Each week, AllSides delivers a brief summary of notable fact checks and adjacent coverage across the media spectrum.
Fact Check From the Center
One of the bigger stories of the past week came from a new biography of Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, which provides the satellite internet service Starlink. In an excerpt of the book published in The Washington Post (Lean Left bias) on September 7, it said Musk “secretly told his engineers to turn off” Starlink service on the Crimean coast as Ukrainian forces planned an attack on Russian forces there.
The excerpt said cutting Starlink services to the region consequentially thwarted Ukraine’s plot, sparking coverage from many outlets across the spectrum, and ire from the Ukrainian government.
On September 7, Musk took to Twitter to deny that he turned off Starlink satellites and clarified that they were in fact never activated for the region in question. Musk went on to add that the Ukrainian government made an emergency request to activate Starlink service “all the way to Sevastopol,” the most strategic military city in Crimea. By doing so, Musk believes he would have directly implicated himself, and his company SpaceX, in a major act of war and potential escalation.
The book’s author, Walter Isaacson, also tweeted a clarification on September 9, saying "To clarify on the Starlink issue: the Ukrainians THOUGHT coverage was enabled all the way to Crimea, but it was not. They asked Musk to enable it for their drone sub attack on the Russian fleet. Musk did not enable it, because he thought, probably correctly, that would cause a major war."
The claim was later removed from the posted excerpt, as Newsweek points out, however, an archived copy shows the deleted passage which suggests Musk turned the coverage off:
Throughout the evening and into the night, he personally took charge of the situation. Allowing the use of Starlink for the attack, he concluded, could be a disaster for the world. So he secretly told his engineers to turn off coverage within 100 kilometers of the Crimean coast. As a result, when the Ukrainian drone subs got near the Russian fleet in Sevastopol, they lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly.
The passage was replaced with the following sentence:
What the Ukrainians did not know was that Musk decided not to enable Starlink coverage of the Crimean coast.
Upon correcting the passage, The Washington Post included a note at the beginning of its article that said “After publication of this adaptation, the author learned that his book mischaracterized the attempted attack by Ukrainian drones on the Russian fleet in Crimea. Musk had already disabled (“geofenced”) coverage within 100 km of the Crimean coast before the attack began, and when the Ukrainians discovered this, they asked him to activate the coverage, and he refused. This version reflects that change.”
The Washington Post followed up on September 12, with a new article titled, “Elon Musk biographer concedes flaw in account of war in Ukraine”
In the article, the Post clarifies that Isaacson said he simply misunderstood Musk, leading to the excerpt that did not accurately reflect Musk’s version of the story. It reported that Isaacson and his publisher said new editions of the book will include the corrected telling of events, and not the passage originally posted in the excerpt.
Nonetheless, the Post expressed skepticism toward Musk and his influence on the conflict. It called the SpaceX CEO a “sometimes erratic businessman and private citizen with a penchant for conspiracy theories,” who “essentially (had) veto power over Ukraine’s drone strike and other potential military operations.”
Fact Check From the Left
A widely viewed Instagram post made on September 5 claimed a bill proposed by California Democrats would make it illegal for shopkeepers to fight back against burglars or looters.
USA Today looked into the claim, and found it to be false.
The bill, Senate Bill 553, USA Today says, “centers on workplace safety and requires certain employers to develop a workplace violence prevention plan.” It also added context that a previous version of the bill included a provision that prohibited employers from forcing non-security employees to confront intruders, but the stanza has since been removed.
Democratic California Senator Dave Cortese, a sponsor of the bill, said this earlier version made it the “target of a misinformation campaign.” “To eliminate any confusion regarding the bill's purpose, we removed all references to shoplifting,” he added.
Fact Check From the Right
This week, there was widespread fact check coverage across the spectrum regarding an erroneous claim President Biden made about visiting Ground Zero on September 12, 2001.
A news article from Fox News looked at a different claim the Biden administration made this week regarding his commemoration of the 9/11 terror attacks. This Monday, Biden traveled from Vietnam to Alaska where he delivered a speech about 9/11 at a military base in Anchorage.
Fox said that previously, every year the sitting President visited at least one of the attack sites – which include Ground Zero, the Flight 93 memorial site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon – with the exception of one anniversary during both the Bush and Obama presidencies where each commander-in-chief gave a speech from the White House.
In the article, Fox News said its contributor Peter Doocy reported the White House had given him an explanation as to why Biden did not visit any of the sites of the attack. Doocy said, "The analogy that I was given is that, 22 years after Pearl Harbor, U.S. presidents were not still going to Hawaii.”
Fox added context, saying the White House’s statement is incorrect, as according to an archived Tweet from the John F. Kennedy Library that indicates the Democratic President visited the Pearl Harbor attack site in 1966, a few months before the 22nd anniversary of the attacks.
Fox said the Biden administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Other Fact Checking News
An analysis from Deutsche Welle (Center bias) looked at fact checking initiatives in Asia on encrypted messaging apps like LINE and Viber, which have opened tip lines for journalists to collaborate with users of these “dark social media” services. The analysis said the way information is shared privately poses “challenges for fact checkers due to limited access to such content thus constraining” platforms’ abilities to call out potential misinformation.
The analysis concluded that “cooperation from tech platforms is crucial” and that platforms should “open up their data” to help fact checkers assess claims made to journalists.
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 have popped up 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.
Andy Gorel is a News Curator at AllSides. He has a bias of Center.
This piece was reviewed by Joseph Ratliff, Daily News Editor (Lean Left bias) and Johnathon Held, Bias Analyst (Lean Right bias).