The bottom line is that the fact checker criticisms of Ryan’s speech come in only one form: “Yes it’s true, but here’s some context that Democrats want to talk about.” That’s not fact checking; that’s advocacy. And it’s not persuasive, it’s absurd.
If they stay on this course, media fact checkers, as a class, are going to be regarded as having as much credibility as Wasserman Schultz. This has already begun. In response to Republicans’ continued riffs on the President’s “you didn’t build that” comment, Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler yesterday pulled out the big guns, saying he was “compelled to increase the Pinocchio rating to Four.” In response, I’m compelled to observe that this will not change Republicans’ minds — I give it four hallucinating Dumbos.
Human Events’ Jon Cassidy took a hard look at another media fact checker, PolitiFact, which instead of the Washington Post’s childish Pinocchios, rates political statements on a scale of “True” to “Pants on Fire.” Cassidy found that in many cases PolitiFact writers investigated claims that are matters of opinion, rather than fact. That’s not fact checking, either; that’s punditry. And (ahem) pundits are a dime a dozen.
I get why media fact checking got so popular in the past four years. Assigning truth values to the silly things elected officials say is entertaining and, often, enlightening. But as fact-checking becomes less about checking facts and more about checking opinions, attention will fade. Wasserman Shultz is ineffective not because she fails to entertain, but because she’s not credible. As readers come to realize that media fact checkers are merely writing op-eds by another name, they too will be dismissed as easily as Wasserman Schultz.