Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Weekly Standard: "Lies, Damned Lies, and 'Fact Checking'"

The Weekly Standard and Mark Hemingway add yet another effective critique of PolitiFact to the growing set:
They call themselves “fact checkers,” and with the name comes a veneer of objectivity doubling as a license to go after any remark by a public figure they find disagreeable for any reason. Just look at the Associated Press to understand how the scheme works.
Yes, Hemingway first uses the Associated Press as his example.  But PolitiFact isn't far behind:
(I)n 2009 the St. Petersburg Times won a Pulitzer Prize for PolitiFact, endowing the innovation with a great deal of credibility. “According to the Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact .  .  . ” has now become a kind of Beltway Tourette syndrome, a phrase sputtered by journalists and politicians alike in an attempt to buttress their arguments.

If the stated goal seems simple enough​—​providing an impartial referee to help readers sort out acrimonious and hyperbolic political disputes​—​in practice PolitiFact does nothing of the sort.

Hemingway backs his assessment with the same example he used in his 2010 critique of PolitiFact in the Washington Examiner:  Rand Paul's statement about the gulf between average private sector pay and that received by federal workers.  Hemingway again explains the preposterousness of that rating and calls it "non-atypical" of PolitiFact.

What's PolitiFact's problem?  Hemingway's rundown sounds themes familiar to regular readers of PFB:
The media establishment has largely rallied round the self-satisfied consensus that fact checking is a noble pursuit. Nonetheless there are signs of an impending crack-up. In their rush to hop on the fact-checking bandwagon, the media appear to have given little thought to what their new obsession says about how well or poorly they perform their jobs.

It’s impossible for the media to fact check without rendering judgment on their own failures. Seeing the words “fact check” in a headline plants the idea in the reader’s mind that it’s something out of the ordinary for journalists to check facts. Shouldn’t that be an everyday part of their jobs that goes without saying? And if they aren’t normally checking facts, what exactly is it that they’re doing?
In a nutshell, the fact checkers are biased and not particularly good at fact checking.

Remember to read Hemingway's every word.  This review doesn't do it full justice.

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