The Tories’ fake ‘fact-checking’ service shows the same disdain for the truth as Trump

The US president cares little for how he is viewed beyond his core supporters. The Conservatives owe British voters better than that

Chris Stevenson
Wednesday 20 November 2019 00:02
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Johnson v Corbyn: Closing statements

It only lasted about 90 minutes, but for those following the leaders’ debate on Twitter there seemed to be a new organisation helping viewers keep track and verify the claims from both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn: FactCheckUk

But that was misleading, the account was actually run by the Conservative Party press office, under the handle CCHQ Press. The move was condemned by independent fact verification organisations like Full Fact, who accused the party of acting “inappropriately”. The backlash on Twitter came swiftly from viewers and rival politicians alike, but the calling out of Corbyn’s “lies” and Johnson as the “clear winner” of the debate did not look quite so bad once the purple livery including a tick mark had been removed and normal service was resumed.

But the damage has been done. Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt called it “dystopian” and claimed that not even Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, or Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party – who have both been accusing of undermining democracy in their own nations – would go as far as the Conservatives did.

The latest incident comes after the Conservatives faced an outcry earlier this month after footage of Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer was doctored to show him unable to answer a question on the UK leaving the EU. The Conservative version – produced from an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain – was shared on the party’s social media channels with Starmer’s face appearing under the caption “Labour has no plan for Brexit”. In reality, Starmer did provide a lengthy answer and called the doctored video “an act of desperation that backfired”.

The cynical moves show the kind of disdain for the truth exhibited by another world leader, Donald Trump. According to a fact check by the team at the Washington Post last month, to commemorate the president’s 1,000th day in office, Trump has made more than 13,400 false or misleading statements – at an average of 13.4 a day.

Beyond his words there have been numerous examples of behaviour that is not far away from the latest Conservative stunt. In May Trump tweeted retweeted a heavily edited video that falsely claimed the Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had difficulty speaking to reporters – not unlike the Starmer video. There is also his failure to condemn a doctored video from the Kingsman film franchise show at a pro-Trump conference held in Miami in October. In the edited video, Trump’s head was superimposed onto the body of a character played by Colin Firth as he attacked his political enemies in the “fake news church”. The video was not created by the White House, but the president was in no rush to admonish the creators despite widespread criticism.

Back in September, Trump showed a doctored map – altered with a pen – of the path of Hurrricane Dorian towards the US coast. Why was the map altered to include Alabama in the storm’s path? Merely because the president had wrongly asserted that the state would be hit. It shows the type of man he is that Trump would want to make himself the centre of attention at a time of a national emergency. Trump loves to label his rivals “fake news” but there have been many occasions where the label can apply to him, and the Conservatives Twitter stunt certainly falls into that category.

There are those who will say that actions such as those from Trump and the Conservatives are small beer, that they mean little in the grand scheme of things. But at a time of a general election that could decide the course of the nation for years to come there is a simple question the Conservatives, and their leader Boris Johnson who is known for his own seemingly elastic relationship with the truth, need to answer. Do you stand for trusting the electorate and treating them fairly by answers questions without spin, or not?

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