Eighteenth in a series of endless, tireless, exhaustive, hairsplitting, obsessive, resounding, never-before-attempted, conclusive posts on the fact-checking industry.
The 16th edition of this ongoing series discussed the page-view bonanza that springs from political fact-checking operations. Little wonder, then, that the Huffington Post does it. And in the most click-promoting manner possible: Slideshow time!
With the search-friendly title “Fact Check Vice Presidential Debate: Joe Biden And Paul Ryan, Who Told The Truth?,” the slideshow confines itself to business-and-economy statements and offers a highly Biden-friendly presentation. No surprise there, considering that other fact-checking sites, too, have taken a cudgel to Ryan’s statements on the economy from last night’s tilt.
The cheesy part of some of these Huffington Post fact checks, though, is that they’re not really fact checks. They’re taking the word of some newspaper or fact-checking outlet. Example No. 1:
During the vice presidential debate, Republican nominee Paul Ryan claimed that six studies confirm that the math for the Romney/Ryan tax plan adds up. That’s not exactly true; some studies claimed that you could make their tax plan work, but only by monkeying with the definition of middle class or subjecting some investment income to taxes, according to the Washington Post.
Example No. 2:
Ryan: Stimulus Is Worth $831 Billion
During the Vice Presidential debate overstated the cost of the stimulus package, saying that it cost $831 billion. In fact, the stimulus plan that President Obama passed in 2009 was worth $787 billion, according to The New York Times.
Example No. 3:
Ryan: Biden Blew Stimulus on “Green Pork”
In accusing the vice president of wasting stimulus money on “green pork,” Ryan asked “was it a good idea to spend taxpayer dollars on electric cars in Finland, or on windmills in China?”
Sounds like an awful idea. Luckily it didn’t happen, according to Politifact. The government did loan money to an American carmaker to build green cars in Finland, but it wasn’t stimulus money and it predated Obama. As for those windmills, less than $3 million might have gone to China, but the vast majority of wind energy investment was spent here.
Bolded text added to highlight cheesiness.
Aggregation has done wonders for the world. It has informed people, given people a lot to complain about, employed people and kicked up a lot of discussion about how to share stuff. The practice, however, reaches the limits of its utility when it comes to fact-checking.
When done properly, fact-checking plumbs primary source material — legislation, budgets, transcripts, videos — and reaches conclusions independent of the findings of other outlets. So when a news organization signals to readers “Fact Check Vice Presidential Debate,” that’s the level of rigor it’s promising. Consigning fact checks to aggregational exercises is akin to a newspaper panning a movie by citing the critical words of another paper’s film reviewer.
If you’re going to represent your stuff as a fact check, do the legwork needed to justify the title. Otherwise it’s just a naked attempt to participate in the fact-checking boom, not unlike an 18-part series on the fact-checking industry.
The Fact-Checking series so far:
Fourth: Clinton bedevils fact-checkers.
Seventh: Biden and Obama keep checkers busy.
Eighth: A task for fact-checkers: Did the administration apologize for American values?
Thirteenth: Catch the error in this Washington Times invite.
Fourteenth: AP editor cites Bachmann fact-checking ‘quota.’
Sixteenth: Fact-checking: A consumer-driven movement.
Seventeenth: Fact checkers not helping advance Obama argument.