level temperatures and quoted a meteorologist who said it may have been the warmest seawater ever measured. AP cited reports that said water at Manatee Bay in the Florida Keys hit 101 Fahrenheit. The MCFC pointed out a fact check by local Florida newspaper, the Fort Myers News-Press, which said the temperatures were not unprecedented, and referenced data that showed the water had hit 102 Fahrenheit in 2017 and 100 in 2010.
The Fort Myers News-Press also cited commentary from David Zierden, state climatologist at the Florida Climate Center in Tallahassee, who said it should be kept in mind that where the water temperatures are measured in Manatee Bay is very shallow, and close to land. The MCFC said AP’s use of the word “seawater” was “somewhat misleading” because of these circumstances.
Another analysis the MCFC provided was on a report by The Washington Post. The report said July 4, 2023 was the hottest day since 1979, and some scientists believe it may be the hottest in 125,000 years. The MCFC said The Washington Post was referring to July 3-4 as reported by Climate Reanalyzer. The MCFC acknowledged the unusually hot temperatures in July, but also mentioned anomalies that contributed to this like El Niño’s impact, and a two-day temperature spike in Antarctica that raised the global average.
The MCFC commented on the sensational nature of the claim that July was the hottest month in 125,000 years, as it is impossible to know because records only go back to 1979. Nonetheless, it should be noted the Post was clear that it was highlighting the beliefs of scientists, and not reporting it as absolute fact.
Fact Check From the Center
While tensions have been growing along Poland’s border with Belarus, a photo recently posted on the pro-Russian Telegram channel Topaz Penetrator depicting an alleged Russian Wagner Group mercenary in Belarus on the border of Poland made rounds on Twitter.
The soldier, who is shown clad with the Russian flag and PMC Wagner patches, appears to be taking a selfie in front of a sign that says “Polska,” Poland’s name in its native language.
A fact check from Newsweek says, “The image is not what it seems for several reasons.”
Newsweek points out that the photo appears to be a doctored version of a photo that a Reddit user posted on Imgur. The original photo depicts a man dressed in a military uniform where the patches on his arm are the Polish flag, and a circular one that reads “Comfy Happening In Ukraine” and “/chug/.” Newsweek says searches of these terms bring up many “4Chan archives littered with anti-Ukrainian and pro-Russian material.”
The altered image allegedly showing a Wagner soldier is also mirrored, and the Russian and Wagner patches that were presumably doctored onto it appear to be slightly richer in contrast than the ones in the original photo.
Newsweek rated the photo as “Misleading Material.”
Why We’re Watching the Fact Checkers
Whether the product of a carefully coordinated propaganda campaign or an innocent mistake by a journalist or social media user, misinformation is inevitable. Because of this, many “fact checkers” exist as their own entities, like Snopes (Lean Left bias), or as part of an existing outlet, like National Review (Right bias).
Fact checkers aim to get to the bottom of claims that may or may not be true. But sometimes, they themselves become part of the problem, such as by only fact checking one side, drawing subjective conclusions about what the facts mean, or showing bias by downplaying or playing up certain facts.
At AllSides, we’ve highlighted the types of bias fact checkers are most prone to, and developed the AllSides Fact Check Bias Chart™ so readers can easily identify bias and similarities in fact checking coverage.
This piece was reviewed by Henry A. Brechter, Editor-in-chief (Center bias), Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right bias), and Joseph Ratliff, Daily News Editor (Lean Left bias).