Open Thread: Fact Checking Or Something Else?

Over the past several years, even as the circulation and influence of traditional media has declined, there has been an explosion in the numbers of journalists producing sois-disant "fact-checking" pieces. As the god that failed (the media) has become tarnished, a new one ("fact-checking") has been set up.

Unfortunately, as our friends at IBD note today, such attempts to hold politicians accountable, often leave much to be desired:

If media "fact checkers" are just impartial guardians of the truth, how come they got their own facts wrong about Paul Ryan's speech, and did so in a way that helped President Obama's re-election effort?

Case in point was the rush of "fact check" stories claiming Ryan misled when he talked about a shuttered auto plant in his home state.

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler posted a piece — "Ryan misleads on GM plant closing in hometown" — saying Ryan "appeared to suggest" that Obama was responsible for the closure of a GM plant in Janesville, Wis.

"That's not true," Kessler said. "The plant was closed in December 2008, before Obama was sworn in."

What's not true are Kessler's "facts." Ryan didn't suggest Obama was responsible for shuttering the plant. Instead, he correctly noted that Obama promised during the campaign that the troubled plant "will be here for another hundred years" if his policies were enacted.

Also, the plant didn't close in December 2008. It was still producing cars until April 2009.

An AP "fact check" also claimed that "the plant halted production in December 2008" even though the AP itself reported in April 2009 that the plant was only then "closing for good."

CNN's John King made the same claim about that plant closure. But when CNN looked more carefully at the evidence, it — to its credit — concluded that what Ryan said was "true."

Besides mangling the facts, so-called fact-checkers often are unable to fairly discern a difference between statements of opinion and claims of fact. And then there is the problem that the journalists producing the pieces are being drawn from the same ranks that have brought us the overwhelmingly liberally biased political news we as Americans are tuning out.

How much stock do you think people place in such operations? And how much should they?

Bonus link: My friend Mark Hemingway writing in the Weekly Standard published what is currently the definitive work on so-called fact-checking outfits. It is still must-reading.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013