The Frustrations of Fact Checkers

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MANDEL NGAN / AFP / Getty Images

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally at the Dayton International Airport in Vandalia, Ohio on Sept. 25, 2012.

Midway through a Wednesday morning panel discussion with the nation’s top political fact checkers, FactCheck.org’s Brooks Jackson asked his colleagues if they could think of a case where candidates this cycle have “paid a price” for misleading the public. Several seconds of silence at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. followed. “Well, that’s kind of depressing,” Jackson observed.

Indeed. A few minutes later, Glenn Kessler, who heads up fact checking at the Washington Post, told a story about combative conversation he had with the head of a SuperPac, who he had called out for misleading voters. “He laughed at me and said, ‘I actually don’t give a hoot, because these ads work. They move voters,'” Kessler said, before noting that the actual language was a bit less family friendly.

Two facts define the current landscape of presidential campaigns when it comes to truth telling. First, the press has been more aggressive this year than in any recent presidential election in calling out factual inaccuracies from the Presidential campaigns and the outside groups supporting them. Second, the severity and frequency of factual errors uttered by the campaigns and the outside groups has shown no real change from past contests. If anything, it may have gotten slightly worse than in recent cycles.

Such is the paradox of truth in politics: Everyone claims it. Few abide by it. And those who depart from it rarely suffer much. A study released Wednesday by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which oversees FactCheck.org, found that between April 10 and September 20 of this year, roughly a third of the money spent by third parties on television advertising–27.8% to be exact–went to spots that were deceptive. The pro-Obama Priorities USA spent 33.5% of its money on deceptive ads. The pro-Romney Restore Our Future spent 27.4% of its money on deceptive ads. Crossroads GPS, the Republican group that does not disclose its donors, spent 26.6% of its money on deceptive ads.

None of this suggests that the cause is lost, or that fact checking as an endeavor is fruitless. But it does reveal a real weakness in the American democratic process. A separate Annenberg poll released Wednesday found high percentages of the public are unaware of the falsehoods being peddled in this campaign. Just 46% of Americans correctly identified the claim that Mitt Romney will “work to make abortion illegal in all circumstances” as false. (Romney supports an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother.) Only 53.6% of Americans correctly identified the statement that “Barack Obama has dropped all work requirements for individuals receiving welfare” as false. (Obama allowed states more flexibility in setting requirements, but still conditions funding on the demonstration of work placement.)

It was the voters who showed the most interest in getting the facts right that got the most facts right. Those who said they had visited a fact-checking website got 55.5% of the facts right in the poll, compared to the 45.3% accuracy rate of those who did not go to a fact checking website. As always, the only way to defeat falsehood is to be educated with facts. The unknown going forward is just how many voters will choose to exercise that option, and demand that their politicians stop deceiving them.

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ebonytruthteller
ebonytruthteller

Our nation faces a unique  problem in this election season..you see when the right declared that their primary goal was to "See Obama Fail' .....they drew a line in the sand that facts cannot cross at all..in fact the insertion of "facts" into their formula that was designed to "make certain Obama was a one-term President"...is something they could not allow ...how would they accomplish such a maligned ,divisive goal , a goal that encouraged them to ignore the severe state of affairs the nation was facing at the time..and build their national agenda upon this campaign of mud-slinging and disinformation..of course it must be frustrating  talking to someone screaming with their fingers stuck in their ears !

PAGster
PAGster

"First, the press has been more aggressive this year than in any recent

presidential election in calling out factual inaccuracies from the

Presidential campaigns and the outside groups supporting them"

Really? Because my perception is that what's missing in this picture is journalists who do their jobs, but we seem to have either "journalists" who make no attempt to balance their pov or else "journalists" who achieve balance by reporting that the truth and the lie are just equally valid competing points of view.

I don't think the press has been particularly aggressive in this area at all.

 

Larissa Scors Anderson
Larissa Scors Anderson

i find it interesting that an article about fact checking has a glaring editorial booboo 1st sentence of p5, "None of this suggests that the cause is lot, or that fact checking as an endeavor is fruitless" lot? this in a sentence with inherent redundancy. sigh.

bcinaz
bcinaz

And yet, despite all the lying and the money, the thing that is sinking Romney is the truth of who he is.  And what will keep Dem control of the Senate is the truth of who the wingnuts are and what their agenda is.  And the thing that will (probably) swing the House back to a Democratic majority is the truth of Tea Party Conservatism and how it has impacted the lives of many many people.

Magpieview
Magpieview

Given we are talking about the USA why hasn't anybody sued the people who pay to air these ad's for Malicious Misrepresentation. 

53underscore3
53underscore3

Welcome to the World of Citizens United.

Your GOP in action...

Ali Goria
Ali Goria

Frustration is the new euphamism for "caught lying". In 2005, Congress removed state loopholes defining "work" as the following stupid activities and Obama just overruled that action. He was against it back in 2005, too. Of course.

So the partisan media claims "oh no he didn't remove the work requirements" because you define "bed rest" as work. PATHETIC.

Senate committee: 

http://www.finance.senate.gov/... 

In 2005, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office reported that several states listed as part of their definition of a “federal work activity” under TANF the following:

1.    Bed rest

2.    Personal care activities

3.    Massage

4.    Exercise

5.    Journaling

6.    Motivational reading

7.    Smoking cessation

8.    Weight loss promotion

9.    Participating in parent teacher meetings

10.    Helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands

In the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act (DRA), Congress reigned in loosening these TANF work requirement definitions, which then-Senator Obama opposed.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

Pasting this a third time doesn't make it valid.

I see I wasted my time responding seriously to your first comment; I won't make that mistake again.

Benevolent Lawyer
Benevolent Lawyer

I started reading before I saw the author was Scherer, and I stopped. I know he hopes for a job in the Romney administration. But he will not get it, since Romney will probably lose. So let those that have the energy read Scherer's heavily biased and Romney favoring blabber, that he imagines are fair and balanced articles. Newsflash Scherer, It is so close to the elections, that your political leanings are STARK and its all PARTISAN--super Romney leaning drivel!! All ghastly, all the time.

Oh, never mind, Michael will continue these SPAZ articles until Romney is creamed.

All OBAMA supporters, please do not FORGET TO VOTE on NOVEMBER 6th. REMIND ALL YOUR FRIENDS WHO SUPPORT OBAMA, THAT THEY SHOULD VOTE.

Mark Devlin
Mark Devlin

It's clear that that the fact checkers are now supporting their own biases under the cloak of authority. How could we expect anything else when the same editors write *and* fact check?

Last week I set up WeCheck ( http://wecheck.org ), the people's fact check that anyone can edit, to cut out the middleman and to put fact checking back in the hands of the people. WeCheck is like a Wikipedia for fact checking: anyone can edit, add sources or links to support or rebut claims made by politicians and their media friends. Please join me so we can create an unbiased source of facts about the campaigns.

me987654
me987654

If the media wants to stop lying they need to write headlines that call people on out it. ex. "Romney continues to lie about Obama removing work reqs for welfare."

Ali Goria
Ali Goria

Yeah because these activities are DEFINITELY "WORK":

1.    Bed rest

2.    Personal care activities

3.    Massage

4.    Exercise

5.    Journaling

6.    Motivational reading

7.    Smoking cessation

8.    Weight loss promotion

9.    Participating in parent teacher meetings1

0.    Helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands

Educate yourself on facts before repeating nonsense. The entire HOUSE had a vote on the Obama repeal of the work requirements. Are THEY ALL LIARS too?

me987654
me987654

Actually Romney has flip flopped all over on abortion and it's completely BS to call the argument he supports a ban on all abortions a lie

Otto Man
Otto Man

 Wow, good one.  Zing!

Why don't sit the next discussion out, champ?

ScottieB4
ScottieB4

But it is so much more effective to lie and say Mitt pays a lower federal income tax rate than the average American when more than half pay $0.  But that gets you elected with a majority.  

Kevin Groenhagen
Kevin Groenhagen

I note that the fact checkers haven't seemed to pay a price for misleading the public during this election cycle.

charlieromeobravo
charlieromeobravo

Yeah, that time that Factcheck.org called it false when they said that Ryan wanted to end Medicare as we know it was pretty egregious. At least they got some blow back for it.

Dan Bruce
Dan Bruce

With many Republican candidates, one must do a fact hunt.

filmnoia
filmnoia

Dumb question -

Who is goinfg to check the "fact" checkers?

Pnnto
Pnnto

Not a dumb question at all.

That's up to us. Thankfully we live in a time where, if one chooses, one can fact check.

Beholdthejabberwock
Beholdthejabberwock

When Adam Savage says, "I reject your reality and substitute my own," he is being facetious and ironic. In modern America, sadly, it isn't ironic. It's par for the course.

MikeTime
MikeTime

What I find funny is deep down we all know politicans lie, and they only lie because they tell us what we want to hear because as Col Nathan Jessup put it so eloquently, "You (we) can't handle the truth".

When was the last time you voted for, or even heard a politican say, "Our country is in a fiscal mess.  In order to get our house in order we either need to cut entitlement spending including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.  Or we we need to raise taxes which includes taxes on the middle class.  Or a combination of the two".  Yeah, the last time a candidate even hinted at that on a wide scale was McGovern back in 1972 and he lost 49 States.

There's no one to blame but yourselves folks.

bobell
bobell

Fritz Mondale -- 1984 (from memory): Reagan won't tell you that he'll raise your taxes.  I just did.

How many states did Mondale win?

Obama has it just right.  If you're in the 99 percent, he won't raise your taxes.  He'll raise them for rich people only. So he says.l

MikeTime
MikeTime

And implementing the "Buffett Rule" will generate a whopping ~$50B per year.  That will sure put a dent in out $1 Trillion deficit each year.

MikeTime
MikeTime

And is it also fair that 47% of Americans pay ZERO Federal income taxes each year due to deductions and credits (across the entire wealth spectrum)?

This is why the tax code needs a serious overhaul.

pollardty
pollardty

a $50 billion dollar dent with the added bonus of being fair..