Who watches the watchmen, and who fact checks the “fact checkers?” Politifact was set up by some news agencies as the ultimate arbiter of fact, and politicians love to use Politifact to attack their opponents. However, we have yet another reminder that the so-called “fact checking” is a subjective, rather than objective, process.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Kertscher decided to check the claim by the Republican Party of Wisconsin that State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers could have taken away the teachers license of Andy Harris, a teacher in the Middleton School District, who received pornographic emails and then shared them with co-workers. One co-worker eventually complained.
The school district, to it’s credit, attempted to fire Harris. However, an arbitrator, the circuit court and the appeals court all sided with Harris claiming that since other employees got away with lesser punishments for looking at pornography at work, Harris should have received a lighter punishment, too. The state Supreme Court refused to take up the case.
Of course, in the private sector Harris probably would have been terminated immediately for misuse of company equipment with no hope of getting his job back lest the company risk being sued for allowing sexual harassment and a hostile working environment.
Evers claimed he didn’t have the authority to take away Harris’ license because the conduct “did not involve children in any manner,” which was the legal definition of “immoral conduct” by a teacher at the time. The children weren’t harmed, the theory goes, so the law at that time defining “immoral conduct” didn’t apply.
Kertscher sided with Evers and rates the Republican claim “mostly false.” He even takes a shot at the Republican Party for saying Harris was “guilty” of sharing pornography, saying Harris was not convicted of a crime.
We’ll never know for sure what would have happened if Evers had taken away Harris’ teaching license, so there is no way Kertscher can say definitively whether the Republican claim is false.
Had Evers claimed that by distributing the porn Harris received on his work computer he was disrupting the educational environment for students, thereby showing harm to the students, perhaps Evers’ decision would have stood. Perhaps if Evers had tried to take away Harris’ license, the Supreme Court would have taken up the case (given that by then all administrative remedies would have been exhausted) and sided with Evers.
But Evers didn’t even try. And, as is well documented, this is not the only case where Evers has not acted to take away the licenses of teachers behaving badly.
Evers will try to use this misleading Politifact column to try to claim innocence, but the Republican claim is correct. Evers is guilty of not trying to take away Harris’ license. He let down the parents, the students and even the administrators of the Middleton School District. That’s a fact.
We’re going to say Kertscher is guilty of falsely claiming his subjective analysis masquerade as “fact checking,” even though that is also not a criminal offense, just obnoxious and misleading to the public. And that’s also a fact. One Kertscher should check before he writes his next “fact-checking” column.
By the way, we can’t wait for Politifact to “fact check” Evers’ claim he is a “lifelong educator.” When was the last time he was in a classroom?