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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fact checking a fact checker

Wow I really totally lost it this time.   Also, by the way, I coincidentally typed exactly the maximum allowed number of characters.

For no discernible reason Washington Post fact checker Josh Hicks goes back to the columns worst episode -- attempting and failing to fact check claims about when Mitt Romney became a purely passive investor in Bain capital.

All my claims are based on memory.

I note that my claims are damaging to Glenn Kessler and Josh Hicks.  I note that I am typing in Italy.  This means that if I can not prove my claims I hereby am committing not just a tort but a crime.  I promise that I will not appeal to the irrelevant US first amendment should either sue or denounce me to the authorities.

"We’ve also knocked the Obama campaign repeatedly for jumping to unwarranted conclusions about Mitt Romney’s record at Bain Capital." Indeed you (plural here and always in this comment) have.  You have also admitted that "going forward" you will judge on a "case by case basis."  My reading of the record of this column is that you have conceded that you were misled by the Romney campaign and insist that we, your readers, look forward not backward.  You can ask but you can't hope that anyone would grant such a request.  Fact checking necessarily involves looking backward not forward (fact is derived from a Latin past participle).  You do not allow people who have made false claims to look forward (note fact checking is not lie detection -- honest errors on points of fact such as Glenn Kessler's remain false statements).  The rule you want is that you are the judge but can't be judged -- that you fact check but are not fact checked.  You can wish but you better not hope for such a deal.

Also, the value of fact checking beyond other reporting is that it doesn't look forward. The only justification for your job is that other reporters must meet deadlines so false claims of fact are not identified, then old statements are old news so false statements are never identified.  There is no possible logic for a fact checking column with a statute of limitations so that plainly false claims are not corrected because they are old.

Clearly Mr Kessler's promise to check claims about Romney's departure from Bain on a case by case basis was insincere.  It must imply that he thinks that the exact claim matters.  If so, he should have reported the fact that the Romney campaign made grossly false claim on the matter.  The reason is their assertion that Romney had nothing whatever to do with the management of Bain after he started working for the Olympics (a claim contradicted by official documents signed by Romney and a claim which, if it were true, would imply that he is a felon).  If any claim of involvement is true, then the Romney campaign's claim of zero involvement is false.

But having written an incorrect assessment of the facts you will not face the facts. I thought that the compromise is to cease to accuse the Obama campaign of error and not to note the undeniably false assertions made by the Romney campaign.  Such a compromise is a betrayal of fact checking.  But I gave you (Josh Hicks) too much credit.  The promise to judge on a case by case basis going forward has been betrayed.  You have linked to Kessler's totally erroneous conclusion violating his promise to put the matter to rest (a promise not at all binding on me -- I will continue to note Kessler's violating of all basic principles of fact checking until he admits that his conduct in the matter was unacceptable).

Your conduct today, Josh Hicks,  is also .  When you are wrong you should not repeat the error without flagging it as an error.  You, Josh Hicks, embody that which you claim to fight.

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