Fact Checkers

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on September 5, 2012

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-Read the excerpt below (a "Best of the Web" post by OpinionJournal.com's editor James Taranto.)
-Read "Types of Media Bias" in the right column. Then answer the questions.

From a post by OpinionJournal.com’s editor James Taranto (original post date 9/4/12):
…Outside the world of journalism, fact checkers were pretty much unknown until recently. …Their job is quality control. The most rigorous fact-checking operations–The New Yorker’s and Reader’s Digest’s are the best known among us who know about such things–would scrutinize every factual assertion in an article [being printed in their publications], reporting back so that any error could be corrected.

Over the past few years, many [news] organizations have promoted “fact checkers” by making them writers. …

“Fact-checker findings, including those by The Washington Post’s project, figure prominently in campaign ads,” enthuses a Post news story. “The unique rating systems used by these organizations–including the trademarked Truth-O-Meter and Pinocchios–have become part of the political vernacular [language].”…

Perhaps the reason other journalists are so deferential toward the “fact checkers” is that these fact checkers, unlike the traditional ones, don’t check the facts of journalists but of politicians. By and large, they aren’t actually checking facts but making and asserting judgments about the veracity [accuracy] of politicians’ arguments.

The quality of their work is generally quite poor. “The MSM’s [‘mainstream’ media] fact-checkers often don’t know what they’re talking about,” notes [commentator] Mickey Kaus…  ……….

Here’s an excerpt from an Associated Press “fact check” of Paul Ryan’s convention speech:

PAUL RYAN SAID: “And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly. … So they just took it all away from Medicare. $716 billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.”

THE FACTS [THE ASSOCIATED PRESS SAYS]: Ryan’s claim ignores the fact that Ryan himself incorporated the same cuts into budgets he steered through the House in the past two years as chairman of its Budget Committee. …

RYAN SAID: “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.”

THE FACTS: Ryan himself asked for stimulus funds shortly after Congress approved the $800 billion plan.

In both of these cases, the AP neither disputes nor verifies the factual accuracy of Ryan’s statements. Each of these is simply a tu quoque–an argument against Ryan. Under the guise of fact checking, the AP is simply taking sides in a partisan* political dispute. [*partisan: actively favoring one political party over another]

The most disputed portion of Ryan’s speech involved the closing of a General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wis. An editorial in The Wall Street Journal Friday defended Ryan’s account against “the press corps ‘fact checkers’…”

But even the so-called fact checkers can’t agree on the facts. [The TampaBay Times’ well-known] PolitiFact rated Ryan’s account “false,” while CNN.com called it “true but incomplete.” Anyone who really believes in the authority of “fact checkers” has a liar’s paradox problem.

Sometimes the so-called checks are just red herrings [distractions]. Here’s an example from ABC News:

In comparing President Obama to Jimmy Carter, Ryan said in July 1980 the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent and “for the past 42 months it’s been above 8 percent under Barack Obama’s failed leadership.”

Both parts of this sentence are true according to the Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, but in July 1983, when Ronald Reagan was president, unemployment was at 9.4 percent. In July 1982 it was higher at 9.8 percent.

In July 1992, when George H.W. Bush was president, unemployment was at 7.7 percent.

Is what Ryan said factually correct? Yes, but it leaves out some important data.

Ryan compared Obama to Carter. AP thinks he should also (or instead) have compared Obama to Reagan and Bush. There is no factual dispute here whatever.

Sometimes the “fact checkers” are ignorant even of facts that…require no special expertise to know. This is from a CNN.com”fact check”:

In a new policy paper, his Republican rival for the White House, Mitt Romney, says, “President Obama has intentionally sought to shut down oil, gas, and coal production in pursuit of his own alternative energy agenda.” . . .

Obama has, for sure, angered some oil and coal producers by steering federal money to alternative energy sources. But there is no evidence that he is trying to “shut down” traditional energy industries.

No evidence? How about Obama’s own words? “So, if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”

Sometimes the “fact checkers” simply pronounce trivial truths. From the AP on Mitt Romney’s convention speech:

ROMNEY: “I have a plan to create 12 million new jobs. It has five steps.”

THE FACTS: No one says he can’t, but economic forecasters are divided on his ability to deliver. He’d have to nearly double the anemic pace of job growth lately.

This is like “fact checking” somebody’s wedding vows by asserting that while marriage can be wonderful, it’s hard work and ends in divorce half the time.

Among “fact checkers,” the worst of a bad lot may be the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler. On Thursday afternoon he actually wrote a post called “Previewing the ‘Facts’ in Mitt Romney’s Acceptance Speech.” With those scare quotes, he declared the Republican nominee a liar before Romney had even opened his mouth.

…The usual conservative complaint about all this “fact checking” is the same as the conservative complaint about the MSM’s [main-stream media] product in general: that it is overwhelmingly biased toward the left. But the form amplifies the bias. It gives journalists much freer rein to express their opinions by allowing them to pretend to be rendering authoritative judgments about the facts. The result, as we’ve seen, is shoddy arguments and shoddier journalism.

The partisan fault-finding directed against Republicans is accompanied by partisan excuse-making for Democrats. Thus ABCNews.com tries yet again to rationalize away Obama’s most notorious presidential utterance:

Greeting Air Force One as it touched down [in Iowa] under sunny skies and sultry heat was a hand-painted banner draped across the top of an airplane hangar that reads, “Obama Welcome to SUX–We Did Build This.” “SUX” is the airport code for Sioux City.

The message appeared to be a response President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” remark from a July campaign rally, when he was trying to explain that government–not businesses–constructed public infrastructure on which the economy relies.

“Obama is casting his net for the moron vote,” wrote R. Emmett Tyrrell in a recent column. “I do not believe that there are enough morons out there to reelect him.” But if ABC is right that Obama found it necessary to “explain” that government builds “public infrastructure,” the president is also making a play for the idiot vote.

Bad journalism feeds into ever-more-extreme rhetoric from the left. “Last night, Paul Ryan lied to the American people,” wrote Brenda Witt of [liberal group] MoveOn.org in a Thursday email. “Some journalists and outlets covered Ryan’s lies. But others failed to check the facts and didn’t call Ryan out on his brazen lies.” The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Greetings from the California delegation breakfast at the DNC where before he had a cup of coffee Democratic Party Chair John Burton–much like his ol’ palGuv Jerry Brown once did–just compared the Republicans to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, for “telling the big lie,” a reference to several [putative] falsehoods GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan recently told.

“They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie . . . Joseph Goebbels–it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton said Monday before the Blake Hotel breakfast. He said Ryan told “a bold-faced lie and he doesn’t care that it was a lie. That was Goebbels, the big lie.”

You see the progression. Journalists claiming to be engaged in “fact checking” make tendentious arguments against Republicans. Left-wing partisans rely on the authority of the “fact checkers” to call their opponents liars or even Nazis.

One gets a sense of desperation from both the Democrats, who are trying to re-elect a president with a lousy record, and the MSM [main-stream media], who are trying to restore the authority they enjoyed when they aspired to objectivity, or at least pretended convincingly to do so. ….

During the Obama era, so-called mainstream journalism has increasingly been characterized by a blurring of the distinction between not only fact and opinion but opinion and propaganda. One can only hope the audience sees matters more clearly.

Questions

NOTE TO STUDENTS:  This is a challenging excerpt on Fact Checkers and media bias.  Do your best to  understand the point being made.  Ask a parent to read it also and discuss your answer.

1.  Do you think Mr. Taranto’s examples (of news fact checkers’ bias against Republicans) give strong support for his assertion?  Explain your answer.


Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.
























Answer(s)

Opinion question. Answers vary.