Ethics Alarms generally doesn’t deal in links alone, but I just had the experience of working for several hours on an ethics issue only to see an excellent post on the same tipic pop up on my computer screen, rendering my work both moot and inferior. James Taranto, the sharp, funny, perceptive Wall Street Journal political blogger and wag has long been fuming about the bias and incompetence of so-called “fact-check” features, as have I. He has never before done as thorough an analysis of their performance, however, as today, and it bears reading.
Taranto is a conservative, and the charge of leftward bias accompanies his commentary, but I don’t see how it could be otherwise. If there is a right-leaning fact-check feature, I haven’t encountered it. I continue to respect the Annenberg Foundation’s Factcheck.org, as it does the best job of controlling its own liberal bias and generally avoids the devices Taranto flags in his article. Still, its bias is often detectable, as I told its managing editor a few years ago when she addressed a luncheon I attended. She denied it; I had examples. She was not happy with me.
The problem with the fact check game is that the columns masquerade as objective examinations of facts alone, but almost inevitably give way to partisan spin and the writer’s agenda. They all have their moments of genuine objectivity: Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact-checker who is singled out for special criticism by Taranto, recently found the integrity to give an Obama campaign ad four “Pinocchios.” Nonetheless, the fact check phenomenon that once appeared to be responsible journalism seems to have devolved into a useful tool for journalists to protect their favored politicians and policy positions, while tarring those they disfavor as liars.
You can read James Taranto’s analysis here.
Graphic: Peter Heck