Amid the growing concern about the veracity of online news outlets, various internet users have begun to scrutinize what they read. And that’s a good thing. But that fear has also created an opportunity for scam artists to maliciously sow confusion for their own personal agenda or amusement. Perhaps the most jarring instance of these scams is a site called “Media Bias Fact Check” which turns out to be just one guy making up whatever he feels like about news outlets, based on what he admits is his personal opinion, while typically providing no evidence – and then altering the ratings of news outlets who point out his scam.
One look at the “Media Bias Fact Check” website reveals it to be something that looks like it was created in 1995. Despite claiming in its tag line to be “The most comprehensive media bias resource,” the site turns out to simply be one guy named Dave Van Zandt who posts whatever he feels like. He claims to use a “strict methodology” for assigning bias ratings to various news outlets, but his “ratings” typically read like the gibberish one might find in an unmoderated comment section in the lowest corners of the internet.
For instance, his rating for Cosmopolitan Magazine consists of “Cosmopolitan is an international fashion magazine for women and has a circulation of over 3 million. (Wikipedia) Cosmo’s primary focus is on fashion, sex and relationship tips, but they also cover politics. Cosmo has a strong left wing bias in reporting and story selection. Though biased, Cosmo usual published sourced information.” That last sentence is so grammatically mangled, we’re not even sure what it means. Even more absurdly, he’s quoting Wikipedia as his sole source of information.
Even those who may have concerns about any of the above news outlets can see that this is not how you go about legitimately rating them for bias. This site “Media Bias Fact Check” does nothing to properly document bias, and it does no real fact checking either.
Worse, Van Zandt has been using his phony ratings to carry out personal grudges. Whenever a news outlet exposes “Media Bias Fact Check” as being a fraud, he responds by assigning that news outlet a more negative bias rating (and then sometimes later deletes it after he calms down). That means the site isn’t merely a misrepresentation or overreach on the part of an unqualified individual; it’s a malicious vengeful scam.
None of this unsubstantiated juvenile gossip from this fake “fact check” site would matter if some people weren’t falling for it. But due to the current paranoia regarding “fake news” and such, scam artists like Van Zandt have managed to get a free pass from some members of the public who fall for his worthless “ratings” of respected news outlets; they don’t think to stop and to scrutinize the random shadowy figure who’s making up the ratings out of thin air. And so they end up embarrassing themselves by posting a “Media Bias Fact Check” link in response to a legitimate news article on social media, only to then have it pointed out to other commenters that they’ve unwittingly linked to a scam site.
There’s nothing inherently malicious about posting ones personal opinions about news outlets, as Van Zandt. It becomes sketchier when one does so without bothering to back it up with sourcing, examples, or evidence. But doing so while masquerading as some kind of internet security site? That makes it a scam. And changing the bias ratings of sites that call out the scam? That makes Van Zandt guilty of criminal fraud.
Determining the validity of any given news outlet requires doing ones own scrutiny and research. There are no shortcuts to this end. In fact scam sites like “Media Bias Fact Check” exist solely to take advantage of those who mistakenly think such shortcuts exist. Do your own due diligence when it comes to trusting the media. Follow an article’s supporting source links for verification and so on. Don’t fall for the trap of relying on phony ratings concocted by random con artists in the shadows. Quoting a joke of a scam site like “Media Bias Fact Check” will only leave you looking foolish. If you see a friend mistakenly linking to that scam, post this article in response and help set them straight.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report