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Oh, Those Pesky Truth Tellers

Memo Pad

Oh, Those Pesky Truth Tellers


During a breakfast at the Republican National Convention, Neil Newhouse, pollster for Mitt Romney, made public what a lot of journalists already had figured out.

“We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” Newhouse said.

Newhouse was feeling a little prickly after numerous reporters had declared utterly false a Romney ad claiming that President Barack Obama had gutted the welfare reform law.

Newhouse’s insistence that the truth is expendable echoed the mood of a growing number of conservative candidates and bloggers who’ve made a hobby of scoffing at fact checkers. They particularly loathe PolitiFact, which was launched in 2007 by the St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times, to rate the accuracy of claims made by elected officials and their surrogates.

PolitiFact won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for its relentless pursuit of truth. The Pulitzer board praised its use of “probing reporters and the power of the World Wide Web to examine more than 750 political claims, separating rhetoric from truth to enlighten voters.” As of this week, PolitiFact has posted more than 6,000 Truth-O-Meter stories, and it now partners with reporters in 11 states.

The right — increasingly unhappy with the bright, shiny light on numerous Republican lies — has taken to attacking PolitiFact as a tool for the left. This is news to all the Democrats who’ve had to put out PolitiFact’s virtual flames dancing around their own ankles.

Here in Ohio, where The Plain Dealer partners with PolitiFact, a right-wing blogger went so far as to look up the voting records of some of the newspaper’s editors and reporters. Alas, they have voted in Democratic primaries. Conspiracy!

Of course, these same journalists also practice various religions, volunteer for charities and, in a few instances, even dared to become parents. All of these life experiences inform them as human beings and working journalists. This is as true today as it was for journalists 100 years ago. The difference is that we can now mine election board websites to find out where and when a journalist votes. From that, lazy bloggers weave tales of imaginary motives, which is much easier than taking their own side to task.

That brings me back to the right-wing blogger in Ohio. He failed to mention that The Plain Dealer — neither owned nor controlled by the PolitiFact journalists — endorsed the Republican candidate for governor in 2010 and supported the Republican-backed law, overwhelmingly defeated in last fall’s referendum, that would have eliminated the collective bargaining rights of public workers in Ohio.

Here’s what I know from personal experience: PolitiFact has made some campaigns more honest and some politicians better in their jobs.

I’m probably the only journalist in the country privy to Democratic senators’ private discussions about PolitiFact, simply because I’m the only one married to one of them. This is an awkward thing for me to admit, but it’s important to disclose: Though my husband has earned mostly “True” and “Mostly True” PolitiFact rulings, he has not escaped unscathed. You can bet I heard about that, too.

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz is a nationally syndicated columnist for Creators Syndicated. Schultz won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for commentary and was a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. She has also published two books: Life Happens: And Other Unavoidable Truths -- a collection of her previously published columns -- and ...and His Lovely Wife: A Memoir from the Woman Beside the Man, which chronicled her experiences on the campaign trail with her husband, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.

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  1. Lynda September 14, 2012

    The entire Romney campaign seems to be running on the guess that the average American is just too stupid to know the difference between hyperbole and fact. I suppose that will work on the 30 something percent of GOPers who don’t believe Obama was born in America. When your base consists of that many loons anything just might be possible.

    1. Dominick Vila September 14, 2012

      I agree. Fortunately, the latest polls indicate President Obama is comfortably ahead, and most states, including Virginia, are going blue. When traditional GOP strongholds become toss ups, that force the GOP to spend money where they were hoping to save, and prevents them from spending as much as they wish in states where they think they have a chance. With the exception of most of the South and some Midwest states, Mitt is toast.

  2. Dominick Vila September 14, 2012

    Judging by what is going on in the “liberal” media, we need more fact checkers. Most media outlets are complicit in the ability of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to lie time and again, and nobody challenges them or seem to care. Is it because our media is owned by powerful individuals and journalists fear for their jobs if they don’t tow the line? Or should we assume journalism has been bought by the highest bidder?

    1. Ed September 14, 2012

      Yes Dominick it has, and not only that but our so called media is interested only in fanning the flames of controversy, not truth.

  3. Scott Brown September 14, 2012

    ‘false balance’ – I’m not a little disillusioned with our media entities’ acquiescing to claims of media bias for well over a decade now. It also seems sad that our news broadcasters are not better informed on the issues to challenge punditry or that news organizations themselves do not recognize this failing and make little effort to create shows/programs or formatting that may allow the complexity of the issues to be better explored other than allowing ever expanding panels of pundits expensive media to to ’advertise‘ talking points and legitimize agenda setting organs of the Right.

    It is my opinion that the agenda setting mechanism is completely corrupted. The argument against ‘main stream media’ (itself a straw man and pejorative term injected by the Right) implies (maybe explicitly states) that there is some sort of coordinated effort to present the news or set the agenda. This is hardly the case for whilst some media outlets may have a more liberal or moderate bias, it is absolutely not the case that this bias is coordinated with the same systematic mechanisms of the Right. Without resolution of this matter, the media will be subject to the criticism of media bias.

    It seems incomprehensible to me that journalists aren’t in the news room breaking down daily talking point memos and preparing in advance to challenge the logic, premises, and facts which underlie the bulletins. Why aren’t broadcast journalists first reviewing videos, interviews and writings of those they will be interviewing to better probe and challenge the guests? If the topics are too arcane for the broadcaster why aren’t the broadcast media organizations creating formats where experts (journalistic) can conduct the interview rather than just bringing on more pundits to argue talking points?

    You know in the 19th century when the US was considering the need for the establishment of a central bank to act as a lender of last resort to ameliorate the problems associated with commodity gold) currency and bank failures which were much more common then, there was a great debate across our country which involved all levels of society with farmers being well informed, their being most directly effected by the currency crisis and resulting deep and sustained recessions and depressions which characterized the age, and were able to discuss and debate the merits and problems with different banking models being considered at the time. What a sad state of affairs today when most folks have little interest, intellectual curiosity/acuity to digest the issues, debate them in reasonable ways and instead default to the, “how I feel” fear based reaction which allows all forms of insidious manipulation of which they are completely oblivious.

    Maybe all the above is silly because US citizens have really become as mendastic as it seems they’ve become. Whereby the the default response is just viewpoint cable where ill-informed media consumers seek more red meat to feed their post purchase consumer consumption needs.

  4. William Deutschlander September 14, 2012

    What one must understand is that Romney / Ryan beleives that they can invent their own facts to suit their own agendas. When one comes from an ENTITLED life they truly beleive they are ENTITLED to their own facts even though they have no basis in reality.

    That is precisely why those who are savvy and inteligent have branded Romney & Ryan as LIARS!

    1. Dominick Vila September 14, 2012

      I heard part of a speech by Romney this afternoon in which he proposed drilling horizontally instead of only vertically so that we can take advantage of our natural gas and coal reservoirs to solve our economic problems and reduce unemployment. I wonder where he has been the last 3.5 years. Domestic oil production is at a record high, especially in North Dakota, dependence on foreign oil is at a record low and Mitt Romney believes he can solve our problems by drilling horizontally? I am beginning to wonder if this guy is missing a screw or two! Needless to say, the small crowd applauded enthusiastically, presumably overwhelmed by his wit and vision…

      1. Joel Sorenson September 14, 2012

        Hey Dom look up the implications of horizontal hydro frac-ing….it absolutely destroys bedrock sub structure and poisons every water table it encounters. It’s a horrible idea and completely apprapo for Romney’s all for money screw the environment policy.

  5. pogo_patti September 14, 2012

    EVERYONE should be after the truth. I spend a lot of time doing just that…I get a lot of mail and phone calls with the tales even though I am for the President and am not bashful about saying so. I get about 5 emails a day from my Republican friends….I check them out and then tell them where to find the truth. They used to say, “See the Dems are doing thus and such, ” or “saying this and that” and I would have to search it out to make them listen. Now, they send me articles, or copies of emails I receive and ask me to check them out for them and I do. They might be Republicans but they do not want to publish lies in the name of truth or politics. If the President were lying, I would also tell that, but have not found lies to be a part of his programming. Anyone can make mistakes. Some people just love to lie.!

  6. onedonewong September 14, 2012

    Fact Checkers really, what I’ve seen is folks turning themselves inside out trying to justify baraks ad bidens multiple gaffs

    1. Warren Nicholson September 14, 2012

      Hey sock puppet, why don’t you check the facts and stop repeating lies.

      1. onedonewong September 14, 2012

        another obummer apologist

        1. english_teacher September 15, 2012

          So why don’t you present us with the facts, not the opinions, that support your statement? I look forward to seeing and evaluating them.

          1. onedonewong September 15, 2012

            I already have when I post the facts back me up

          2. english_teacher September 16, 2012

            Then where are they? If they’re on this thread, I don’t see them. If they’re on another, how am I supposed to know that and find them.

            So if you have facts to back up your statement, what are they?

          3. onedonewong September 16, 2012

            Looks like the day care center you work at has a perfect match with your IQ to the students

          4. english_teacher September 23, 2012

            You’re such a wit. I asked you a perfectly reasonable question and you can only reply with an insult. This only confirms that you’re not interested in discussion but rather in dissension and bullying.

          5. onedonewong September 29, 2012

            a foolish question deserves a foolish answer

  7. Angel September 15, 2012

    Continue the fact checking but it’s not enough …. The lies should be confronted and exposed publicly, leading to a Republican national embarassment where all medias should involve themselves being a part of fact checking. Can you imagine what Ryans nose would look like if he was Pinochio ?????


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