Recently we’ve witnessed the appearance of the very latest in hucksterism: “fact-checkers”.
Much like the old Snake-Oil salesmen of a prior era, they are selling one thing by promising something wholly different. You almost have to admire the naked hubris of the term: “fact check”. It’s the ultimate misnomer, since too often these self-appointed keepers-of-truth spin differences of opinion as varying degrees of “fact”. And the majority of the time, the alleged media “Watchmen” are doing this from the far Left/Statist position, which I’m sure should surprise exactly no one.
There have been two excellent debunkings of these journalistic P.T. Barnum wannabees, both appearing in the Wall Street Journal. The first one was about a week back, by James Taranto. It’s fairly long, so I’ll only include a portion here:
Sometimes the “fact checkers” are ignorant even of facts that, in contrast with the welfare material above, 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.
The other WSJ article just came out last night, and it’s even better. Written by L. Gordon Crovitz, it tears apart their varnish of objectivity with ridiculous ease:
Reporting as “fact checking” might have started as a check on outright falsehoods, but it has morphed into a technique for supposedly nonpartisan journalists to present opinion as “facts.” The credibility of reporting has enough problems without claiming objectivity while practicing subjectivity. Not when anyone with an Internet connection can discover the difference.
It’s important to distinguish between true untruths and pretend untruths. For example, both the Obama and Romney campaigns deserved to be called out for the untruths of running advertisements clearly quoting each other out of context.
But cheerleaders for a more aggressive definition of “fact checking” have a different agenda. Justifying journalism that takes sides, New York University professor Jay Rosen claimed in his PressThink blog that Republicans are pursuing a “post-truth strategy in electioneering.” Rem Rieder, editor of the American Journalism Review, posted an article last week praising the media’s “aggressive” fact checking of the Paul Ryan acceptance speech as a “watershed moment.” The Week magazine captured the braying of the media pack in a headline: “The Media Coverage of Paul Ryan’s Speech: 15 Euphemisms for ‘Lying.'”
Since the Republican convention, there’s been bipartisan fact checking of the fact checkers. Mickey Kaus, a Democrat who ran for Senate in California in 2010, posted an item on his blog last week on “why the Fact-Checkosphere is failing,” in which he cited “the ease—rather, the constant temptation—of presenting debatable policy issues as right/wrong fact issues.” He wrote that when journalists claim that a candidate has lied, it “opens up a giant sluice for the introduction of concealed bias, especially when the ‘facts’ are fed to the fact-checkers by the competing campaign.”
Mr. Kaus added: “Fact checkers often don’t know what they’re talking about.” He pointed to the drumbeat of accusation that the Romney-Ryan campaign was wrong to say the Obama administration had relaxed work requirements for welfare. Mr. Kaus argued to the contrary that administration claims were “bureaucratic fakery.” A Brookings Institution analyst likewise told the Fiscal Times that the new policy would enable the administration to “undermine the work requirement” if this was the intent.
In short, this is a POLICY debate, not a question of fact.
The hopelessly partisan media is simply using these new Fact Squads to label their Opinion as Facts. I could insert the requisite George Orwell comparison here, but really, what’s the point? It’s as obvious as the nose on their fact-measuring Pinocchios that the more desperate these publications are to prove their relevance, the more irrelevant they become.
We’ll all have to suffer these pompous arbiters-of-truth for at least the next two months. The better job we do in immediately pointing out the complete absence of “facts” from their slanted, ill-informed pronunciations, the quicker we’ll be rid of them.