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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 12:09 AM ET, 09/07/2012

Obama and Biden speeches: Fact-checking yields substance


(Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images) (AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Sixth in a series of endless, tireless, exhaustive, hairsplitting, obsessive, resounding, never-before-attempted and late-night posts on the fact-checking industry.

FactCheck.org on Thursday night had five people assigned to checking facts on Thursday night’s speeches. PolitiFact.com had eight folks, including a pair of editors. The Washington Post had a detail of one. Based on reports and bylines and whatnot, a good platoon of additional folks at the networks and cable outlets were on the task. Though I won’t hazard a total count of fact-checkers, let’s just dare to posit that not a lot of naked falsehoods are going to leak through.

Speech nights demonstrate just how much competition there is to ”break” a fact-check. A fact-checking post on Vice President Joe Biden’s speech by Jake Tapper and Mary Bruce of ABC News carries a time stamp of 10:37 p.m., not long after President Obama began speaking.

It looked like a laggard compared to Bloomberg News, which turned in a check titled “Biden Overstates Impact of Romney’s Tax Plan” at 10:18 p.m. The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler nailed Biden on a claim regarding Medicare at 10:04 p.m. Biden’s speech finished around 10:08 p.m.

The Associated Press was competitive as well.

Other sites will opt for a slower approach, researching and grinding and crafting their assessments. CBS News, for instance, waited till 3 p.m. today to post a detailed check of Bill Clinton’s claims at last night’s proceedings.

However long they take to hit the Internet, the checks have a single thing in common, in that they’re all policy-heavy material written for a general audience. Take this sample from the Bloomberg News version, about Biden’s slam on Mitt Romney’s territorial tax:

The Facts: Biden overstated the case. His 800,000 jobs number is based on a study conducted by one expert, Kimberly Clausing, an economics professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Her July analysis examined the effects of a “pure” territorial system under which U.S. companies would face no domestic taxes on their foreign income.
Romney hasn’t provided details on what his territorial tax system would look like. The clearest Republican proposal on the issue has come from Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. It would exempt 95 percent of foreign income and includes provisions opposed by companies that prevent them from shifting profits outside the U.S. That’s not the pure proposal that Clausing analyzed.

Or this excerpt from the AP check of Biden:

BIDEN: “What they didn’t tell you is that the plan they’ve put down on paper would immediately cut benefits to more than 30 million seniors already on Medicare. What they didn’t tell you is the plan they’re proposing would cause Medicare to go bankrupt by 2016.”
THE FACTS: Biden wasn’t referring to any Medicare plan of Romney or running mate Paul Ryan, but to the consequences of fully repealing Obama’s health care law, which is unpopular with seniors even though it has sweetened Medicare in certain ways. A Medicare plan put forward by Ryan in Congress would have no immediate effect because it would apply only to future retirees....

Some folks complain that politics has descended into bickering and Twitter back-and-forthing and just general vacuous and short-attention-span foolishness. The world of fact-checking, though, has walled itself off from that wilting garden. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions of a particular fact-check, chances are good that it’s addressing some complicated yet important dimension of public policy. Journalists have been hearingcalls from disaffected news consumers for many years, urging an embrace of substance — ”the issues.” Fact checks are doing precisely that.

If the public is fortunate, the rise of this category will escort other genres of political journalism off the cliff. The classic “here’s what so-and-so needs to accomplish at the convention” could benefit from a retirement party, as could the old “takeaways from tonight’s debate” standby.

Other fact-check blog posts:

First: Can you remind me again what this fact-check debate is about?

Second: Is Fox really fact-checking the first lady’s claim that her husband is open-minded?

Third: CNN says fact-checking squares with its exclusive spot in cable-news sphere.

Fourth: Clinton bedevils fact-checkers.

Fifth: Fox’s Cavuto slights fact-checking of Clinton speech, perhaps including Fox’s fact-checking of Clinton speech.

By  |  12:09 AM ET, 09/07/2012

 
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