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  • Thursday, November 11, 2004


    A Failure of Fact Checking

    I have a particular interest in the press and it's role as an independent (from the government) source of information. Sadly, it often seems to fail in this regard these days. The people at Spinsanity have been a good influence. This is from the last column in the Philidelphia Inquirer, printed on the commentary page. That is an irony all its own.
    But the fact-checking was nowhere near intensive or sustained enough to keep up with the distortions coming from the candidates and their surrogates. If a man who wants to spend the next four years as president or vice president of the United States is blatantly misleading the nation, isn't that important news? Why should candidates get quoted saying one thing on Page 1, and have an article pointing out it isn't true on Page 23?

    The first presidential debate and its aftermath provided a perfect illustration of this problem. More than 60 million Americans watched it live on television, but every major newspaper led with a summary that repeated the candidates' major themes, often without criticism. Among the major national newspapers, only the Los Angeles Times put a fact-checking article on Page 1. The Inquirer and the Washington Post, for example, put such articles farther back in the paper, while the New York Times didn't run one at all. And while many of these pieces were excellent, the press ignored much of the spin that happened outside the context of the debates. President Bush, for example, repeatedly claimed after the first debate that John Kerry had proposed a "global test" that would give foreign countries a veto over U.S. national security decisions - and the national press frequently cited his claims without pointing out that Kerry had said precisely the opposite.

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