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Monday, June 06, 2011

Is there a present for fact checking in US journalism ?

Fact checking is a new and exiting alleged feature of US journalism. The AP is now sending out fact checking articles. The Washington Post has a regular fact checking column. The existence of fact checking separate from reporting on what public figures say is, in itself, a shocking confession that political journalists haven't been doing their job. The apparent view is that, in addition to all of the commentary on the horse race, on political strategy and on reporters' impressions of what sort of impressions ordinary people will have, there is room for a little bit of discussion of the facts.

The problem is that fact checking is a radical break with business as ususal. It was absent for a simple reason. To be frank, the problem is that Republicans lie a lot more than Democrats do. Objective reporting therefore is perceived as liberal bias. As Colbert said, the facts have a clear liberal bias (like all of the very best parody, his statement was barely a parody).

Like many people, I was upset when Politifact (pioneers in the daring new experiment in fact based journalism) gave a pants on fire rating to a DCCC ad mostly because of accurate claims of fact in the ad, partly because the alleged fact checker considered the implied policy recommendation bad policy (the alleged fact check included the observation that Republicans have argued that it is necessary to reform Medicare to keep it from going bankrupt -- this was not related to any factual claim in the ad which was allegedly being fact checked). Oh and because of a name -- the ad said Republicans had voted to end Medicare and they have named their proposed voucher program "Medicare." The fact checker actually wrote that claming they had voted to end Medicare "as we know it" would have been OK. Think of that. The qualifier "as we know it" just means "if we don't allow them to redefine terms at will." How can it be required for factual accuracy.

Then I was very upset when Glenn Kessler awarded Sect Sebelius three Pinocchios for a statement which he basically acknowledged was true, because it was also "outrageous."

Now Kessler awards just two Pinocchios to Romney even though he had awarded just one of Romney's claims of fact four Pinocchios in the past. Good of him to note that fact, but this means he has clearly stated that fact checking as we know it is not about the relationship between claims of fact and facts, because it is not acceptable to reach the conclusion that a relatively sober and respectable Republican lies like a dog.

Go with the facts or go with the approved narrative. Compromise is ridiculous.

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