Monday, February 13, 2012

Columbia Journalism Review: "What the Fact-Checkers Get Wrong"

If, in "What the Fact-Checkers Get Wrong" the Columbia Journalism Review only mentions the tip of the iceberg, we can at least take solace in the fact that this PolitiFact-related story is a step up from at least one previous effort.

Sure, the new item hints at liberal bias in that the piece appears to take for granted that only one of PolitiFact's last three "Lie of the Year" awards went to a statement that was defensibly true.

Regardless of that, it contains a solid criticism:
In fact, the sights of the broader fact-checking movement often seem to be set on something different than strict truth and falsehood. And by acknowledging that, the fact-checkers might grapple with some important questions about the project in which they’re engaged—and might see more clearly the box in which they’ve trapped themselves.

To get at those questions, it’s helpful to think about why “fact-checking” has emerged now. I’d argue that it’s a response to many journalists’ perception that they are ever more outgunned by the increasing volume and sophistication of professional political communication. The fact-check is a tool with which reporters can rescue themselves from oblivion. And the morally freighted language invoked by full-time fact-checkers—true and false, fact and lie—is a weapon, to be wielded by journalists with authority against other, presumably less trustworthy types who make political claims.
The CJR critique hits close (and the story acknowledges this explicitly) to one of the main points Mark Hemingway made in his controversial piece in the Weekly Standard in December:  Fact checkers are exalting their role in the epistemological chain, staking out for themselves a strategically valuable territory in the realm of public discourse.

Fact checking is, in a real sense, a power grab.

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