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Hullabaloo


Thursday, May 14, 2015

 

Fact checking gets weaponized

by Tom Sullivan

Move over oppo researcher. Now that fact checking has been "weaponized" (according to Mark Stencel), you may be out of a job:

Weaponizing fact-checks is just one of many ways politicians use and abuse fact-checking. One positive response is that candidates now vet their own messages, prepare background materials, dedicate staff to answering fact-checkers’ questions—and when called out on a particular comment or line of attack, they often adjust what they say going forward. But politicians also often “stand their ground,” after being told their pants are on fire—particularly when it comes to key strategic messages. Mitt Romney’s repeated attacks on President Obama’s international “apology tour” and the Obama campaign’s relentless focus on Romney’s time at Bain Capital were just two examples from the 2012 election where politicians refused to cower to fact-checkers.

“You just decide the fact-checker is wrong,” one Obama adviser I spoke to said.

But most of the time, people in politics do the opposite: They use fact-checks to validate or reinforce their position—and bloody their opponents. That was the case in nearly every reference to fact-checking I found in House and Senate debates and congressional floor speeches from 2013 and 2014. Of 83 statements (57 from Republicans and 26 from Democrats), only three challenged the fact-checkers’ findings. The rest used the fact-checks to label themselves as truth-tellers or their opponents as liars. But, even when using fact checks to attack a political rival, politicians frequently take a swipe at fact checking itself.

If only the facts counted in politics as something more than confirmation bias. I used to call Iraq Whose War Is It Anyway? - Where Everything’s Made Up and the Facts Don’t Matter.

Stencel prepared a report for the American Press Institute on how fact checking has changed politics. But even as they check ads' political claims, who fact-checks closing zingers such as "A lying politician, just like Obama"? For an audience that largely doesn't seem to know the difference between fact and opinion, that's as much of an issue as how many Pinocchios an ad receives.

“When did fact checking and journalism separate?” the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart once asked NBC News' Tom Brokaw. No journalist deploys fact-checking to greater effect than Stewart, a comedian.

Stewart just did marvelous take-down of Fox News' pompous, stuffed shirt, Stuart Varney. Nothing like an arsenal of TiVos for fact checking propagandists:

Never did like that Varney guy. Know what I mean, Vern?