Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Fact Checking the Fact Checkers

 For the past several days, USA Today has had a post up with the headline:

Fact check: Biden did have the authority to declassify documents as vice president

It goes on to say:

Legal experts told USA TODAY that Biden had the authority to declassify documents as vice president as the result of a 2009 executive order signed by President Barack Obama.

Further down there is a link to the executive order. Reading it, you discover that it gives the VP the authority to classify documents, it gives any classification authority the right to declassify document he himself or his predecessor in office classified, but it says nothing at all about the VP having the authority to declassify documents classified by someone else. 

Further down we find:

McClanahan, who also teaches at the George Washington University Law School, said that under a 2009 executive order signed by Obama, the vice president is included in a list of "original classification authorities," meaning Biden had the power declassify anything he classified. 

The Washington Post also reported vice presidents have the authority to declassify anything they classified.
I don't think that was there when I first read the story a few days ago. 

Nobody, so far as I know, has alleged that all the documents Biden had were ones he himself had classified as VP. So while the headline is literally true if "documents" is interpreted as "some documents," that reading makes it irrelevant to the context. Its intended reading is a deliberate lie. 

I rate this fact check false.

Multiple other sources contained the same headline and the same claim about the executive order, qualified, if at all, further down in the story.


Deliberation Under Ideal Conditions said...

This is, I think, a pretty important point. Lots of issues are contested in relevant ways. One never knows whether their "debunking" will be subsequently debunked. Talk of fact checking is generally silly--especially on contested topics.

Anonymous said...

It was there on January 19th when archive.today captured it, so the timeline to have added the paragraphs in question is from the 17th (when published) to the 19th (when archived.)