Fact Checking 101 and the Role of the Media

One thing about the media that has truly alarmed me is the way that it parrots lies asserted by politicians and public figures without any context. Today, the NYT asked for feed back about this.  The question is  weirdly put, but is still worth a response. Fact checking isn’t being a “truth vigilante”  imho.  It’s about providing context to the story and it’s about informing your reader.  Reporters should not just be parrots of political convenience.  They should report more than verbatim comments.

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

One example mentioned recently by a reader: As cited in an Adam Liptak article on the Supreme Court, a court spokeswoman said Clarence Thomas had “misunderstood” a financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings from the Heritage Foundation. The reader thought it not likely that Mr. Thomas “misunderstood,” and instead that he simply chose not to report the information.

Another example: on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

Yes.  I think that’s appropriate.  I think a lot of people read it in print and assume it wouldn’t be printed if it was a baldface lie.  What do you think?


14 Comments on “Fact Checking 101 and the Role of the Media”

  1. ralphb says:

    Of course they should challenge what they are told by politicians. But they should be sure they are correct when rebutting or some of these fools could make things worse.

    • dakinikat says:

      It should be worded neutrally too. It shouldn’t be judgmental. Just a statement of “truthiness”.

      • northwestrain says:

        Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        Perhaps some of the misstatements may have been an accident — then the person can learn from their errors. Others who lie repeatedly — need to have the truth printed along with their errors. Truthiness Indeed.

  2. I think print newspapers are a dying thing–though I personally wouldn’t want to see them vanish, just improve.

    The internet provides a way to link back to proof of assertions so the better bloggers/reporters are ones who will link to the backup within their text or at the very least provide it in the comments when asked.

    Honestly, the corporate American media would screw up fact-checking. They’d so-call “fact-check” the Hillarys relentlessly and let the Obamas/Mitts/etc. slide. Just like they did in ’08.

    What they need is quality control, more competition from indy news outlets.

    • Or for that matter how they did with Gore vs. W in 2000, Kerry vs. W. in 2004, Clintons vs. the GOP in the 90s, etc.

      • ralphb says:

        It’s a very long list for sure! They have misinformed the public for a very long time now. Reporters seem to believe the only real truth is what gets repeated at cocktail parties.

  3. peggysue22 says:

    Chris Hedges had an interesting essay on this subject a number of months ago. Here’s a small sample:

    “And the creed of objectivity becomes a convenient and profitable vehicle to avoid confronting unpleasant truths or angering a power structure on which news organizations depend for access and profits. This creed transforms reporters into neutral observers or voyeurs. It banishes empathy, passion and a quest for justice. Reporters are permitted to watch but not to feel or to speak in their own voices. They function as “professionals” and see themselves as dispassionate and disinterested social scientists. This vaunted lack of bias, enforced by bloodless hierarchies of bureaucrats, is the disease of American journalism.”

    You can pick up the entire essay here:

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_creed_of_objectivity_killed_the_news_business_20100131/

    Thought provoking and angry. Very angry.

  4. bostonboomer says:

    I think the reporter should ask Romney for a specific example of the President apologizing for America. They should print the answer along with the results of the word search.

    • Agreed. Simply “when did he say that?” Or when stats are cited, “what study was that or who did that study?” Neither of these are challenging or judgmental, but just gathering more information from the source who is giving the quote. What are those old questions that reporters are supposed to ask: who, what, when, where, why? Something like that.

      Additionally I find it infuriating when the MSM parrots the Luntz phrases: whether it’s partial birth abortion, death tax, job creators etc.

  5. Tim says:

    A good video on fact checking and science in the media.

    It’s quite a long video but it shows how much effort it can take to check your ‘facts’.
    It’s also quite hard to stomp out a lie once it’s out there.
    One of the reasons I like this blog, I know all the writers research their articles before publishing.

  6. boogieman7167 says:

    The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it”
    Joseph Goebbels – Nazi Propaganda Minister