It’s only apropos that the day after April Fool’s Day this year was International Fact-Checking Day, the first such celebration of a much-needed service in an era of “alternative facts.”
The International Fact-Checking Network, headed by Poynter’s Alexios Mantzarlis, promoted the event, along with other fact-checking groups around the world, stating, “International Fact-Checking Day is not a single event but a rallying cry for more facts—and fact-checking—in politics, journalism, and everyday life.”
Lord, ain’t that the truth. Especially considering how many people seem to think that all it requires for something reported by the media to be false is that they don’t agree with it. Evidence, shmevidence!
The website for the event (factcheckingday.com) includes helpful guides on things such as determining if a news site is fake (for example, abcnews.com is real; abcnews.com.co is most decidedly not), how to spot fake Twitter account handles, and how to fact-check politicians.
PolitiFact held a “fact-check-a-thon” Sunday to mark the event, and found some real doozies. One story that has been around for years reared its head yet again, saying that the Colorado Rockies were selling pot brownies at the team’s concession stands. PolitiFact said that though Colorado voted to decriminalize marijuana, you can’t buy marijuana edibles at the Rockies’ stadium. Sorry to be a buzz-kill.
Another story said Nancy Pelosi had been led away in handcuffs to be questioned about a possible coup attempt. The site noted that no credible media sources had repeated the claim, and that it apparently originated on The Last Line of Defense, which states on its “about” page that “all articles should be considered satirical and any and all quotes attributed to actual people complete and total baloney.” And not even the good baloney (is there such a thing?).
Checking these things is par for the course for outfits like PolitiFact and FactCheck. PolitiFact, in a post Friday, debunked a report that Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr had been killed in a plane crash on his way to testify against Hillary Clinton in a special investigative committee hearing. Not only was there no such committee, it seems the town where the crash supposedly happened doesn’t exist. So, no, the “Clinton Body Count” didn’t rise. Not that it’s real in the first place, though some people will never be convinced otherwise.
A week before, FactCheck disproved a supposed quote from Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (“it’s better for our budget if cancer patients die more quickly”), which showed up in a story tracked to Politicops, a site run by Newslo, which claims to be, FactCheck wrote, “the first hybrid News/Satire platform on the Web.” A check of the transcript of the CNN town hall where Price spoke showed he said nothing of the kind. He’s still an ass, just not one who said that particular thing.
Some of you right now are grumbling about my citing “danged liberal” (I’m cleaning up the language here) fact-checking sites. Except, again, they’re not “liberal” or “conservative,” which by itself is more of a reason to have faith in them. The main reason I trust these sites is very simple: Sources are clearly cited and links to original source material are usually included so you can check them for yourself.
I mean, aren’t unnamed sources supposed to be bad? I think I read that on Twitter somewhere … from some guy who’s the color of the Formica a high school friend of mine was obsessed with for a time.
Facts don’t have a political leaning; it’s how the facts are (mis)interpreted that causes the problem. And when the facts disprove an actual fake news story (meaning made-up), the hyperpartisan tend to get a little antsy and start yelling about media bias because they only trust checks from “their side.” You must not dispute the party line, even when it hurls accusations without proof.
Apparently we’re living in Russia. Da, comrade!
Back during the campaign, Jeremy D. Goodwin wrote in the Boston Globe that journalists who challenge the veracity of candidates or officials are simply doing their jobs, and that claiming such as bias is “like saying a lifeguard oversteps her bounds by diving into the water.”
Yeah, crazy, I know. That lifeguard has no business saving people, just as a journalist has no business fact-checking allegations made by someone. They’re supposed to be good little reporters and just repeat what they’re told without question.
Goodwin reported that during the NBC debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, host Lester Holt corrected Trump several times on previously discredited claims. “The increasingly unhinged Rudy Giuliani said afterward that if he were Trump,” wrote Goodwin, “he’d skip future debates unless assured that ‘the journalist would act like a journalist and not an incorrect, ignorant fact-checker’ and that any future ‘moderator would have to promise that there would be a moderator and not a fact-checker.’”
Obviously Giuliani has no idea what a journalist actually does.
“When media reports debunk Trump’s factually incorrect assertions, this essential work is glibly dismissed as evidence of bias. At the debate, Trump waved away one example of documented fact as ‘mainstream media nonsense put out by’ Clinton.
“None of us is an expert on every issue of national consequence. We depend on professionals who are trained to help us sort through competing claims and make decisions based on the facts. If the implied hierarchy among competing sources—privileging evidence-based reports by credible news organizations over, say, an idle hot take found on a conspiracy-theory website—continues to erode, our democracy is in trouble. …
“This isn’t bias. It’s reality. In this era of choose-your-own-news, an increasingly balkanized public has grown accustomed to choosing its own facts. But if facts are stubborn things, then so too must be the fact-checkers.”
Sure, sometimes fact-checkers inadvertently cause those reading and spreading fake stories to just dig in (the ol’ backfire effect), but when even one person reads a fact-check, looks at the actual evidence surrounding the stories and concludes that they’re fake, that little bit of real estate in reality is worth all the taunts from hyperpartisans.
Well, not “doodyhead.” What are you, 3?
Longtime readers of this blog may remember a post I did in November 2013. More likely you don’t remember it, so here’s the relevant part of the post titled “Kneel before my awesome power”:
Today I got an email from one of the “problem children,” complaining about a cartoon that ran today. Not on the letters or editorial pages. In the features section. You know, because I edit everything that we print, including syndicated comics. Because apparently I’m just that powerful.
It seems there are still people who believe that.
Tuesday, one of the clerks (C.B., an awesome, funny guy) got a call from someone angry that the paper didn’t have anything about Susan Rice and the whole unmasking issue; before C.B. could say much of anything, the caller told him that it was obviously because Paul Greenberg (who is no longer an editor or my boss) had given me too much power in order to push my liberal agenda.
Wow. I had no idea that (1) Paul was the publisher, who is the only one who could give me such power, or (2) that I, a lowly editor/columnist in the opinion section, decide what goes in the news sections.
Clearly I’m not being paid nearly enough if I do have this power.
As I said in that 2013 post, I have nothing to do with determining what cartoons go in the features section. I also have nothing to do with what goes into the news sections (including business and sports), and haven’t since I left the copy desk in 2011. The very most I do is pass along the occasional local news tip that comes to my email. I don’t know what goes in the news sections until I see them the day they come out.
Responsible media outlets keep a clear line between news and opinion. I’m generally happy with the measured coverage included in our paper, and since we often tick off both conservatives and liberals, we must be doing something right most of the time.
Not that it matters to those used to a limited news diet (especially when that “news” is mostly opinion/propaganda). The real world is far too upsetting.
Wait, the real world is far too upsetting right now. Never mind. I need my kitty.