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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.