Newspaper “fact-checking” is a mostly unethical and misleading exercise in which media partisans use the format to call positions they differ with ideologically and politically “lies.” PolitiFact is well established as the worst and most biased of these features; Annenberg’s Factcheck.org is easily the best (but still shows its leftward bias), and somewhere in between is Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post’s “Factchecker.” Today’s installment of his periodic column shows that after many years at his job, he still doesn’t know what a lie is. Amazing.
This is not, or should not be, necessarily for a factchecker, as long as he sticks to checking facts, and not characterizing why the facts don’t jibe with a particular public figure’s public statements. PolitiFact’s specialty is making questionable interpretations of statistics and events, declaring them the revealed truth, and attacking anyone, usually a Republican, who has come to a different conclusion. To his credit, Kessler doesn’t do that very often. He is typically fair and objective in his research and presentation of facts. But the Post’s Factchecker uses the device of one to four little Pinocchio heads to indicate the seriousness of a factual misstatement, and as he should know, Pinocchio’s nose grew long when he lied. Even one Pinocchio indicates that Kessler believes he has proven that someone lied.
It seems a little late for Kessler to be mistaking opinions that he disagrees with, analyses of facts that reach different conclusions than he would, and obvious mistakes as lies. Kessler, who is should be in the business of checking facts but has chosen a gimmick that makes him conclude by accusing others of lying, is ethically obligated to know what a lie is: an intentional misstatement of fact that is designed and intended to deceive. He either doesn’t know that, which means he’s incompetent, or he does and misrepresents mistakes and opinions as lies, which means that he’s the liar. Whichever it is, this is ethically unacceptable for a “factchecker.” Continue reading