Monday, December 26, 2016

Bill Adair: Do as I say, not as I do(?)

One of the earliest criticisms Jeff and I leveled against PolitiFact was its publication of opinion-based material under the banner of objective news reporting. PolitiFact's website has never, so far as we have found, bothered to categorize its stories as "news" or "op-ed." Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Times publishes PolitiFact's fact checks in print alongside other "news" stories. The presentation implies the fact checks count as objective reporting.

Yet PolitiFact's founding editor, Bill Adair, has made statements describing PolitiFact fact checks as something other than objective reporting. Adair has called fact-checking "reported conclusion" journalism, as though one may employ the methods of the op-ed writer from Jay Rosen's "view from nowhere" and end up with objective reporting. And we have tried to publicize Adair's admission that what he calls the "heart of PolitiFact," the "Truth-O-Meter," features subjective ratings.

As a result, we are gobsmacked that Adair effectively expressed solidarity with PolitiFact Bias on the issue of properly labeling journalism (interview question by Hassan M. Kamal and response by Adair; bold emphasis in the original):
The online media is still at a nascent stage compared to its print counterpart. There's still much to learn about user behaviour and impact of news on the Web. What are the mistakes do you think that the early adopters of news websites made that can be avoided?

Here's a big one: identifying articles that are news and distinguishing them from articles that are opinion. I think of journalism as a continuum: on one end there's pure news that is objective and tells both sides. Just the facts. On the other end, there's pure opinion — we know it as editorials and columns in newspaper. And then there's some journalism in the middle. It might be based on reporting, but it's reflecting just one point of view. And one mistake that news organisations have made is not telling people the difference between them. When we publish an opinion article, we just put the phrase 'op-ed' on top of an article saying it's an op-ed. But many many people don't know what that means. And it's based on the old newspaper concept that the columns that run opposite the editorial are op-ed columns. The lesson here is that we should better label the nature of journalism. Label whether it's news or opinion or something in between like an analysis. And that's something we can do better when we set up new websites.
Addressing the elephant in the room, if labeling journalism accurately is so important and analysis falls between reporting and op-ed on the news continuum, why doesn't PolitiFact label its fact checks as analysis instead of passing them off as objective news?


The fact check website I created to improve on earlier fact-checking methods, by the way, separates the reporting from the analysis in each fact check, labeling both.

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