Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 12, 2010

DAVID GREGORY'S SENSE OF FACT-CHECKING.... The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz noted this morning that NBC's "Meet the Press," still the most watched Sunday public affair show, is poised to undergo some cosmetic changes. It will not, however, follow ABC's lead on the fact-checking front.

[A]ccepting a challenge from New York University's Jay Rosen, interim host Jake Tapper has arranged for the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact site to fact-check what "This Week" guests say after each program.

An "interesting idea," Gregory allows, but not one the NBC show will be emulating. "People can fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms."

I'm not entirely sure what this means. At face value, it suggests a certain misunderstanding of the point of the exercise.

One of the Sunday shows invites a high-profile guest to discuss current events. The guest responds to pointed questions, and makes a variety of claims and arguments. Some of those claims and arguments will be accurate, and some won't. For the news consumer watching at home, the information gleaned from the interview is only useful if he/she knows whether the guest's comments are factual.

With that in mind, the Sunday shows have a couple of choices. First, hosts can become knowledgeable about the subject matter and fact-check the guests' claims during the program. Second, the shows can partner with independent fact-checkers like "This Week" has done with PolitiFact. Or third, some combination of the two.

Gregory's comments suggest a more traditional approach: let viewers figure things out "on their own terms." Why separate fact from fiction for news consumers when they can do that on their own?

Perhaps because they aren't well equipped to do this on their own, and rely on professional news outlets to provide them with reliable information.

For what it's worth, PolitiFact's fact-checking isn't part of the "This Week" broadcast, at least not yet, but has partnered with the show online. The first installment was published yesterday afternoon, and will apparently be updated again today.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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If Gregory were to fact check, the gentlemen whose knob he is polishing might not return for more.

Posted by: wvng on April 12, 2010 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, still all quiet on the Polish front, eh?

Posted by: berttheclock on April 12, 2010 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

The Sunday morning shows are to journalism what the WWE is to athletic competition -- it's nothing but celebrities and entertainment.

If potential guests know that when they appear on one particular show then someone will be calling them out for their "misrepresentations" (i.e. lies), they will simply decide to go on a different show -- maybe one on a network that went to court to maintain their right to lie,

It's all about the money.

Posted by: SteveT on April 12, 2010 at 8:10 AM | PERMALINK

If somebody is fact checking the lies spouted by President McCain, that will make David Grregory look bad unless David calls the guests on their lies. David Gregory was not hired to "become knowledgeable about the subject matter and fact-check the guests' claims during the program." If NBC wants a journalist they will hire one. Until then we should be satisfied with David's pretty face.

Anyway calling a "guest" on a lie just isn't polite. It's not what a polite host would do.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 12, 2010 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Gregory probably wanted to be a journalist at some point, but decided somewhere along the line he'd rather rub elbows with the powerful elite.
I cannot consider him as a journalist by any stretch or definition.

Posted by: JoeW on April 12, 2010 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

"With that in mind, the Sunday shows have a couple of choices"

The viewer is also presented with a couple of choices: 1. Watch. 2. Don't Watch.

Number Two seems to be gaining ground. . .

Posted by: DAY on April 12, 2010 at 8:18 AM | PERMALINK

I'm in the don't watch group, usually


This week: Accuracy testing

Meet David Gregory: Spin testing

(will G Steph's questions to the President about Sarah Palin be accuracy tested?)

Posted by: bdbd on April 12, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Well, if Mr. Gregory is leaving me to do the work on my own terms, then those terms will include not watching Meet the Press, or any other program or newspaper or magazine that allows ridiculous and patently false claims to be propagated without challenge.

And Mainstream Media wonders why it's a failing business model?

Posted by: kevmo on April 12, 2010 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

As Steve T mentioned about the WWE, I would add the early days of Johnny Carson, when Zza Zza would be a regular. No, not stars, but "Celebs". There was one guy named Jay something from TV land, who would oooh and aaah over any star mentioned by saying, "A great humanitarian, a wonderful human being and my dearest and closest friend" - This was captured marvelously in "All That Jazz" by the Ben Vereen character.

But for really sickening moments, who could top Candy Crowley interviewing Haley Barbour, yesterday, on "State of the Union" with the question of the Confederate Month in Virginia.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 12, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Obviously a fact-checking policy would encourage guests to be more accurate. My bet is that some conservatives have leaned on "Press the Meat" to eschew such an inconvenience.

Posted by: chrenson on April 12, 2010 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

"For the news consumer watching at home, the information gleaned from the interview is only useful if he/she knows whether the guest's comments are factual."

I think you mean "is only useful if he/she [hears something that agrees with their preconceptions about the way the world is]".

Posted by: Paul W. on April 12, 2010 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

The fact that we need to have fact-checking organizations to keep politicians honest is an indictment of the media. I don't expect the Sunday hosts to know every aspect of a politicians history, statements and actions. However, any journalist who is relatively up to date and well read on current affairs should be able to challenge lies and distortions during the interview. Not five days later.

Until something changes, I find the sunday talk shows a total waste of time. All they do is give guests an opportunity to get their talking points out and in the case of many Republicans to just lie outright without being challenged.

The art of the interview is dead. One of the few journalists that gives me hope is Rachel Maddow. I understand she is a liberal. But Rachel Maddow does her homework and she is tough on Democrats and Republicans.

Posted by: Ladyhawke on April 12, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

You see David G. won the Dance-Off....
and no one has yet challenged him to a dance-fever

Posted by: apeman on April 12, 2010 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Methinks Gregory's comment for viewers to "fact check on their own terms" means that people are free to search the internet for websites that tell them what they want to hear.

That's a bald-faced admission that he has no intention of doing a journalist's job - which used to be to question authority, armed with facts - but then we already knew that. But he puts it in pretty stark terms, I think.

I'm surprised the table in front of them doesn't have platters with cocktail weenies on them; MTP is nothing more than a cocktail party with a bunch of friends standing around proffering memes.

Posted by: terraformer on April 12, 2010 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

I suggest WashingtonMonthly subcontract an independent factchecker to compile all the lies Gregory allow on his program without any response.

Posted by: Yoni on April 12, 2010 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

Lawrence O'Donnell is another who does his homework and is very quick with followup questions. However, many Progressives still fault him for his work with the Clintons.

Now, Chris Matthews, not only doesn't do any homework, but, he never seems to know what class he has enrolled in.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 12, 2010 at 9:22 AM | PERMALINK

I used to be a regular viewer of all the Sunday morning programs but have completely stopped, for two reasons:

First, I no longer believe anything that Republicans have to say. I am convinced that the rise of the right wing media establishment has led Republicans to think they can lie without consequence, and so they do so regularly to advance their political interests. Republicans are not bad people; they just don't control their party anymore, and so what do you do when your base wants you to wage total war against the other side?

And, two, the Washington Establishment represented on these Sunday shows is far too respectful and deferential of Republicans to call them on their deceptions since they either cannot accept the radicalization of one of our two major parties, or have yet to adjust themselves to a major party playing by a different set of rules. Therefore, over time these shows have just become platforms for right wing propaganda, badly policed by hosts who behave like referees without penalty flags in a game that permits clipping, chop blocks and unnecessary roughness.

Posted by: Ted Frier on April 12, 2010 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

I'd like to see simultaneous fact-checking on a split screen, something along the lines of The Colbert Report's "The Word" segments. Maybe even with a live audience there to guffaw at really egregious whoppers.

Posted by: Decatur Dem on April 12, 2010 at 9:53 AM | PERMALINK

I doubt if they would have the balls, but could you imagine what would happen if the "This Week" staff announced that they would also fact check the other Sunday shows? Well, NBC and CBS, that is, there aren't enough hours in the day to fact check Fox

Posted by: Cintibud on April 12, 2010 at 9:58 AM | PERMALINK

Don't be coy, you know exactly what it means. It means what all of us already knew: Gregory quite literally does not see holding the people he interviews to any standard of objective truth as part of his job or the mission of his show. His job is to generate content, stuff to fill up the time between commercials. If filling that time deepens and perpetuates ongoing epistomological crisis that underlies the Republican counter-factual worldview, so be it. I mean, who cares, really? The important thing, the only thing, really, is that a couple of million cranky old people styed tuned in for the Polydent and Medicare-financed Liberty diabetes management supply commercials.

Posted by: Another Steve on April 12, 2010 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

Tim Russert was a Republican tool and a hack, but even he would not so brazenly repudiate his obligations as a journalist.

Russert at least tried to pretend that he had some journalistic integrity.

Gregory still dreams of being a back up dance on stage with his homeboy, MC Rove.

Posted by: Winkandanod on April 12, 2010 at 10:11 AM | PERMALINK

Too bad there isn't an actual program broadcast on Sunday at the end of the whole round of Sunday Morning news programs called Fact Checking the Talking Heads. I think it's ratings might be rather high.

Posted by: sparrow on April 12, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

You seem to have the mistaken perception that Meet The Press is about delivering reliable information to the viewers. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The purpose of Meet The Press is to reliably deliver viewers to advertisers. Since fact-checking might make it harder to book celebrity politicians, it would undermine that purpose.

MTP also gets lots of marketing buzz when some GOP stalwart makes an outrageous claim on the show, because it gets repeated on actual news programs, which spreads the idea the MTP is where stuff happens, attracting more viewers to be exposed to advertisers. It's a winning formula.

If viewers are actually interested in "facts" and reliable information, they should go elsewhere. Gregory obviously understands this. No surprise there.

Posted by: biggerbox on April 12, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

An "interesting idea," Gregory allows, but not one the NBC show will be emulating. "People can fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms."

ie "Just watch Rachel Maddow this week for the truth. Because I can't be bothered to prepare myself before the interview and I'm too wimpy to challenge my guests even if I were prepared."

Posted by: Hmmmmm on April 12, 2010 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

Even some Dems go on Fox, but how many Rs are willing to go on Maddow, or on The Daily Show, for that matter? There are some, but most do not because they know their lies will be confronted. Kudos to Rachel and to Jon Stewart. And Jon is a comedian, who puts "real" journalists like Gregory to shame.

Posted by: Hannah on April 12, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Well at least that's clear. Mr Gregory does not feel he has any obligation to inform the public. He assumes that the public can find the facts without his help.

This raises the question of why the hell he is paid a salary. If people can fact check on their own, why not just shut down "Meet the Press" and save some money.

I am quite serious. I think all money spent producing "meet the press" is wasted and it would be good if NBC just shut them down.

Journalists who don't consider checking facts to be their problem have no useful role in society. If Mr Gregory really believes what he said, he should feel morally obliged to do something useful with his time rather than waste it on non-journalism.

Posted by: Robert Waldmann on April 12, 2010 at 11:32 AM | PERMALINK

We'll see. It would be entirely the point if ABC's ratings surpassed MTP; which I see as very possible if Jake did a quick rundown first thing Sunday morning of the prior weeks revelations.

Surely I'm not the only person who gave up watching Sunday morning news altogether for the very reason that I could not stand to watch/listen to the BS spewing out of my TeeVee, on the record, and have it go unchallenged by anyone, (except when Rachel is a guest.)

Posted by: bcinaz on April 12, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

I'm pretty sure most Americans assume that self-styled news programs are under some legal obligation to broadcast factually truthful information, which of course is not at all the case. Any polling ever done on the subject? I'm not aware of any.

Posted by: sfbevster on April 12, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

And here I naively thought that fact-checking is what journalism is. When David Gregory says, "People can fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms.", isn't he saying that other people should do his job for him? What a sad, little man.

Posted by: jrw on April 12, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory translation: "I'm lazy as f*k"

Posted by: JWK on April 12, 2010 at 1:48 PM | PERMALINK

In fact, with the internet people are well equipped to check facts. But they don't have time to do that. Which is why they look to people like Gregory, whose job it is supposed to be to report facts. Which is why people don't know shit because people like Gregory think everyone else should be doing their jobs for them.

Gregory is too much of a star to be "Googling" things, or "looking stuff up." And his staff is far too busy getting his coffee and picking up his suit from wardrobe to bother with mundane worries about what the guests say on air. How is that relevant?!?

Posted by: Baldrick on April 12, 2010 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory is right - people can go online to fact-check either Joe Lieberman or John McCain (the only guests who ever show up on MTP).

Wait - come to think of it, while I am online, I can check what Joe & John are saying these days. I can find that out "on my own terms" as well!

Any remaining logical need to watch MTP has been eliminated - by its own host.

Posted by: Ohioan on April 12, 2010 at 3:53 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't fact-checking politicians supposed to be the core purpose of political journalism?

Posted by: Dan on April 12, 2010 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

"Isn't fact-checking politicians supposed to be the core purpose of political journalism?" Dan @ 5:01 PM.

Yes, but the item WAS about MTP et al, political journalist-free zones if ever there were any...

Posted by: Doug on April 12, 2010 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

{from the broken record department:}

Republican Karl Rove's dance partner David Gregory is only slightly less toxic than Republican Dick Cheney's puppet Tim Russert who helped sell the Iraq War lie.

But don't worry, Gregory "balances" Republican right wing lies with right wing Corporate Dem nonsense.

Corporate advertisers are happy.

Citizen suffer.

Posted by: Annoyed on April 13, 2010 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK



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