Monday, January 17, 2011

Washington Post re-launches Fact Checker column; CJR says every reporter should evaluate truth; what about KPMG's report to the ESDC?

The Washington Post has re-launched its Fact Checker column that previously concentrated on the presidential campaigns and "will focus on any statements by political figures and government officials--in the United States and abroad--that cry out for fact-checking."

Writes Glenn Kessler:
But we will not be limited to political charges or countercharges. We will seek to explain difficult issues, provide missing context and provide analysis and explanation of various "code words" used by politicians, diplomats and others to obscure or shade the truth.
The Post will use the Pinocchio Test, which includes:
  • One Pinocchio: shading of the facts, but no outright falsehoods
  • Two Pinocchios: significant omissions and/or exaggerations, without necessarily a formal error
  • Three Pinocchios: significant factual errors and/or obvious contradictions
  • Four Pinocchios: whoppers
Unalloyed truths--they will get "our prized Geppetto checkmark."

And in New York?

There's a crying need for such a service in the New York media; to my knowledge, fact-checking has been deployed mainly when checking claims in political advertising.

But what if the media decide to check, say, KPMG's report to the Empire State Development Corporation on the condo market? I give it four Pinocchios.

CJR: Beyond the Facts

In an editorial (not online) headlined Beyond the Facts in the January/February 2011 issue of Columbia Journalism Review (CJR), the editors offer only partial cheers to a similar project, PolitiFact from the St. Petersburg Times, which has been franchised to eight states.

After all, the work it does should be the task of every reporter, not a special team, according to CJR:
Too many reporters hack their way past policy debates by simply quoting poliical actors on each side, without making an effort to track down the facts, examine the logic, and flexh out the context. A twisted idea of fairness, combined with simple laziness, ends up obscuring issues, making them boring and complicated rather than big and vital.
CJR goes on to point to the need to explore nuances in the policy debate, such as the New York Times's November 2010 interactive feature, "Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget."

There's certainly a need for such explanatory reporting. But there's also a need to simply point out when facts don't add up.

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