It’s hard not to get depressed about the state of politics in the U.S., especially considering that the presumptive nominees in the major parties are widely disliked and mistrusted. So you’d think that fact-checking of those candidates would be welcomed, wouldn’t you?
If the supporters for one of those candidates are any indication, no [bleeping] way.
PolitiFact Wisconsin’s Tom Kertscher published an analysis on April 1 (how fitting) exploring why the candidate with the largest percentage of claims found to be false or “pants on fire” was so popular. In speaking to numerous experts, Kertscher found—as did Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, whose analysis was printed on the Voices page Friday—that much of it comes down to the pull Donald Trump has on emotions.
But why do supporters believe the much-debunked tales Trump tells? Kertscher wrote:
“Shana Kushner Gadarian, a political science professor at Syracuse University in New York, said people who support a politician can discount a bad record on the facts. They might believe a media outlet is biased, or that a claim that was debunked isn’t all that important anyway.”
Because the lamestream media is full of liberals, you know (pay no attention to Fox News or any conservatives on major networks).
Poynter’s Alexios Mantzarlis, head of the International Fact-Checking Network, argues that rumors of the death of fact-checking are exaggerated, and that 2015 brought big jumps in page-views for the big three, FactCheck, PolitiFact and the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker. While not every reader’s mind will be changed, he notes, the audience is increasing for such efforts. “Dismissing the entire effort as futile because facts keep getting mangled by politicians (and voters keep believing them),” he concludes, “makes for powerful headlines but imperfect analysis.”
Fact-checkers come up against confirmation bias (that tendency to seek out only information that fits your worldview) all the time, but it seems this election year’s vintage is especially obstinate, distrusting any fact check that contradicts a favored candidate or doesn’t confirm rumors about a hated one.
And the fact-checkers cried “whoopee!” Or just cried. Depends on the day, really.
PolitiFact editor Angie Holan wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times last week of the difficulties in fact-checking candidates this cycle when the two front-runners are a calculated, careful woman seen as secretive and stingy with truth and a businessman who’s careless with facts and is seen as an entertainer.
“One reader dismissed our fact-checking as just a form of opinion journalism. Another said we were ignoring false statements from Hillary Clinton. Still another asked how we could remain objective about a candidate who lies the way Donald Trump does.”
Of course, Clinton’s statements weren’t being ignored, not that it matters to people who think that fact-checking is nothing but opinions. (Documented facts? Pshaw! ) And no, she wasn’t treated with kid gloves, either, despite her careful parsing (if the light is juuuuust right, this is true) … or maybe because of it. Straightforward she’s not.
Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia told Holan that journalists should keep doing their jobs:
“Think about the enormous powers of the presidency. There should be absolute equality in fact-checking. Every word a president speaks matters. It has economic, social and diplomatic consequences. If any candidate is sloppy with facts or language, the voters need to weigh the consequences. It isn’t just Trump. Clinton’s recent gaffe about coal has cost her any chance of carrying coal counties in at least five states.”
Regardless of the candidate, statements by and about them that are false should be corrected, and that’s what fact-checking is about: keeping people accountable for their statements and actions, whether they’re Republican, Democratic, Libertarian or Loony Party.
OK, yeah, I threw that last one in. They’re all loony, if you ask me. And typically not in an entertaining way.
Though Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post closed shop on her “What Was Fake on the Internet This Week” column, she told Craig Silverman (founder of Regret the Error), “I don’t want to suggest that anyone should throw in the towel on this, because it’s obviously a principle function of journalism to correct misinformation.”
That would be despite the fact that, she said, “the sexy lie is going to get more attention than the very unsexy debunking.” So no, that photo of a leathery Cindy Crawford is the fake one, no matter how much we want to believe she has succumbed to age like the rest of us.
Fact checks can and do make a difference, but the more entrenched a partisan is, the harder it is to break through. Believe me, for some it will never happen (I’m lookin’ at you, Mr. Hillary-is-Satan). Still, it does happen at least occasionally, so those who care about facts will continue to plug away.
Naw, facts don’t matter … until they do … which they just might on Nov. 9. And yes, you can get Internet service in Canada. Just remember to pack your long-johns.
A few words on guest columns, especially as the November election (God help us) draws nearer.
The Voices page welcomes guest columns from Arkansans on most topics, but with the election and all its hype, we must be even pickier on political columns than usual. As we have done in the past, from this point we won’t use columns (even on unrelated matters) from those running for office, but still will publish letters from them.
We also will leave endorsements of or screeds against candidates to the pros; letters, again, are still fine, providing statements are verifiable (i.e., you don’t call someone a felon who has not been convicted—or even charged—of a felony, or repeat debunked rumors, etc.). Political analysis—such as Dr. Tsipursky’s recent guest column—which doesn’t advocate or castigate specific candidates and that provides more of an overview of the landscape is more in line with what we can use.
Despite the current saturation, politics are not the only topic in the world worthy of discussion. Some of my favorite guest columns have nothing to do with politics. Some were even heartwarming and funny.
There, I said it: Politics aren’t everything. And thank God for that.
Besides, the furry one says it’s all about him.