One of the biggest new trends in media coverage of U.S. politics is the rise of the ‘fact checker’. A range of websites have popped up in recent years, such as Fact Check dot org and Politifact which are dedicated entirely to examining the pronouncements of politicians looking for lies and misrepresentations of the truth. Not wanting to be left behind on this action, many mainstream news and politics media outlets have started establishing their own fact check columns or publishing fact check themed articles.
But rather than just making and guiding the news, these fact checkers have become the story recently, after when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously said that he wouldn’t allow his campaign to be “dictated by fact checkers“. This came after the whole republican conference became the focus of a flurry of ‘fact checker’ articles claiming that Romney and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s speeches were riddled with lies an untruths. Many of Romney’s opponents and the readers of these fact checker sites took this to be another sign that the Republican party is unconcerned with the truth and willing to lie and cheat their way into power. But there is also another side to this story.
Fact checkers present themselves as completely impartial, concerned only with dry facts – no spin, no opinion, just the ‘facts’. But who is checking the fact checker’s facts? I ask this because there is one simple fact that cannot be ignored: fact checkers are in the business of finding lies. When they do so they get publicity and make money. So the more lies they find, the better it is for business. As a result of this there is a growing tendency for so-called ‘fact-checkers’ to twist and misrepresent the words of politicians in a desperate search to find as many lies as they possibly can. It is also true that these things are not written by machines, analysing everything that every politician says. They are written by people with their own biases and prejudices, and are often associated with left-wing media outlets (because they fit well with the political narrative of conservatives being less intelligent).
This is, in my opinion, the very worst kind of media bias. If a writer is clear about their political affiliations and biases and write explicitly biased articles then you can judge them on those terms. But this kind of reporting not only presents itself as completely unbiased, it presents itself as if it were a format which is incapable of being biased, and which, being solely concerned with facts, is more reliable than general news articles.
To give an example of fact checker bias, many of these sites claimed to have ‘debunked’ the lie told by Paul Ryan, that Obama has added more to the national debt in less than four years than every other president in U.S. history. They do this by dishonestly assuming that he meant every president in history added together – whereas in fact that was not what he said and anyone with any common sense can see that was not what he meant either.
Another example came when Romney claimed that benefit reform would mean that welfare recipients would not need to work to be able claim benefits. This was called out as a lie because, although the reforms do remove the requirement for work, this would have to be implemented by the states individually and would not be an automatic result of the reform in every part of the country.
Check out this article for the top ten fact checker lies, and remember: always question what you read and check the facts yourself if you can, even if they are presented to you by a so-called ‘fact checker’.