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Tilting at Windmills

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April 9, 2010

IN PRAISE OF FACT-CHECKING.... For all the complaining I do about the Sunday public-affairs talk shows -- I have been known to be critical, from time to time -- it's only fair to credit one of the shows for doing the right thing. ABC News' Jake Tapper had this item yesterday.

As you may know, we're trying out some new things on THIS WEEK. Two weeks ago we started live-tweeting of the show (which will next happen at 10 am ET this Sunday).

This week we've invited Pulitzer Prize winning website PolitiFact to fact-check the newsmaker interviews featured on the program.

The idea was first proposed by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen and I thought it worth a try. PolitiFact editor Bill Adair, the St Petersburg Times' Washington bureau chief, and I know each other from fact-checking forums and such (I was at the Fact Check desk during the 2004 elections) so I asked him if he'd be willing to give it a try. He was.

Obviously I aspire to fact-check newsmakers during the show itself, but in addition to that, starting this Sunday April 12, after the show, you can read Politifact's fact checks on ABCNews.com/This Week and at Politifact.com.

Nicely done. I know "This Week" is likely to experience something of an overhaul when Christiane Amanpour becomes the new host, but here's hoping teaming up with PolitiFact becomes a standard feature.

And if we're really fortunate, the show's competitors will follow "This Week's" lead.

Steve Benen 3:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (27)

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Posted by: Chris on April 9, 2010 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Oh please God have this trend improve the quality of MTP! It's getting so painful to watch Greggory fumble around on the fringe of competence.

Posted by: Rochester on April 9, 2010 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Not questioning politicos and talking heads on the Sunday AM shows is something that has been a want with a lot of people for a long time. Or at least the lack of has been a complaint for a long time. I don't expect the interviewer to know everything about all the big issues of the day so having a system in place with someone else(s) who can help with that task is important. Hopefully it will work, though considering the time constraints it may not be as much as I hope.

Posted by: ET on April 9, 2010 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

This will last until Repub figures refuse to appear on the show.

I give it about three weeks.

Posted by: hopeless pedant on April 9, 2010 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Does this mean that fact checking and truth telling could become cool again? Just imagine if this really takes off and all of the networks want to get in on the act. Real journalism could break out all over. The pols will be shaking in their boots.

My hero, Rachel Maddow, has been focused on reporting the facts from day one. She does her homework. She knows how to ask tough questions and challenge spin, lies and empty talking points. I have hoped that her approach would catch on. Sadly, she has been in a class by herself.

This new development at ABC "This Week" is a ray of hope. I say fact check everybody and let the chips fall where they may. This could be the start of something big. We shall see.

Posted by: Ladyhawke on April 9, 2010 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

Really, I'd think that folks like Tapper or Amanpour could use something like PolitiFact ahead of the events, rather than after. The subject matter of the show is entirely predictable, and so the responses of the guests (or at least the Republican guests) is predictable, too, since they often consist of talking points the guest has been spouting for a week or more. PolitiFact could easily, I imagine, foresee what the talking point would be before the show, and prepare the host with pointed follow-up questions based on actual facts.

Would make the whole thing more interesting.

Posted by: David in NY on April 9, 2010 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Excuse me if I don't get excited because Tapper announces he's finally going to start doing his job (or, more accurately, getting some website to do his job for him) after years of lazily poisoning the discourse.

Posted by: Gummo on April 9, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Genuinely never thought I'd live to see the day when political news shows would actually aspire to a level of public discourse that was/ is based on truth. Will be watching to see how successful the attempt is, but kudos to Rosen, Tapper and the Producers for giving it a try.

As Steve said, here's hoping it's contagious!

Posted by: Kiweagle on April 9, 2010 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

or maybe during! imagine having a buzzer go off every time a falsehood was revealed. maybe they could even have the offending party dumped on w/ green slime like they do on nickelodeon.

Posted by: mellowjohn on April 9, 2010 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

I see it as a bunch of slackers, furiously cleaning the frat house before the new House Mother arrives. . .

(David in NY makes the obvious point: They KNOW who is gonna be on, and they KNOW what they're gonna say. It's called show prep, folks, and you have the whole damn week to do it.)

Posted by: DAY on April 9, 2010 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

Well, guess I won't be seeing my own Senator McCain, or Joe Lieberman, Karl Rove, Eric Cantor, Tom Coburn, Michael Steele, or John Bolton anytime soon, or as long as someone is checking the facts.

I wonder if David Gregory would dare to fact check any of his guests including his good friend Liz Cheney.

Posted by: bcinaz on April 9, 2010 at 4:35 PM | PERMALINK

The one improvement I'd make is to have the fact checker come on the air at the end of the show and summarize and major falsehoods/errors before the show ends. They could still do a more complete rundown online that would include links, etc.

If Pardon the Interruption on ESPN can fact check themselves like this, then so can the Sunday shows.

Posted by: Chris on April 9, 2010 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, if only they could digitally make someone's nose appear to grow as they lied. That'd be hilarious!

Posted by: 57Kevin on April 9, 2010 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

With Google and the fact that the interviewers as is true of all TV news reporters, use an ear piece, or IFB, that allows them to hear what's happening on air or in the control booth, I don't see why all shows aren't doing on-air fact checking (except of course for fact averse Fox). This isn't rocket science.

Posted by: majun on April 9, 2010 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

This is welcomed news about the news. But as Colbert famously said, "Facts have a liberal bias". No doubt with all their additional fact checking, ABC will be labeled a communist, fascist, socialist bastion of propoganda.

Posted by: jwk on April 9, 2010 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

As of now, I see that Rudolph Giuliani is scheduled to be a guest on This Week this coming Suncay, April 11. I cannot wait to watch this show this Sunday at 10 AM Central Time !

Posted by: Bill on April 9, 2010 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

mellowjohn on April 9, 2010 at 4:24 PM wins the thread!

Posted by: Little Dick on April 9, 2010 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

"And if we're really fortunate, the show's competitors will follow This Week's lead."

For that to happen, ABC needs to make it a point of differentiation that the other networks need to mimic.

Which means, ABC would have to publicize it: This Week , The ONLY Independently Fact-Checked News Show on Sunday Morning!

Or something like that. I'm sure the PR execs can do better.


Posted by: JGabriel on April 9, 2010 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

My first two thoughts were:

It must be nice to be a journalist and have someone else do your job.

So PolitiFact has been compromised, then?

Posted by: doubtful on April 9, 2010 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

[...] after the show, you can read Politifact's fact checks on ABCNews.com/This Week and at Politifact.com.

And that's a BFD? Remember the fight about "opt out" versus "opt in", vis the health insurance reform? Remember how loudly the banks squealed when told that now they'll have to offer "overdraft protection" as an option, instead of making it a default feature, with the option to cancel it? That's because inaction is always easier than action and if the inaction is the default, it wins. And the same will happen here.

Everyone who knows how to turn n TV will hear the lies but getting them fact-checked will take an extra effort of getting onto The Internets (always assuming you can read). Anyone care to guess how many Sunday show watchers will actually *do* that? I doubt it'll be in the tens (lefty blogger, only), which will give ABC the perfect excuse to stop any such silly thing as fact checking.

No, Mellowjohn (@16:24) and Chris (@16:39) have it right: for the fact check to work as intended (ie stop the lies from festering), it would have to be done "in real time" *and* in the same medium the lies are delivered.

Posted by: exlibra on April 9, 2010 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

What I don't understand about these sunday shows is why the hosts allow guests to come on and say things that aren't true. Why don't they call the guests back the next week and say: "Last week you came on my show and you said this. That was not true. This is the truth. You came on my show and you lied to me and my audience. What makes you think you can get away with that?" These people have no self-respect.

Posted by: Hugh on April 9, 2010 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

If they have time for the "Sunday Funnies" where they show clips of the late night monologues, they should be able to find time for 60 seconds of factchecks. Of course, the liars will simply learn to couch their lies in the form of strong, authentic-sounding opinions.

Posted by: Kristofer on April 9, 2010 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

Fact-checking newsmakers "during the show" is something he ASPIRES to? Well, I think that pretty much says it all, doesn't it?

Posted by: jonas on April 9, 2010 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, kudos to ABC for acknowledging the importants of facts in political debate -- the cries of "liberal media!" can't be far behind -- but as John Cole pointed out, it's pretty pathetic that Tapper has to turn to an outside entity to determine that Republicans are lying to him.

(Here's a hint, Jake: Are their lips moving?)

Posted by: Gregory on April 9, 2010 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

Why not scroll the facts along the bottome of the screen. The people who will be doing the fact checks are alread pretty knowledgable and can probably do a fact check with in a few seconds, even while the lies are being spewed.

Why is Rudy going to be on so soon after "there were no ter'rist attacks in this country during the Bush administration"? The viewing public has suffered enough?

Posted by: Sammy on April 9, 2010 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

Politifact has expanded twice since it's begining. They now have Politifact Texas and Flroida. This is now another expansion, perhaps due to the success of the prior two. I have written CNN and asked why they do not do fact checks, based on Factcheck.org having 8 million web hits per month. My suggestion was to fact check not only their opinionators, but all news media to help fill their 24 hours of constant repeats. I wonder how many web hits Politifact garners monthly. My dream would be Politifact.com, Factcheck.org, Media Matters, and Jon Stewart would merge into PolitifactCheckMattersDaily. I know, dream on.

Posted by: flyonthewall on April 10, 2010 at 6:07 AM | PERMALINK

exlibra has some pertinent points - In the Oregonian, Politifact is at the top of the second page of the main section. I've wondered how many people actually read their excellent observations or just skim the front page, then, jump to either the Sports and/or the Opinion pages. I will check, but, I don't recall seeing the same on the On-line portion of the paper.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 10, 2010 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK



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