Monday, September 10, 2012

Fact checkers: they used to be called "reporters"

During the past two weeks we've heard a lot of speeches and interviews from a lot of politicians. As we all know, many politicians will say just about anything to get elected. The term "spin" originated in politics, referring to the ability to tailor facts in such a way as to reinforce your position. Politicians have raised this to an art form; if we were suddenly attacked by aliens from outer space, Republicans would find a way to blame it on Obama while Democrats would tie the invasion to the Bush administration.

Lately, though, we've seen many reporters from big markets and networks use opinions from "fact checkers" in their coverage. When Obama says one thing in a political ad and Romney says the opposite, who's telling the truth? Many reporters have fact checkers on speed dial to find out.

Excuse me if I missed something on day one of Journalism 101... but aren't reporters in the business of checking facts? When did we become like American corporations and start outsourcing this basic duty? Am I to pick up the phone and call some guy in India to find out if some politician is lying in a television commercial?

And here are some important "facts" to consider about fact checkers: How do you know the fact checkers are credible? How do you know the fact checkers don't have an agenda of their own? And did you ever notice that Republican fact checkers often differ from Democratic fact checkers?

Finally, if you're a real reporter, why in the world would you trust someone else to check the facts for your story?

Politicians can spin the truth in the same way that Hollywood accountants can tell you that Star Wars lost money. It's up to you to dig up the facts and present them to the audience. When you rely on someone else to do you work for you, you may as well turn in your notebook and go home.

And if you want to do a really unique story for the first week of sweeps, check the facts on the fact checkers. Dig up their backgrounds, find out if they have an agenda, discover who funds them. Those are the kind of facts I'd like to know.



Anonymous said...

So true. Good post. I've been wondering the same thing. Part of the problem is we reporters don't have the time we need to throughly investigate the facts/fact-checkers. We get in to work and immediately are sent off chasing scanners. Way too much scanner-chasing going on. But you already knew that.

turdpolisher said...


When did reporting become parroting a press release rather than ferreting out facts?