Tuesday, December 15, 2015

NYT Public Editor Explains Why Media Have A Greater Responsibility Than Ever "To Do Rigorous Fact-Checking ... In Real Time" In 2016

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan explained that "in this particular political season" leading up to the 2016 elections, it has become "more necessary than ever to do rigorous fact-checking ... in real time."

In an election season flooded with GOP lies, media have been tasked with a slew of fact-checks and corrections. Rachel Maddow called fact-checking GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina after the first CNN Republican Primary Debate "like a three alarm fire." Republican candidate Donald Trump has struggled so much with the truth that Washington Post's Glenn Kessler said his lies are "often so absurd that you can instantly find out why it's wrong, and how it's wrong." Even Bill O'Reilly pointed out that a racist tweet by Donald Trump featuring wildly inaccurate murder statistics was "totally wrong."

Unfortunately, as Sullivan points out, "false statements in news articles ... are allowed to go unchallenged." The Washington Post gave Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) a pass on his false claim that gun laws won't work, and media struggled to factually cover former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's email server use, adding fuel to a phony scandal.

As The Times' senior editor for politics Carolyn Ryan told Sullivan, "Getting to the truth of political statements, or misstatements, 'is the greatest reader service that we do.'" From the December 15 op-ed:

Here's what makes readers justifiably crazy: false statements in news articles that are allowed to go unchallenged.

In any political season, it's especially important to counter those statements. In this particular political season, it's become more necessary than ever to do rigorous fact-checking -- and to get it done, as much as possible, in real time.

There are some encouraging signs. Last week, in an article about the reaction to Donald J. Trump's plan to ban Muslim immigration into the United States, the candidate's statements were countered right within the text of the news story.

Here is the germane section, with my boldface emphasis added.

"Paris is no longer the same city it was," he said, before adding, without citing any evidence: "They have sections in Paris that are radicalized where the police refuse to go there. They're petrified. The police refuse to go in there. We have places in London and other places that are so radicalized that the police are afraid for their own lives."

Mr. Trump's statement about Paris has no basis in fact: There are no districts there or outside Paris where the police have said they are unwilling to go. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, meanwhile, said that Mr. Trump's claim about his city was "complete and utter nonsense."

[...]

Getting to the truth of political statements, or misstatements, "is the greatest reader service that we do," Ms. [Carolyn] Ryan [New York Times senior editor for politics] told me. "So we are trying to be relentless and aggressive about it."

The need is great. Angie Drobnic Holan, the editor of PolitiFact, the political fact-checking website, wrote a provocative piece that appeared in The Times over the weekend, rating the presidential candidates for truthfulness -- and it wasn't a pretty picture for several. The title of her article: "All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others."

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