By Hans Peter Ibold, assistant professor of journalism at Indiana University
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Journalists who verify the assertions of public officials are doing their jobs and supporting democracy. Seems like a well-worn truism, right?
Not. This column joins a firestorm of comment on “the goddamn fact-checking thing.”
That’s how former New York Times public editor Arthur Brisbane reminisced about his role in the fact-checking fracas in a recent interview with Poynter.org
A public editor column by Brisbane went viral at the start of the year, in part because of its quirky request: “I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers.”
Press and political blogs lit up in response, answering Brisbane with what seemed like a murmuring “huh?” followed mostly by indignation.
That was just one of many quibbles with what has lately been dubbed the “fact-checking movement” and the “golden age of fact-checking.”
Fact-checkers from Politifact, FactCheck.org and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog were out in force after the first two debates as they have been for much of the 2012 campaign season. Do Americans want journalists to assess the accuracy of debate claims, candidate speeches and TV ads?
Brooks Jackson, who heads FactCheck.org, thinks so. He was quoted recently as saying: “In an age where the typical citizen is subjected to an avalanche of the kind of pure baloney that journalists used to keep out of the public discourse … they are looking for journalists to be kind of adjudicators or referees.”
The media’s job used to be to report the news – who, what, when, where and how. Their new role as adjudicators extends their warrant at a time that skepticism of the media is already sky high.
In a September Gallup poll, 60 percent said they had either “not very much trust or confidence” or “no trust at all” in the media to report the news “fully, accurately or fairly.”
It’s far from clear that Americans want the media to go into the uncharted waters of assessing candidate claims. A poll from Annenberg suggests that around 9 percent of respondents have reported visiting a fact-checking site.