False Claim about Nominee Gorsuch Highlights Need for Rigorous Fact-Checking

People will believe silly things when it fits their ideological preconceptions. Even when they have been debunked and are contradicted by first-hand information and news reports.

A handful of mostly left-leaning publications repeated a British tabloid’s wild claim that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch started a “fascism forever club” in high school. This bizarre smear of Gorsuch was debunked by Snopes. It was also debunked by teachers at his school, as liberal-leaning America magazine noted. And it was also debunked by a lawyer in National Review.

Neil Gorsuch is a well-respected judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, where he has been a judge for more than 10 years, without a hint of scandal. He was unanimously confirmed to the Tenth Circuit by a bipartisan vote, even as other, controversial judges faced filibusters. 

Nothing in Gorsuch’s judicial opinions or writings is in any way radical, nor does he have a history of saying radical things. Even lawyers like Radley Balko who detest President Trump think that Gorsuch is a well-qualified, judicious, and reasonable man who should be confirmed.

So there was no reason to believe this bizarre claim even before Snopes debunked it. But when I emailed two publications that repeated this bizarre claim, asking them to correct the error, one took a day to fix it, and the other one has yet to do so. 

Neither of the writers I emailed responded to my email. Even the publication that did fix its error dragged its feet for a day, then made the correction only after a law professor who writes blog posts for the Washington Post told them he planned to write about their false claim. 

When a claim is debunked, and was implausible to begin with, those who made the claim should immediately correct what they have written – not drag their feet, or ignore emails pointing out the error. Internet rumors based on false claims like this tend to take on a life of their own. Gorsuch’s reputation is already damaged, since countless people have read these false articles or tweets linking to them.

Column Appointments Judiciary Gorsuch Nomination Bias by Omission Double Standards Conservatives & Republicans Liberals & Democrats National Review Washington Post Hans Bader Neil Gorsuch Donald Trump
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