Joe Scarborough. (AP/MSNBC, Virginia Sherwood)
I’ve had plenty of issues with PolitiFact over the years, but fact-checking news stories is certainly a worthy endeavor. Now those folks, and their related Poynter Institute, just announced they will soon launch PunditFact, covering print and web columnists, TV hosts and guests and other opinionistas.
Surely this is one of the all-time greatest challenges, especially since most commentators claim they are just offering opinions, and can play fast and very loose with the facts. The New York Times didn’t even correct their columnists (or ask them to do it) until recent years. Ombuds and public editors only handle a tiny number of cases.
From the announcement:
“Pundits on TV and radio, as well as bloggers and columnists, are prominent voices in our political discourse, yet sometimes they blur the lines between opinion and fact,” said Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Times. “Now we will hold them accountable, much as we’ve done with politicians.”
“Creating broad and nuanced media coverage of complex social issues is all the more difficult when the facts are often disregarded or ignored,” said Jonathan Barzilay, director of the Freedom of Expression Unit at the Ford Foundation. “PunditFact is poised to play a critical part in reaffirming the role of facts in our civic dialogue.”
Now that’s all well and good, but one would need an battalion or brigade of fact-checkers to tackle a fair share of the opinion-mongering out there. Hell, they may have to launch a FoxWatch just for that outlet (but they won’t).
So how will they decide what to probe? One suspects they may, in most cases, do fair-minded and effective work on individual cases—but go out of their way to balance their choices, left and right. Even if, say, the right is far less reality-based than left.
Nevertheless, right-wingers freaking out over this on Twitter, as you can imagine.
Perhaps PunditFact's first case could be Joe Scarborough claiming this week that an unnamed New York Times public editor told him, years ago, that Paul Krugman's column caused more headaches ("the biggest nightmare") in this area than anything. Should be easy to check. Right-wingers won't like the result. Scarborough already has had to admit that he lied when he said he was told this "after" his televised debate with Krugman not long ago—when actually it happened years ago. Pants on fire.
This part of the PunditFact does sound somewhat promising:
PunditFact will be an edition of PolitiFact that will invoke the look and feel of the national site. Each fact-check will be part of a pundit’s report card, so readers can see whether his or her ratings skew to the True or False end of the scale. PunditFact will publish analyses of its findings—the patterns of the falsehoods, the most popular talking points and stories about how they originated. The website also will tally ratings by news organization and will publish periodic report cards.
“PunditFact will be about accountability, not sanctimony,” Brown said. “We think consumers of political information will welcome our independent and credible reporting.”
Reed Richardson discusses the follies of fact-checking.