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Fact-checking & asking the tough questions

by on September 7, 2012

Here’s the The Atlantic article that contains the video I showed in class of a Fox 19 (Cincinnati) reporter asking President Obama a tough question and then putting his answers in context for the viewers. Objective or partisan? Right or wrong?

The debate about fact-checking has reached new heights (lows?) this electoral season. Check out a piece alleging that Associated Press’ has problems defining what a “fact” is, a piece on why journalists generally avoid using the word “liar,” a piece on the difficulties of calling bullshit when covering campaigns, a piece on bad/problematic fact-checking, Jay Rosen’s excellent take on the whole fact-checking phenomenon, and an explanation of why fact-checking is catching on this season. Enjoy!


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  1. laurenpregiato permalink

    Before reading the article, “Associated Press’ has problems defining what a ‘fact’ is,” I didn’t quite understand why it was so difficult to decipher a fact from fiction, or why people are so hesitant to do so. After reading the piece by Jonathan Chait, it is evident that there are many different layers to the statements these politicians make. For instance, the statement that Bill Clinton made in regard to the nation’s healthcare being at “historically low rates” can be attributed to Obama’s health care law but in some experts believe that its because of the uncertainty of the economy, although no one can be sure. There is a large gray area between fact and deceit which I never knew existed prior to this class.

  2. Local Ohio reporter Ben Swann’s recent interview with President Obama about an unjust “kill list” has attracted the attention of various journalists all over the country. Applauded by Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf, he writes that reporting, “requires deep knowledge, reflection, logical analysis, and a willingness to challenge authority;” a willingness Swann effortlessly displayed. His “Reality Check” segment is meant to uncover the dishonesty stated by politicians and lawmakers and the impact that dishonesty has on those they represent. In a Huffington Post article, journalist Jack Mirkinson writes Swann’s segment is, “in several ways, a tougher, more skeptical segment than viewers would find on many a national news program.” Should, then, this in depth skepticism by Swann act as an indication of a sort of partisan reporting? Or merely sheer dedication to display dishonesty as well as to his job as a reporter? Do we bring ourselves to applaud or criticize him? Though one can argue Swann is looking only at his interview with Obama from a conflicting point of view, as Ezra Klein said in her “A not-very-truthful speech in a not-very-truthful campaign” post, politicians don’t always make it possible for reporters to be “fair” and defend each side, especially if these politicians or lawmakers are, time and time again, dishonest or ambiguous in their responses.

  3. There are a few things I got from the above readings. Probably the underlying theme of all articles is that there is not a fine line between fact, opinion, right and wrong. It is not simply a black or white matter when trying to decipher whether or not a comment made by a politician is accurate or not. Politicians speak is very gray or general terms, often leaving viewers with questions regarding the legitimacy of their responses. Because of this, journalists are forced to use words such as accurate, legitimate, and fair, instead of simply saying something is “correct” or “false”.

    Now, I see both sides of the matter when attempting to interpret the truth on political issues concerning this country. On the one hand, politicians do not want to make everything public to the world, as in some cases it could compromise our countries military tactics. This is why most often when Obama does not want to comment on a subject, he defers to the, “I don’t talk about our national security decisions in that way” excuse (albeit a very legitimate excuse as almost any issue having to do with this country could be labeled under “National Security.”)

    However, it is our duty as journalists to inform the public on the happenings of our country. Citizens deserve to know the truth about the political decisions that are going on daily, yet our politicians clearly would not agree with this statement; hence their often broad responses to the questions that bring up the most heated of debates. Journalists must do their best to go above and beyond in their research in an attempt to think of questions that don’t allow politicians to “beat around the bush,” so to speak. Our questions must force politicians to be precise and detailed in their responses even if it means getting a response that we may not want to hear.

  4. Mike permalink

    In any electoral race fact checking or seeking whats accurate vs. misleading is always a problem. Not only are some news organizations looking out for their own bias beliefs, but you also have to account for the form in which the question was asked. As an example it was clearly visible that the president knew of such “Kill List” but backs it by that there are many out there in the world who wish to do us harm. So since we are journalists and we are Americans it is our duty to alert the people of such a barbaric scripture that violates the very freedom and right to justice our forefathers fought for. It drags up the question that America is only free to the ones who are harmless or couldn’t have the means to be a threat.

    As such one could say journalists are a threat? we collect information and release it to the world for all who can access it. So fact checking is vitally essential because since journalists are a threat it is very easy for any nominee to use as many shades of gray to cover the true black ink.

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