Lead Stories, a fact checker that initially was the pet project of Belgian tech blogger Maarten Schenk, became a bigger organization after Facebook designated it as one of the company’s 10 American fact-checking partners. Lead Stories does more than its fair share of “reduc[ing]” and “remov[ing]” content that it deems problematic.
The media outlet features several CNN alumni who fact-check trending stories. In one study, it was found that it fact-checked conservatives and conservative organizations four times more than liberals and liberal organizations.
Schenk, the co-founder of the organization, writes in his bio that he is “endlessly fascinated by the dazzling variety of psychological and technical tricks used by the people and networks who intentionally spread made-up things on the internet.”
Eight CNN alumni help run the outlet. They perform 76 percent of the fact-checks. Ryan Cooper, a former director of programming at CNN International, has done 145 entries in this time-span, almost exactly half. He was joined by former CNN Digital News editor Monte Plott (1 entry), former CNN Digital senior writer Jessica Ravitz (14 entries), former CNN entertainment reporter Alan Duke (29 entries), former CNN senior director of special events Anne Brown (7 entries), former planning CNN producer/editor/reporter Chelsea Carter (7 entries), and former CNN senior producer Wayne Drash (23 entries). Former CNN news editor Tom Watkins also has written for the outlet, publishing a story on March 18.
After the National Pulse, a conservative media outlet founded by Raheem Kassam, published a piece exposing Lead Stories, Lead Stories tried to hit back. It wrote, “Several of our staffers have worked previously at CNN, including Editor-in-Chief Alan Duke and we make no excuses for that. When looking for new employees it is only natural to reach out to unemployed former colleagues.”
Chairman Perry Sanders wrote in response, “All this being said, Lead Stories, that I mainly funded, is supposed to have zero political bias, and any accusations that it has such bias will be fully examined by me personally and that will NEVER be tolerated. Are we perfect? Likely not. Are we as an organization biased? We better not be!!”
Other writers for Lead Stories hadn’t even graduated from college yet. Molly Weisner, a staff writer at Lead Stories, wrote in her bio that she is still attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In the About section, Lead Stories announces that its expenses for 2019 totaled $300,809. Meanwhile, it was compensated $359,000 from Facebook through the terms of the fact-checking partnership. Facebook financed 119 percent of Lead Stories’ operating costs.
Since the beginning of 2020, Lead Stories fact-checked conservative or non-liberal figures and outlets like The Blaze founder Glenn Beck, Townhall, The Washington Times, the GOP, Newsmax, LifeNews.com, Human Events editor Ian Miles Cheong, Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, radio host Rush Limbaugh, Judicial Watch, the NRA, OANN’s Jack Posobiec, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Christian satire site Babylon Bee, Breitbart, and The Daily Caller.
The Media Research Center, which is the organization that operates NewsBusters, CNSNews.com, and MRCTV was also mentioned by Lead Stories in a sweeping fact-check that listed four conservative sites for false information.
Facebook pages or users that share these “fact-checked” posts have their reach suppressed for an amount of time on the platform. So if a conservative page shares a story from another conservative website, the fact-check affects it too.
- Lead Stories neglected to fact-check the Democratic debate between former Vice-President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). The Washington Post dedicated a whole article to fact-checking the debate.
- Lone Conservative, a conservative media outlet designed for college students and recent graduates, was fact-checked by Lead Stories for a cartoon of bailout money being rolled into the Kennedy Center as money was being rolled out to the Democratic National Committee. The cartoon was meant as satire. It was labeled as “false.”
- Lead Stories fact-checked a meme that said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) did not listen to Tupac and Snoop Dogg in college, because “she did not specifically say it was while she was in college.”
Contact Lead Stories at 323-762-3215.