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Dec 04 2012

Time to Mainstream the Factchecking

2012 was the year that websites devoted to factchecking politicians truly came into their own, though they actually started a few years ago. Some people are calling for more of that sort of thing, but Brendan Nyhan correctly points out that if journalists did their jobs, they wouldn’t be necessary:

While factchecking did not eliminate falsehoods from our politics, this was always an unrealistic expectation. The relevant question is whether politicians were more careful, and voters better informed, than they would have been without factchecking. By that standard, the expansion of factchecking seems likely to have had a positive effect…

The criteria for success, though, should not be the addition of more specialized factcheckers or the production of more factchecking articles and TV segments. Dedicated factcheckers like PolitiFact and Factcheck.org play a critical role, but we will know that factchecking has succeeded in changing American political journalism when it disappears as a specialized function. The process of factchecking needs to be integrated into political coverage, not ghettoized in sidebars and online features. If more reporters adopt best practices for covering misinformation (including exercising discretion in not fact-checking some statements), politicians and other public figures could face even more effective scrutiny in 2013 and beyond.

There’s a word for this kind of factchecking: Journalism. It’s what any journalist worthy of the title should do in every single story they write. The problem is that the American media long ago fell into the “two sides to every story” rut, which they continue to justify by pretending that presenting both sides of a story even when one side (or both) is flagrantly wrong is necessary in order to be “objective” and “unbiased.” It’s time to stop such nonsense and get back to doing their jobs.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Michael Heath

    Anderson Cooper practices this form of journalism on his nightly news show. He evidently prepares for the lies of his guests and calls them out when they deliver such lies. It’s not hard to prepare since these liars constantly repeat the same lies, precisely because journalists don’t check them in person.

    Mr. Cooper doesn’t catch all of the misinformation broadcast on his show, but he does a sufficient volume liars are becoming less apt to show up and those liars who do appear seem to checking their speech.

    If all journalists followed his lead, than liar-politicians would enjoy access only in venues where they’d be revealed as liars or Fox News and the Wall Street Journal – where neither audience is sufficient for them to win future elections.

  2. 2
    unbound

    “There’s a word for this kind of factchecking: Journalism.”

    Exactly

  3. 3
    Didaktylos

    @#1:-

    But for this practice to work, it must be backed by Cooper’s corporate superiors. Otherwise the politicians will simply put pressure on them to have Cooper and his confreres put out to pasture.

  4. 4
    The Lorax

    I disagree. I think journalists should be shamed by fact-checkers, and I think fact-checkers should be placed upon a higher pedestal than journalism.

    Imagine, if you will, two fact-checking programs on television, on rival networks, that are competing with each other for how many falsehoods they can uncover. We make it like a game show: democrats vs republicans. The winner is the one who tells more truths. I’d watch it. I’d encourage others to watch it. I’d encourage advertisers to purchase commercial slots. I’d encourage it to be loud, colourful, and engaging.

    A cultural movement in which checking ones data for correctness is considered “cool”? Yes, please.

  5. 5
    Dennis N

    Imagine, if you will, two fact-checking programs on television, on rival networks, that are competing with each other for how many falsehoods they can uncover. We make it like a game show: democrats vs republicans. The winner is the one who tells more truths.

    Unfortunately, that’s not how it would work. Each network would attract those who want their biases comforted. The winner would be whoever played to their base better. See: Fox News.

  6. 6
    Jordan Genso

    @4 The Lorax

    I thought that was called The Daily Show.

    j/k. I actually really like your idea. I’d support such a show as well.

  7. 7
    d.c.wilson

    You’ll know the fact-checkers have come into their own when the candidates pay attention to them. Mitt’s campaign famously declared that they wouldn’t be “dictated by fact checkers”. In fact, Mitt’s standard response to being fact checked was to just repeat the lie.

    Hopefully, his loss will serve as a warning to others that blatant lying and doubling down are not good ideas.

  8. 8
    Modusoperandi

    d.c.wilson, he didn’t lose because of his so-called “lies”. He lost because of slutty broads and lazy minorities. And also he wasn’t conservative enough. Obviously.

  9. 9
    jesuslovesbags

    Another related rut the media has fallen into is the “so and so says x” regardless of its validity or relevance.

  10. 10
    slc1

    Re Didaktylos @ #3

    Cooper has a decided advantage over his competitors.

    1. He is the most popular newsman at CNN,

    2. Being as how he is heir to the Gloria Vanderbilt fortune (she’s his mother) he doesn’t need the job,

    3. He has something to prove because he was originally regarded as just another pretty face and a lightweight to boot.

  11. 11
    Ichthyic

    If all journalists followed his lead

    I’m curious, Michael.

    Do you think Ed Brayton follows Anderson’s lead, as you see it?

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