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March 28, 2012 12:31 PM   Subscribe

Fact Check!
posted by latkes (32 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
It didn't load. Have we killed it?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:36 PM on March 28, 2012


And it is because the U.S. media is so obsessed with its own so-called objectivity that predatory checking — an offshoot of the traditional checking in newsrooms and magazines — has dominated the discourse.

Krugman: Predictably, the letter from Corrections Corporation of America has arrived, demanding a correction on yesterday’s column. Strangely, though, it demands that I correct statements I didn’t make, just things CCA claims I implied. I don’t think that passes the test; maybe they’ll find an actual error on second pass, but I was pretty careful precisely because I knew they’d be looking for something, anything.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:38 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interesting post (that gets bonus points for mentioning Paris to the Moon). I liked this:

A new culture of fact-checking is emerging in the U.S. — one that’s much more aggressive than the fact-checking of the past. Enabled by online data and information and encouraged by a polarized political discourse, facts — and especially a lack thereof — are being wielded like weapons. We don’t fact-check because we love facts. We fact-check because we hate liars.

posted by KokuRyu at 12:39 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


My favorite bit:
it would be absurd to claim that the abundance of fact-checking in the U.S. can be explained because Americans as a people value accuracy more than the Japanese or the French. It would also be very hard to verify.
posted by aubilenon at 12:46 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I quickly learned that fact-checking is a predominantly American phenomenon.

I assume someone has mentioned this to Fox News.
posted by Decani at 12:46 PM on March 28, 2012 [3 favorites]


And worst of all, it won’t make the Daiseys and Kellys of the world disappear. We’ll just know who they are, where they went, and what they lied about.

This is a very odd conclusion. Somehow we're meant to understand that had NPR (sorry, NPR) simply issued a bland correction without subjecting Daisey to excruciating public exposure, this would be more likely to "make the Daiseys and Kellys of the world disappear"?
posted by yoink at 12:49 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I quickly learned that fact-checking is a predominantly American phenomenon.

This, too, is slightly miss-stating the case. What is distinctively American is to have a separate "fact checking" department--or to have people whose job it is to be "fact checkers." In most other parts of the world, journalists are presumed to check their own facts. It's not that French or British reporters are told to go out there and just make stuff up (well, leaving aside the Murdoch-owned papers).
posted by yoink at 12:53 PM on March 28, 2012 [8 favorites]


yoink: "In most other parts of the world, journalists are presumed to check their own facts."

I think this relates to where he talks about fact-checkers partially existing to avoid lawsuits. The U.S. is pretty litigious and CYA is part of corporate culture. Reporters from the U.S. should check their own facts, too, but having a third party there helps to cover the publisher's butt both legally and politically. So perhaps this is less about loving truth and more about risk prevention.
posted by charred husk at 1:08 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


> And worst of all, it won’t make the Daiseys and Kellys of the world disappear. We’ll just know who they are, where they went, and what they lied about.

This is a very odd conclusion. Somehow we're meant to understand that had NPR (sorry, NPR) simply issued a bland correction without subjecting Daisey to excruciating public exposure, this would be more likely to "make the Daiseys and Kellys of the world disappear"?

No, yoink, I read that as, "Fact-checking won't drive them to extinction. It will just mark them with a 'scarlet L'."
posted by IAmBroom at 1:09 PM on March 28, 2012


I'm not sure that makes sense yoink. US journos are also expected to check their own facts. Fact checkers are another layer of verification, no?
posted by latkes at 1:09 PM on March 28, 2012


Their motive is a sound one — ostensibly, they’re there to verify that published work and public statements are correct. But to what end? Can you convince a rabidly partisan public that the statements that have been hammered into their heads are false? If this sort of predatory fact-checking were actually effective for anything but sport, a great number of politicians would be out of business by now.

This is missing the point in my opinion. Many people still believe urban myths but does not mean that snopes.com is a failure for example, because the point of the site is to be an information source rather than change the world. These kinds of sites are not for the people who forward crazy emails or believe whatever their favorite partisan talking heads say, it's for people who aren't sure if something they read or hear is complete bullshit and want to know if anyone else has done the legwork to verify or debunk it. The Internet may make it easy for people to broadcast a lot of false information to a big audience, but it also makes it easy for anyone else to debunk false information and post the details online for anyone else to see.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


The U.S. is pretty litigious and CYA is part of corporate culture.

True enough, although it's interesting to note that libel and defamation suits are far, far easier to bring under English and French law than under American law--which makes their press far more leery about publishing damaging personal material. So they still have a strong incentive to be sure of their facts when publishing stories of that kind--and yet see no need to have a separate "fact checking" department to do it.
posted by yoink at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2012


Correction: This American Life is a WBEZ show, but it runs on NPR affiliate stations. The New Inquiry regrets the error. Also, The New Inquiry has no fact-checkers.
posted by kristi at 1:13 PM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


> In most other parts of the world, journalists are presumed to check their own facts.

Which is a laugh. Journalists, even if we stipulate for the sake of argument that their intentions are the very best (thus, as you say, leaving aside the Murdoch-owned papers, not to mention Fox News), have neither the time nor the training to check facts. What they do is quote people and try to make sure the quotes are accurate. A reporter writing a story about corruption in the dairy industry will quote a whistleblower saying there's corruption and an industry spokesman saying there isn't, and maybe a pundit from some foundation or other; there's not going to be any verification of the boring details (X number of gallons produced, Y charged at the source, Z lost in transit). No time, no inclination, it's on to the next story (not to mention you now have to take time to tweet about it).

That isn't true of long-form investigative journalism of the type that wins Pulitzers, but I don't think such megastories can be considered representative, and they're an endangered species anyway.
posted by languagehat at 1:15 PM on March 28, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, yoink, I read that as, "Fact-checking won't drive them to extinction. It will just mark them with a 'scarlet L'."

Actually, by that point he's not really talking about "fack checking" per se (which, had it been done properly, would have headed the controversies off at the pass), he's talking about publicly shaming the transgressor. But my point is that, surely, publicly shaming the transgressor will, in fact, make it that little bit less likely that the next Mike Daisey will feel free to play fast and loose with the facts, no? I mean, there must be some deterrent effect to such a public pillorying. I assume that if I'm a Mike Daisey-type and I'm about to go on TAL to do a story, I have quite a strong incentive to ask them upfront to say "this story is partly dramatized for effect, although all the claims made in it are based in real-world reporting on the issue."
posted by yoink at 1:16 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


What they do is quote people and try to make sure the quotes are accurate. A reporter writing a story about corruption in the dairy industry will quote a whistleblower saying there's corruption and an industry spokesman saying there isn't, and maybe a pundit from some foundation or other; there's not going to be any verification of the boring details (X number of gallons produced, Y charged at the source, Z lost in transit). No time, no inclination, it's on to the next story (not to mention you now have to take time to tweet about it).

But a newspaper fact checker will only check that the quote is accurate, too. It is no part of a newspaper fact-checker's job to find out if a politician was or was not telling the truth in their statement. If the journalist did, in fact, go and find out that the politician was lying, the fact-checker will check the facts the journalist discovered--but then that isn't the situation you're talking about in the first case.
posted by yoink at 1:18 PM on March 28, 2012


I assume someone has mentioned this to Fox News.

Hey, I checked that for you!
posted by IndigoJones at 1:18 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with languagehat above. I used to work in the public affairs section of a government ministry, and it's astonishing how often the media gets it wrong. Television is the worst. Names are spelled wrong, titles are mixed up, numbers and statistics are reported incorrectly. The "news" is really just a form of entertainment. Even the New Yorker, which is famous for its fact-checking, publishes complete rubbish sometimes, like much of Seymour Hersh's "reportage" over the past half-decade.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:42 PM on March 28, 2012


I agree with languagehat above. I used to work in the public affairs section of a government ministry, and it's astonishing how often the media gets it wrong. Television is the worst. Names are spelled wrong, titles are mixed up, numbers and statistics are reported incorrectly.

Was this in a country that does or does not have fact-checking departments? Because if it was the former (i.e., the US) you're suggesting that they don't serve much of a purpose.
posted by yoink at 1:46 PM on March 28, 2012


Please explain which of Hersh's stories are "rubbish."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:13 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


I dunno, fact checker seems like a fun job.
posted by jetsetsc at 2:39 PM on March 28, 2012


This is an area that my research group (The Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab) is deeply invested in. A few weeks ago, we co-organised a conference with Harvard's Berkman Center on fact checking: Truthiness in Digital Media, followed by a hack day. More in the Harvard Gazette, on the Nieman Lab Blog.

The Conference blog has awesome posts from people like Craig Newmark (of Craigslist), Jillian York (of the EFF). Tim Hwang wrote a great post about propaganda AIs.

The TLDR version? See Yochai Benkler's amazing talk on Truthiness in the Digital Public Sphere, including quantitative analysis of how the STOP SOPA/PIPA campaign played out online.

See also Ethan Zuckerman's post on the history of fact checking. See also Gilad Lotan's article asking: do corrections catch up with misinformation online?.
posted by honest knave at 2:48 PM on March 28, 2012 [2 favorites]


Journalists, even if we stipulate for the sake of argument that their intentions are the very best (thus, as you say, leaving aside the Murdoch-owned papers, not to mention Fox News), have neither the time nor the training to check facts.

This is very much true. One typical approach is to report what is said, quickly, and then evaluate the claims in editorial pieces after time has been found to check claims.

However, there's an importance difference between fact-checking others' claims that you are reporting and fact-checking claims that you are making. It's very easy in these discussions to mistake the two.
posted by honest knave at 2:55 PM on March 28, 2012


For those interested in this kind of thing I recommend

The Lifespan of a Fact
posted by holdkris99 at 3:21 PM on March 28, 2012


Huh, an ex of mine was a Harper's intern in 2008. He fact checked the index.

I bet they know each other. Weird.
posted by phunniemee at 3:28 PM on March 28, 2012


The Onion would like to apologize for erroneously stating that the Fillmore High School marching band car-wash fundraiser will be held Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. It will actually be held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Onion recognized the time and date given were incorrect at the time of publication, but you, dear reader, have no idea—no idea at all—how control over the world's facts becomes a seductive temptress, ceaselessly tormenting our only too-human editors to feel the raw, exhilarating, godlike power of manipulating the truth for our own selfish ends. The price of a car wash is also $5 not $8.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:10 PM on March 28, 2012 [5 favorites]


Please explain which of Hersh's stories are "rubbish."

The Wikipedia article on Hersh is a great place to start. Have you read the citations? Some of the recent reporting on Iran and Syria is just fishing, plain and simple, thanks to Hersh's use of anonymous sources. Indeed, it sees at times as though the New Yorker was trying to influence American foreign policy, rather than stick to straight journalism.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:12 PM on March 28, 2012


I'm reminded of something Chuck Klosterman wrote about how newspaper stories can be classified into one of two categories: facts minus truth or facts plus bullshit.
posted by jonp72 at 4:48 PM on March 28, 2012


Funny, I'd characterize Chuck Klosterman as a bearded weirdo minus either of those.
posted by nevercalm at 5:13 PM on March 28, 2012


Please explain which of Hersh's stories are "rubbish."

It's almost a moot question. The problem with anonymous sources is that we the audience have no way to judge what their agenda might or might not be. Lot of gray in this world, whatever Fox or Mother Jones might say.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:30 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


For those interested in this kind of thing I recommend

The Lifespan of a Fact


There's an entire section of the article that discusses the book.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:38 PM on March 28, 2012


Here to note that the author of the article is a woman.
posted by latkes at 10:16 PM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


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