Robert Meyer
'Fact-checking': Foxes guarding the hen house
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By Robert Meyer
November 7, 2021

The great American pastime these days is to read what “fact-checkers” have to say about the claims of some political figure who is disliked by the mainstream intelligentsia.

But let’s survey for a moment the history of how we arrived at this point. Once upon a time we had news networks that reported news stories There were always shades of bias, a la, members of the media had a predominant ideological bent, or determined for themselves the particular stories that they believed merited public interest and exposure. They avoided reporting on issues or viewpoint they wanted to conceal from public exposure. But less prominent was the proliferation of naked partisanship. At that time, it was common for news executives to announce that he/she was offering their opinion when speaking, thus separating their message from the news proper.

As we moved on through the years, virtually every issue became, in some way, politicized. We then had the advent of advocacy journalism, whereby the focus shifted from reporting events, toward taking a position on an issue, and becoming an apologist for the stated cause. At that point some people believed that the mainstream news media was no longer a trustworthy enterprise to disseminate accurate information, because the lines between news reporting and editorializing became permanently blurred. Some media outlets, including a liberal source where I was a columnist once, conceded that this was their modus operandi. But, most of the time, information was presented this way without the public being told about the intentions of the news source.

In decades past, we relied on media, in it’s various forms to be the “fact-checkers.” Freedom of the press was a constitutional right, and we assumed it would be used for good to properly inform the American people. That we need a category of people known as “fact-checkers,”is a tacit admission by the media that they no longer see fact checking as their primary function. Not long ago the “fact-checker” occupied the same echelon of credibility once accorded to the media at large. Numerous urban legends were circulated my means of electronic media, and the astute individual of the day would confront the dissemination of such false information with a written rebuttal article from organization such as Snopes. Case settled.

But then a curious thing happened. Some began to question the ideological leanings of the fact-checkers themselves. That suspicion was actually quite reasonable. After all, why should we assume that there existed some cabal of completely objective people out there, who had no stake in the influence of editorializing, but just wanted to offer the facts to the public regardless of the consequences? If such an animal entered the Ark, their descendants are few are far in between.

No doubt, the “fact-checkers” presented a lot more detailed analysis of a given topic than what could be gleaned from typical media sound bites. But fact checking didn’t usually take the form of so much creative truth-bending. The deceptions occurred mainly in the selective application of fact-checking towards certain groups or individuals. We saw this played out most prominently during the Trump administration. Virtually everything Donald Trump said was subject to fact checking analysis, yet when other politicians made at least equally dubious comments, little attention was given them. Even more insidious was the tendency to take tongue and cheek comments by Trump and parse them as though that were literal statements. An obvious form of deconstruction giving deference to a malicious interpretation of the message, rather than clarifying the intent.

In addition, “fact-checkers” created a tacit assumption of objectivity just by labeling themselves as such. In court room television dramas we frequently hear witnesses impaneled with the admonition to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Obviously, there exists ways of stating certain facts, yet failing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Fact-checking objectivity is little more than another form of deputizing a den of foxes to guard the hen house.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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