Interview by César Batiz.
Edited by Gabriela Gonzalez.
Donald Trump became the first Republican to lose after winning Ohio in American history and the first incumbent ever to lose after getting Florida, Texas and Ohio.
For Venezuelan journalist based in Miami and coordinator of El Detector, the fact-checking effort of TV station Univision, Tamoa Calzadilla, expose the lies in the speeches and public appearances of Donald Trump and Biden was a challenge. The now-elected US president did not lie in the same proportion as his political rival.
The Detector is a platform for fact-checking the statements and actions of the main actors in American public life. It is part of a group of 12 news organizations that verified the truths and lies during the electoral campaign, marked by misinformation and polarization.
Calzadilla talked to El Pitazo on Friday at 6.00 pm, when the results were still not known, and she projected 290 votes from the electoral college to Biden, making him the new president of the United States. Nevertheless, Trump does not stop denouncing fraud, as he has done through the Twitter platform, which has put 26 disinformation labels on him. As of this writing, two recounts got scheduled in Michigan and Georgia, both states where Trump held a substantial lead for days but was eventually called for Biden by thin margins of less than 1%, as mandated per US law.
– What are the challenges for journalists in the face of disinformation and polarization?
-The followers of Trump believe in conspiracy theories. Fact-checkers, a group of 12 fact-checkers in the US, including Univision.com, are permanent checking data and information that comes up in networks or other avenues to counteract them.
An example would be the reports of possible fraud made by Trump. In the last 14 years, work shows that the incidence of fraud is 0.0025%, which is very low. It does not mean that fraud does not exist. There is always someone trying to do something wrong, but Democrats and Republicans agree that the electoral system is quite reliable. There are observers from all sectors here.
-Polarization is well known to Venezuelans, but why a society like the US reach these levels of polarization based on what been observing?
-It is a good question, and because it is complex, it has many answers. Polarization generally occurs when some groups of people feel that they have not been hearing.
Then someone like Trump comes along, promoting anti-politics, and brings sensitive issues into the debate like racism, which has been exacerbated and creates more division among the population.
-And how responsible is the media in this polarization?
-The media are responsible when they do not realize that they are magnifying the message and putting a megaphone on these kinds of speeches.
Another aspect is that it is a little disrespectful that as a person, I try to bring into the limelight everything that we can have as a Venezuelan experience to Americans. We have to be very respectful. Not everything is the same.
-What would you say to someone who thinks that there is a fraud and that the media are contributing?
Is complicated. We have had months of hearing Trump say that there would be fraud, pushing the envelope, without having a single shred of evidence. He does not present anything that can be trusted. Some judges have told him that there is no case.
The media has tried to verify the facts and warn people when a politician lies or tells the truth. But when there is polarization, people do not listen to you or listen to what they want, even if there is data. Nevertheless, we continue to do the job.
-In this work of uncovering lies and truth, how much did Trump lie, and how much did Biden lie?
-That was a challenge. As a journalist, you can not control whether one candidate lies more than another because you can not twist reality. Biden did not lie as much as Trump, for example.
In pointing out this statement, Calzadilla added that in the first presidential debate on September 30, they detected that Trump used 13 false or misleading phrases, while Biden used five. Biden was mistaken in numbers, in historical data such as the number of deaths from the coronavirus; data on trade with China. But, that is not the same when the president in office tells you that the United States has been the most successful country in dealing with the coronavirus, and the data shows that they take more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19.
She claimed that they tried to reveal in the campaign when Trump told the truth. “We tried very hard to get a balance. That is the job.”
– How do you do the data-checking work?
When you do the fact-checking work or when you do the speech check, you take a fact, no matter what your position is. It is not the same when someone gives an opinion because you can not verify it.
Our job is to look for facts that are verifiable, to use the databases that exist and are accessible here, and to prove whether they are true or false, or misleading. There may also be no evidence at that time to show whether it is true or not.
The journalist claims that verification goes beyond opinions. She refers to data checking as knowing whether a statement is true or not and brings up a fact as an example.
“In the case of the accusations that Trump has made about the number of votes attributed to him, we focus on the explanation he gave to request the recount, specifically the one that states that the votes are illegal because they arrived late. That is the phrase we checked. The review of Georgia’s laws led the journalist to claim that Trump lied.”
-What is your opinion about the media taking Trump’s statement off the air Thursday night?
The press is free here and has pointed out the misinformation that has come from Trump, even before the campaign. And there is a responsibility against misinformation.
Also, when you broadcast a statement live, at a time of great tension, the responsibility is bigger. We are not obligated to transmit misinformation or calls for violence.
-As for the Venezuelans in Florida, how important was the vote of the Venezuelans?
-In Miami, Trump did not win, but he did in the center of the state. But Biden did not win with the strength of Hillary Clinton, and the Democrats lost steam. I also believe that he did hit with that campaign of socialism and linking Biden to Chavez. But Venezuelans who vote here are not the majority or a significant portion of the electorate. They are very few. By the way, in Florida, disinformation has gained a lot of strength.
-Do you think it will change US policy towards Venezuela if Biden wins?
-That is the question that all of us who want the nightmare to end ask ourselves. What I see with Biden is that he has promised throughout his campaign TPS for the Venezuelans here, who are so many.
This TPS is a temporary treaty that means that all Venezuelans who have expired their visa, being in the US, are going to have a document to be here for a long time.
Concerning the sanctions, we must remember that they are bipartisan.
I believe that there is a decision that something serious is happening in Venezuela. You always have to take into account that they are two different Presidents, and they will approach the issue differently.
-Do you think that the US can recover from the wounds left by this process?
-It is a question we all ask ourselves. It is what has to come. After a country gets wounded by such a fierce struggle, there should come a time the meeting and listen.
The best thing about democracies is when you can give a voice to minorities because the majority already knows that they are minorities.