A June 2021 article by the fact-checking group PolitiFact claimed a new Senate Resolution by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) condemning critical race theory (CRT) “distorts the facts.” PolitiFact offered little factual basis to assert this claim and instead relied on CRT proponents’ defenses against criticism as sufficient to dispel criticism.
Central to the PolitiFact’s reporting is are portions of a resolution by Scott that the fact-checker says it vetted. The article then proceeds to argue over key points of Scott’s resolution, while ignoring well established criticisms of the theory and the words espoused by actual CRT proponents.
- PolitiFact claims proponents of CRT are merely trying to carry on the legacy put forth by the Civil Rights Act (CRA), while ignoring criticisms of CRT and related ideas that advocate for discrimination, in direct contradiction to the legislative purpose of the CRA.
- PolitiFact claims Scott’s assertion that CRT promotes hatred of established U.S. institutions “is unsubstantiated.” Proponents of CRT directly talk about their skepticism of concepts such as civil/constitutional rights and their views of capitalism and modern policing as being derived from slavery, all of which could reasonably lead to resentment towards these institutions.
- PolitiFact claims Scott’s assertion that the New York Times’ 1619 Project was “widely debunked” goes too far, but donwplayed the repeated and detailed objections career historians have raised with the project.
- The MetaFact Group reached out to PolitiFact and the author of this article for comment, but the fact-checker declined to comment
In response to Scott’s resolution, which criticizes CRT and encourages states and localities to discourage it being taught in public school curriculums, PolitiFact “vetted” several of the claims in the resolution and described them as distortions of fact.
In his resolution, Scott wrote, “Whereas Critical Race Theory’s teachings stand in contrast to the overarching goal of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in the United States.”
PolitiFact said of Scott’s assertions about the CRA, “This is wrong.” This was offered as an absolute statement. PolitiFact then proceeded to cite the arguments of CRT proponents, including University of California-Berkeley law professor Khiara Bridges who said, “Critical race theory seeks to make real the promises of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. To claim that it is inconsistent with the Civil Rights Act is dishonest.”
Here PolitiFact takes defenders of CRT at their word while doing little to examine the actual sentiment behind why Scott described CRT as at odds with the CRA. The CRA outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, the founders of CRT criticize legal equality, legal impartiality on the basis of skin color and “color-blindness” as incapable of redressing any racial inequality beyond the “extremely eggregious” example and wrote that “only aggressive color-conscious efforts to change the way things are will ameliorate misery.” Ibram Kendi’s book “How to Be an Antiracist” outright calls for discrimination, stating, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” Calling for “aggressive color-conscious” action and discrimination is at odds with the CRA’s tenets of barring discrimination on the basis of race and color. These calls from CRT proponents for color-conscious action and even discrimination warrant more examination from a “fact-checker” than a flat “This is wrong” response and simply relying on the word of one side over that of the other does little to actually examine the underlying issue with sufficient rigor.
Next, PolitiFact takes issue with Scott’s claim that CRT being taught in public schools as an effort undermine support for long-held public institutions.
In his resolution, Scott wrote, “efforts to indoctrinate critical race theory into United States school children are designed to eventually transform the United States by stigmatizing its economic system and creating a hatred of all its institutions.”
PolitiFact in turn responded “this is unsupported.”
The claim CRT intends to promote a rejection of the U.S. economic sysyem and institutions is in fact well supported. In the opening pages of their work “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction” Delgado and Stefancic write that CRT proponents “are suspicious of another liberal mainstay, namely rights” (as in civil and constitutional rights).
One of the articles of the New York Times’ 1619 Project is titled, “American Capitalism Is Brutal. You Can Trace That to the Plantation.” This of course was a claim career historians refuted upon the article’s publication.
Critical Race proponents have also claimed modern policing in the U.S. is linked to slave patrols in the American south.
There, upon cursory glance are three institutions of U.S. society, policing, capitalism (America’s primary economic system) and constitutional rights themselves, that CRT proponents view with skepticism or paint as racist in origin. It is both a supported and reasonable conclusion by Scott that CRT promotes hatred and rejection of these institutions by casting them in a negative light.
PolitiFact also went on to defend the 1619 Project and assert Scott’s claim that the project has been “widely debunked” is a claim that “goes too far.” PolitiFact itself notes 17 career historians who, in two separate sets of letters, criticized the 1619 Project’s historial claims, yet fails to fully address the significance of these letters.
Addressing the first letter by five historians, PolitiFact prominently notes the historians wrote that the overall goal of the 1619 Project is “a praiseworthy and urgent public service.” PolitiFact then states that while the historians took issue with some assertions by the 1619 Project, such as that the American Revolution was fought to preserve slavery, The New York Times pointed to the historical facts it relied on and ultimately softened the wording about independence and slavery. ”
The actual letter by the historians states, “These errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing.’ They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism.” That criticism of the 1619 Projects errors as not merely a matter of framing but verifiable fact would seem at odds with the claim the projects authors could simply “soften” their wording. Either the 1619 Project authors were factually wrong in their initial wording (thus earning the fact-check of these historians and the “debunk”), or the “historial facts” the New York Times “point to” are superior in academic rigor and validity than the onese asserted by these career historians. In either case, PolitiFact doesn’t say what those facts by the 1619 Project authors were that they viewed as ultimately overcoming the rebuke of these career historians.
The original passage in question said “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” The updated passage now states, “Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons some of the colonists decided to declare their independence was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”
While in writing this is an addition of two words, in meaning it is the difference between slavery as a leading factor motivating the entirety of the revolutionary movement to a factor motivating only some (an indeterminate minority) of its proponents. Furthermore, the 1619 Project essay that makes this claim never really substantiates it. Upon its eventual correction, the essay places the assertion that “some” colonists were motivated to preserve slavery, but the essay never says who those people were, what documents serve as evidence to this motivation and what percentage of the overall revolutionary movement they comprised. It is unclear what facts PolitiFact feels the New York Times “pointed to” that sufficiently substantiated the claim these historians objected to in the first place.
Characterizing the second letter of rebuke by 12 career historians, PolitiFact said “its central complaint was that giving slavery such a pivotal role in American history oversimplified matters and left out too much context.” The letter itself actually goes far beyond criticizing the prominence with which slavery is treated in the overall roll of American history. The letter actually goes on to attack the central claim of one of the 1619 Project essays in its entirety, that American capitalism traces its roots to slavery. The 12 historians wrote, “The 1619 Project construes slavery as a capitalist venture, yet it fails to note how Southern slaveholders scorned capitalism as ‘a conglomeration of greasy mechanics, petty operators, small-fisted farmers, and moon-struck theorists. Although the Project asserts that ;New Orleans boasted a denser concentration of banking capital than New York City,; the phrase ‘banking capital’ elides the reality that on the eve of the Civil War, New York possessed more banks (294) than the entire future Confederacy (208), and that Southern ‘banking capital’ in 1858 amounted to less than 80% of that held by New York banks alone.”
Given the 1619 Projects made unsubstantiated claims about slavery and the American revolution that were challenged by career historians, and then devoted an entire essay to link slavery to capitalism, nevermind 12 more historians directly challenging that notion, it is fair to say that numerous assertions by the project lack a clear factual basis and could be accurately described as “debunked.”
The MetaFact Group reached out to the author of this PolitiFact article and spoke with PolitiFact Executive Director Aaron Sharockman. The MetaFact Group asked why PolitiFact asserted that the claim CRT is at odds with the CRA is, in their words, “wrong.” The MetaFact Group asked why PolitiFact treated the claim that CRT proponents are sewing hatred towards U.S. institutions is “unsupported.” The MetaFact Group also asked why PolitiFact rejected the claim that the 1619 Project was heavily challenged by career historians. Ultimately Sharockman declined to offer answers to any of these questions and said “we’ll let our story speak for itself.”
PolitiFact ultimately took proponents of CRT at their word while dismissing the arguments of its critics, failed to examine even a few basic claims promoted by CRT proponents about its goals and intentions, and downplayed the significance of challenges raised by career historians against the 1619 Project.