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April 20, 2010

FACT-CHECKING GUESTS -- INCENTIVES VS DISINCENTIVES.... There's been quite a bit of talk of late about the Sunday public-affairs talk shows and the role of fact-checking. The issue was put on the map by NYU professor Jay Rosen, Rosen's ideas were touted by the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz, and ultimately embraced by ABC's Jake Tapper, the temporary host of "This Week."

As the discussion continues, it's worth considering why so many of the programs seem reluctant to incorporate this common-sense approach to quality journalism.

There are five Sunday shows: ABC's "This Week," CBS's "Face the Nation," NBC's "Meet the Press," CNN's "State of the Union," and Fox News' "Fox News Sunday." To date, only "This Week" has adopted Rosen's idea on incorporating fact-checking into the process. "Meet the Press" host David Gregory has said he's content to have viewers "fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms," whatever that means. As far as I can tell, Bob Schieffer, Candy Crowley, and Chris Wallace haven't addressed the issue at all, though CBS, to its credit, published a fairly detailed fact-check item online after Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) lied repeatedly during a recent broadcast.

So, why do the shows seem so reluctant to pursue this? It's certainly possible that they don't want to look like "followers" -- ABC is doing it, and if the other shows follow suit, it gives the appearance of trying to play catch-up. Shows generally want to look like trend-setters, not followers.

But Jay Rosen raises a more disconcerting possibility.

The more disturbing possibility is that [David Gregory] thinks Tapper's policy may give Meet the Press a competitive edge in booking guests who won't want to be checked so vigorously. (As opposed to competing with an even better fact check, which would probably cause Bob Schieffer at Face the Nation to adopt the same policy, forcing the guests to accept the new rules or flee to cable, which has a fraction of the viewers.)

Look at it this way: the Washington politician who's been on Meet the Press more than any other is John McCain. On April 6, Politifact's truth-o-meter rated McCain a pants-on-fire liar for claiming that he never called himself a maverick. See what I mean?

I obviously can't speak to the motivations of the shows' producers and hosts. I don't know them and have no idea what they've considered and why.

But Rosen's speculation is hardly unreasonable. If I'm a GOP lawmaker, and I know I'm going to repeat demonstrably false talking points about the major issues of the day, I'm much more likely to appear on a program that allows me to lie with impunity than one that incorporates fact-checking as an official part of the show.

The shows that count on high-profile guests to generate strong ratings may very well have thought of this, too.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (46)

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I also think that the hosts are reluctant to do fact-checking simply because it would demonstrate a lack of competence. A host may think, "If it is discovered that I didn't ask an appropriate follow-up question to a lie or misstatement, will the corporate brass still think I am capable to do the job."

Posted by: akaBruno on April 20, 2010 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK

Exhibit A: Dick Cheney on Pumpkinhead Russert's show.

Gregory is just honoring the memory of Father Tim, by pissing on his viewers.

Posted by: Roger Ailes on April 20, 2010 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

They need to fact check the pundits. Hell fact checking George Will would be a full time job.

Posted by: msw on April 20, 2010 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure liberals would love nothing better than to have an inquisitor come storming into an interview yelling "liar" whenever John McCain appears on TV, but the networks know this would be a violation of the Senator's First Ammendment Rights.

Posted by: Al on April 20, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

If fear of fact-checking will keep John McCain and Newt Gingrich off a Sunday chat show, I think it should be made an FCC regulation.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on April 20, 2010 at 8:14 AM | PERMALINK

There's nothing to stop politifact from fact checking Meet the Press, right?

If they did all the shows then the only difference would be that ABC alerts you to the fact checking.

Posted by: BlueMan on April 20, 2010 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

akaBruno, you might be right in the case of David Gregory, but Bob Schieffer, Candy Crowley, and Chris Wallace are all highly competent, well experienced professionals. If they don't ask a follow up question, they have a reason, be it lack of time, or as Rosen suggests a desire not to embarrass a serial liar like John McCain.

In Schieffer's case, well Schieffer runs with the Bush crowd, so his motivation might be personal/political. Chris Wallace is on thin ice at Fox already. If he changed networks he would take a step up. Candy Crowley has to be look over her shoulder every time CNN brings in some new Kitty Litter from a local station.

To tell you the truth, Jack Tapper has done a pretty good job as a fill in. Of the current Sunday morning crowd I think I like Candy Crowley best.

Posted by: Ron Byers on April 20, 2010 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

There is a show on ESPN called PTI. Two guys talk about sports and deliver their opinions on the stories of the day. At the end, a third guy comes on and lists all the factual errors made by the hosts during the course of the broadcast. This seems like an excellent model for the Sunday morning gasbags to emulate.

Posted by: fkvidahl on April 20, 2010 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

Remember, please, that the primary job of every TeeVee broadcast is delivering eyeballs to advertisers.

Posted by: DAY on April 20, 2010 at 8:17 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure liberals would love nothing better than to have an inquisitor come storming into an interview yelling "liar" whenever John McCain appears on TV, but the networks know this would be a violation of the Senator's First Ammendment Rights.

Huh? Either that's parody or Al doesn't realize that the First "Ammendment" applies to government controlling speech, and an "inquisitor" yelling at John McCain isn't anywhere close to violating his rights any more than Joe Wilson did to Barack Obama from the well of the House last September.

It would, however, be highly entertaining.

Posted by: Mustang Bobby on April 20, 2010 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

David Gregory has always been a republican hack, it pleases him to do the bidding of his bosses. If all the sunday shows did a fact check perhaps it would stop the politicians from telling so many lies to begin with.

Posted by: JS on April 20, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

The shows that count on high-profile guests to generate strong ratings

Maybe if one show---just one, mind you---demonstrated the audacity to label John McCain "irrelevant to the current events" and "no-longer-high-profile," he wouldn't be seen as a high-profile guest any more. Senator or not, he can't force his way into a program's studio if they don't want him there.

Get a camera crew to film his tirade of "Do-you-know-who-I-am?!?" and an armed security detail replying, "Yeah, you're a tired, two-faced, lies-through-the-teeth NOTHING!!!---and you cannot enter!"

That would be change I could believe in....

Posted by: S. Waybright on April 20, 2010 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

I'd go with akaBruno's theory above: "that the hosts are reluctant to do fact-checking simply because it would demonstrate a lack of competence."

But unlike Bruno, I doubt that the hosts are worried as much about the corporate brass as they are about simply looking bad, and actually being forced to do their homework before interviewing a guest.

The 'competitive disadvantage' theory doesn't really hold that much water, IMHO. If a second network were to begin routinely fact-checking their show, then there'd be real pressure on the other two non-Fox shows to join the club, and ultimately they would.

While Fox News Sunday would undoubtedly remain a holdout long after all four of the other Sunday talkies went with fact-checking, guests that were only willing to appear on Fox would gradually get a tinge of 'not ready for prime time.'

I think another thing is that the people who run the Sunday shows may simply like deciding who's worth bringing on their show, with no restrictions. And fact-checking would be a real impediment there: how are you going to invite Newt Gingrich (for example) back on your show for the zillionth time, when your own network's fact-checking has demonstrated that he routinely invents his own facts?

Posted by: low-tech cyclist on April 20, 2010 at 8:30 AM | PERMALINK

It's time for a law that requires broadcasters who use public airwaves to correct errors of fact at the ends of programs as they air if taped, on the subsequent program if broadcast live, or ASAP if the errors were missed at the time but were brought to their attention later.

Maybe push for it by pushing for reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine to get the conservatives all upset, and then offer it as a "compromise", called the Truth For America act, or some such.

Posted by: N.Wells on April 20, 2010 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

umm, hello? am I the only one who sees boycott potential here for shows that don't abide by this?

Posted by: maryjane on April 20, 2010 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps a more cynical view is that the various talk shows are only in it for the money. The current view seems to be that people tune in to whatever shows reinforce or fit into their current beliefs (the Fox model), not to get an accurate world view.

Sarah Palin is fact-free, entertaining, and fact-free. People pay to see her. Plus, she's preaching the rich-white-guys-who-own-almost-everything belief system, the beliefs of most media conglomerate movers and shakers. Why spoil things by fact-checking? Will it increase revenues?

There's a market for mocking the right (Maddow, Colbert, Jon Stewart, Olberman, et al), but those shows also play to their intended audiences current beliefs (Glen Beck fans probably don't watch Maddow or Olberman). Fact-checking that produces cognitive dissonance in the viewers? Nobody's succeeded with that yet, to my knowledge.

Posted by: RepubAnon on April 20, 2010 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

I think the other shows are waiting to see if the fact-checking makes any difference in ABC's ratings. I think if one other program adopts the fact-checking then the others will as well. One nice outcome of fact-checking could be that the routine liars will be seen as less desirable guests. Oh, I'm dreaming aren't I!

Oh well, I'll start calling Meet the Press "Meet the Liars."

Posted by: Unstable Isotope on April 20, 2010 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

Let's look at those arguments...

If ratings would go down (that is, people would stop watching) if shows fact-checked the statements of their political guests, that speaks badly for us Americans.

But is this even true? Would viewers looking to be informed about current events avoid the more accurate programs? Why?

That certain guests would start declining invitations if their propaganda were debunked seems certain. Is that bad, though? Maybe we could start seeing some different guests for a change, maybe even a few Democrats or even some liberals. Don't viewers get tired of John McCain and Newt Gingrich every Sunday? Geeze, these washed-up old geezers have been on the TV for literally DECADES. Isn't "fresh" better in politics, as it is literally everywhere else?

In short, the rationales don't really hold up, and it's becoming clear that the reason the networks don't want different guests, or more accuracy is that they're basically just pushing the corporate ideology, not providing a useful news service.

If there were an alternative, they'd start seeing a "market penalty"...

Posted by: Zandru on April 20, 2010 at 9:03 AM | PERMALINK

i'm still in favor of the "Nickelodeon" approach: buckets of green slime poured over the heads of anyone caught in a lie.

Posted by: mellowjohn on April 20, 2010 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

The networks are primarily interested in politicians who will push the GOP line, because they are primarily interested in their own bottom line. They believe that their financial interests are better served by the financial and regulatory policies that Republicans will put into place when running things in D.C., and one way to help that along is to program a relentless drumbeat of GOP shills hammering Democrats, in the hopes that it will ultimately influence voters.

Tools like Gregory and Wallace and Crowley are only too happy to help that along, if for no other reason that these highly-paid "journalists" are desperate to associate socially after work with the politicians they cover. They are in a very real sense whores.

Posted by: bluestatedon on April 20, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Look at the guests. Since ABC went with this policy, their guests have been the Clintons (both of them), Bob Gates, and Jon Kyl. With the exception of Kyl, people either out of politics or in non-political posts in the administration. People in those positions don't typically lie or repeat bogus talking points (Rumsfeld aside). I suspect there may be some guest self-selection going on.

Also, the level of the discourse has, in my opinion, been quite a bit higher on that show since they started this. I hope they keep it up.

Now if they could agree to start checking the round tables too, that'd be real progress. Marsha batshit-insane Blackburn was on MTP's round table last week. I refused to watch that.

Posted by: Vondo on April 20, 2010 at 9:16 AM | PERMALINK

"This Week"should fact check all the other shows as well. It would certainly be a ratings boon to get as many viewers as posssible who really want the truth.

Posted by: Gandalf` on April 20, 2010 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK


How does after the fact online fact checking help at all? How many viewers are going to see this?

It needs to be done ON AIR at the end of the show or atleast at the beginning of the next show.


Posted by: agave on April 20, 2010 at 9:33 AM | PERMALINK

umm, hello? am I the only one who sees boycott potential here for shows that don't abide by this?

The threat of boycott by Republicans is one of the reasons there is so much propaganda and so many lies on these shows. Since Gingrich's day, the Republicans have been openly "playing the refs" to make sure they get the maximum amount of air time on network news with the least possible criticism or contradiction.

This isn't a secret, most of the noisier Republicans brag about it when anyone asks anywhere but on a national news show. And sometimes they brag about it even on network cameras. The primary network anchors, including the PBS anchors, freely admit they don't contradict politicians who lie on their shows. They have been so tamed by the Republican noise machine over the years they now consider correcting lying politicians to be the job of other politicians, not reporters.

Like I said, none of this is secret. The people involve discuss it openly and freely whenever they are asked. They do take care not to discuss it on the nightly news broadcasts and the Sunday shows, which essentially limits the number of people who know about their policies to the politically active who multi-source their news.


Posted by: Midland on April 20, 2010 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

I read that Gregory or his wife were chummy with Liz Cheney, and I presume other beltway Repubs, and I have no doubt that Gregory and other villagers don't want to do anything that would jeopardize those relationships--even though Cheney and her ilk are only as relevant as the MSM chooses to make them.
Anyway, if this is true, I've lost whatever respect I had for Gregory. His comment on people doing their own fact checking is ridiculous and only further proof of what a joke our supposedly serious journalists have become. Tim Russert wasn't much better either, with him it was all about playing gotcha with whatever ancient quotes he could dig up on a certain subject.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on April 20, 2010 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

The list of Sunday morning talk shows did not include either Fareed Zakaria or Christiane Amanpour, both on CNN. The hosts of those shows practice actual journalism when interviewing guests during the show; questioning and pushing back on statements. All this fact checking after the interview seems somewhat contrived. How many viewers are going to follow-up after the show? Most of us are pretty clear that John McCain lies without someone else providing facts that were easily verifiable during the interview. Those who believe him probably won't be inclined to searching for someone else's idea of the facts.

Journalists should be prepared prior to the interview, so the statements of a guest can be explored on air where it would make a difference. It seems that the hosts of the shows, identified in this blog, have no idea that there is any difference between a policy position and facts that can be easily proven or disproven. Verifying statements after the fact is subterfuge to avoid actually preparing for an interview. But that’s really not the point for the bloated balloon heads on the Sunday shows listed is it?

To coin a phrase: It's the ratings stupid....

Posted by: Diane Rodriguez on April 20, 2010 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

I'm sure liberals would love nothing better than to have an inquisitor come storming into an interview yelling "liar" whenever John McCain appears on TV, but the networks know this would be a violation of the Senator's First Ammendment Rights.

No, it isn't. Network newscasts are privately owned, not government owned. The First Amendment does not apply to these shows in any fashion.

Likewise, lying on TV about politics is not illegal, shouting at someone at politics is not illegal, and, without the defunct Fairness Doctrine pretty much nothing that happens on a network newscast is covered by any law other than the libel laws.

Note that Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, etc. are legally entertainment shows--Limbaugh specifies this carefully whenever he is interviewed. Libel laws do not apply to any comment made in a Jay Leno monologue or a Letterman Top Ten list because these are entertainment segments of their respective shows. Limbaugh's broadcasts all fall under the entertainment satire exclusion to the libel laws. He is therefore free to lie about any person or subject at any time.

Posted by: Midland on April 20, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Duh.

Posted by: George on April 20, 2010 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

The bookers on these shows have a remarkably small Rolodex file for such a big country and most of the folks they call are good villagers....the people the show hosts mix and mingle with.

Last thing they want to be doing is "embarassing" their guests with icky stuff like calling their veracity into question. After all, if that happened they might not get invited to the next tea party. It's all a very incestuous system and not one designed to do anything more than give those in power a platform to sell their political ginzu knives.

Posted by: dweb on April 20, 2010 at 10:36 AM | PERMALINK

To be thought a "follower" in the act of telling the truth would indeed be a painful lesson in humility.

Posted by: Ralph on April 20, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

Remember, please, that the primary job of every TeeVee broadcast is delivering eyeballs to advertisers.

DAY has gone to the heart of the problem. The US sold its soul to commercial advertising in the 1950s as a way of bringing "free" entertainment to the masses. You know, bread and circuses? But with the new TV box, bread became practically unnecessary.

Posted by: Ralph on April 20, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen wrote: "I obviously can't speak to the motivations of the shows' producers and hosts."

If that's really true, then "obviously" should be replaced with "obliviously" in that sentence.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 20, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

It's time for a law that requires broadcasters who use public airwaves to correct errors of fact at the ends of programs as they air if taped, on the subsequent program if broadcast live, or ASAP if the errors were missed at the time but were brought to their attention later.

That's not practical as a rigid rule. Some facts may be obscure or inherently questionable, others may be generally thought false and later found to be true, and so forth. This sort of thing has to be handled with some intelligence. Problem is, use of intelligence and common sense is prohibited by the need to attract and hold advertisers. Remember that advertising doesn't deal with the truth either. Since the advent of the "truth in advertising" law, that business is perforce based on more subtle deception.

Posted by: Ralph on April 20, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

OK, so effective immediately I am writing to all the other networks and telling them I refuse to watch their program until they institute fact-checking. How many of us would it take to push the networks into honesty?

Posted by: Grammy pat on April 20, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK
I'm sure liberals would love nothing better than to have an inquisitor come storming into an interview yelling "liar" whenever John McCain appears on TV ...

I see no problems with this idea, and support it 100% -- for all politicians, not just McCain.

Good to see our resident Parody Troll Al finally come up with something useful. Well played, sir!

Posted by: Mark D on April 20, 2010 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

I would like to see op-ed pieces in the major papers not only fact-checked but also logic-checked by the editors. Finding the latest fallacy or spin in a David Brooks column is way easier than it should be.

Posted by: Chris S. on April 20, 2010 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

This issue -- the question of fact-checking -- lies directly at the heart of our public information problem. Because 95% of broadcast discourse is paid for by advertising, truth is a scarce commodity. It's just not compatible with selling product.

There is no way out as long as most of the populace obtains its information "for free" courtesy of advertising dollars.

And to get out of the advertising cycle would mean settling for less entertainment. It's an extraordinarily difficult interlocked arrangement to alter.

Unless and until accurate public information becomes more important than hours of entertainment piped into our houses every day, the broadcast system and our general level of political discourse will not change substantially.

Posted by: Ralph on April 20, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

"don't worry, everything on NBC is OFF THE RECORD!"

Posted by: grover nerdkissed on April 20, 2010 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

The journalist is extinct, as are the "news" shows. There are no 24 hour news stations, they have blossomed into 24 hour politics. Boring.

Posted by: Schtick on April 20, 2010 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

ABC really needs to use this as a selling point:

"Our Sunday anchors aren't afraid of fact-checking. Theirs are. Who are you going to trust to get the truth out?"

Posted by: Sarah Palin IS the ANTIchrist on April 20, 2010 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

I think people have been conditioned over time to watch what is the most hyped.

If networks used the same kind of news at 11 or 6 or whatever scare tactics to get people to watch, we'd probably get somewhere.

Like, how many people would watch a show/broadcast that would educate them on a regular basis about declining wages and standard of living. People watch what is hyped.

"Tune in at 11 and we'll give you information you can use."

Rather than it being discussed in a 20 second segment of the show.

People will watch or listen if given the chance.

Posted by: BurghMan on April 20, 2010 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

There are a lot more than five talk shows on Sunday. There are several additional shows in which all of the guests know the facts they are talking about, and anyone who misstated a fact would get jumped on immediately. Of course, these are just sports shows.

Posted by: Jim on April 20, 2010 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

BlueJohn made a suggestion that I was going to make, namely that there isn't anything stopping Politifact from fact checking all the Sunday shows. And by the same token there isn't anything that I'm aware of that stops any of the shows from fact checking any of the others and announcing their results on the air. I wouldn't mind seeing ABC do a fact check of CNN or FOX and then announcing what they find. It would go a long ways toward making the other networks clean up their acts.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on April 20, 2010 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

The fact checking idea is an excellent one but I'd take it even further. I'd grade the shows and their guests on a weekly basis. The desired result would be to force the shows to invite only guests who are honest.

For instance, if it could be shown that MTP had a 50% honesty rating because it invited Dick Cheney on every other week to lie 100% of the time they should be called out for it. MTP should then be labeled as only 50% honest say in comparison to ABC that is maintaining an 80% honesty rating.

The shows should be asked repeatedly why they invite guests on who mislead the American public. If George Will or Peggy Noonan are frequently repeating falsehoods then This Week, GW and PN should be ridiculed until This Week stops using those two on their panel.

Posted by: Registeredguest on April 20, 2010 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

These Sunday morning talk shows aren't competing for ratings. Their ratings are so low they're nonexistent. Everyone beyond the Beltway is either in church or nursing a hangover. And anybody who's home, well, and interested in TV and politics is watching C-SPAN, where the viewers really do have the opportunity to fact-check the guests.

Maybe the quest for ratings is why McCain is on these tedious shows so much. His family and staff watch, and that doubles the program's viewership.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on April 20, 2010 at 11:29 PM | PERMALINK

The corridors of power inside-the-Beltway are chock full of ambitious Solons who believe they have the smarts, the grasp of detail, the charisma and the platform to make a mark with their peers and with the elite audience that watches these shows. They all believe they can get their point across without having to resort to shading the truth. I have no worry that a little bit of fact checking will discourage politicians from accepting an invitation to strut their newsmaking stuff. -- Tyndall Report

I argue that factchecking is all well and good but that four other checks are just as important as the check for Truthfulness:

Relevance
Comprehensiveness
Responsiveness
Balance

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall on April 23, 2010 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK
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