Editor's Note

Facts of Strife

By Tim Whitaker
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Sep. 24, 2008

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"Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true."


A number of news outlets--all the 24/7 cable networks and even some in the dead tree medium--have been steadily unveiling a new gimmick just in time for the campaign stretch run.

It's called fact-checking.

You may have heard of it.

It was a big deal back in the day when journalism was a profession and newsrooms had missions.

Here's how fact-checking works:

A reporter is assigned to verify the veracity of what's being said by (or about) a candidate and their campaign. It could be things stated in commercials, or what's being said in speeches and interviews on the campaign trail. The reporter takes this information being represented as truth and checks it against what's on the public record.

The reporter then tells us what is really true.

You can see how fact-checking makes people happy.

It even makes politicians want to tell the truth a little more often.

Fact-checking, however, takes time and money to do right, and it's not as much fun as talking about Digg or Twitter or Kindle. Consequently, a lot of media outlets now only check facts when somebody on the inside happens to notice something that looks dicey enough to cause legal trouble if said.

This, of course, isn't fact-checking. It's litigious roulette.

Fact-checking, the meticulous kind, requires focus and deliberation. You have to care about the public good and the institutional integrity of your workplace as much as the company's bottom line, which is another reason you see fact-checking fading fast from the media landscape.

Still, there are fact-checking stalwarts.

Take Michael Dobbs, who writes a blog for The Washington Post. It's called--you guessed it--"The Fact Checker."

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