Just 'Cuz You Have "Fact" In Your Name Doesn't Mean You're Telling The Truth

Right about the time that George Stephanopoulos decided to leave This Week in favor of Good Morning America, Jay Rosen wrote a fairly to-the-point critique of the failures of the Sunday news shows and how they could be fixed to give their viewers a more honest and informative broadcast. One suggestion was to run a follow up on the Wednesday after the show with a complete fact-checking of the assertions made by guests. The theory was that if the politicos knew they'd be called on any lies--even days later--that would keep them honest. Now I can't say absolutely that Rosen--who teaches journalism at NYU--had a direct affect on interim host Jake Tapper, but shortly after he began, it was announced that they had formed a cooperative agreement with Politifact, the fact-checking arm of the St. Petersburg Times, to provide fact-checking for the guests. The concept was great. The execution, not so much. It was hard not to find Politifact operating with a rather naked agenda, especially when they fact-checked Markos Moulitsas for a simple slip of the tongue, but refused to fact-check Cheney's original (and unsurprisingly, fact-free) assertions.

Over the intervening year, I've kept an eye of Politifact's work, and found that they tend towards one of two things. If it is a Republican doing the asserting, the allegedly non-partisan Politifact will bend over backwards to find at least a small aspect of the story to rate the statement as somewhat true. Or if there's just no way to possibly do that, it goes to their "Pants on Fire" rating. I don't think it's surprising to know that many Republicans statements fall in the "Pants on Fire." But if it's a Democrat, then they will take some picayune piece and work that over and over to be able to rate the Democrat's statement as false.

Such is the case with Rachel Maddow. I noted over the weekend that many of the wingnuts I follow on Twitter were gleefully tweeting Politifact's post rating Rachel's commentary on the Wisconsin budget as false. Curious, since Rachel is someone I generally view as having a lot of integrity and has her research down pat prior to air time, I read Politifact's post. And read it, and read it and read it again. And frankly, I didn't understand what their issue was, especially after looking at the original video of Rachel going over the budget issues in Wisconsin. They completely missed the point of the segment entirely to focus on a single aspect that was there, but not perhaps emphasized to their satisfaction.

Still, it was not a false assertion, no matter how badly Politifact wanted to make it so. Maddow's executive producer Bill Wolff sent emails to Politifact asking them to correct the post,something for which they've steadfastly refused.

So the question must be asked: why must we fact-check the fact-checkers? As Rachel says, just because "fact" is in your name doesn't make your work any more true.


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