The Hard Truth About Fact-Checking
“Fact-checkers wouldn’t be needed if all of us journalists were more able, willing and empowered to do our jobs: to vet and explain political claims as they were being made. But the media lives in such abject terror of the perception of bias that it has, in a sense, decided to outsource a big part of its job: telling readers what the real deal is. This has resulted in a strange sort of division of labor, bordering on ghettoization—all of these reporters over here will record what’s being said by politicians, while this one guy, or one organization, over here with the fact-checker cap on will tell you whether it’s true. It’s like having a newsroom full of color commentators to describe the action but only one ref or umpire to make all the calls. The appeal is clear: it seeks to protect the reporters from charges of bias while giving the work of political judgment and analysis a scientific aura. And, let’s be honest, it also makes the job easier for reporters who can’t be bothered to learn enough about the facts of the matter at hand to judge the issue themselves.”—The New Rebublic’s Alec MacGillis on the PolitiFact “Lie of the Year” scandal.