Accuracy in Media

And the Pu-loser Award for “Correction of the Year” goes to … The Washington Post for a correction that inspired the amusing hashtag #washingtonpostcorrections on Twitter.

Here’s the correction: “A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.”

And here’s the explanation: “It’s Correction of the Year because it communicates that people notice and care about corrections, and because it demonstrates the participatory potential being unleashed by the Internet.”

Craig Silverman, author of the book Regret The Error and the blog by the same name, gave the tongue-in-cheek award to the Post, and in the same article, he praised the fact-checking value of the Internet. Silverman noted that the practice gained prominence in 2009 despite the reality that professional fact-checkers are among the casualties of the ongoing media “market failure.”

“As a result,” Silverman said, “it appears as though the future of fact-checking is in open, public and participatory systems and organizations, rather than the closed, professional systems traditionally used by large magazines. The Internet has made this shift possible.”

He is absolutely right about that, and that’s good news for conservatives. They no longer have to lobby news organizations, often to no avail, to correct misreported facts; instead, they can do the legwork themselves and spread the word online.

Two efforts this year, one of which I contributed to, come to mind: The Heritage Foundation has been fact-checking the Obama administration on health care and other topics; and before it stopped published new material this fall, the newcomer nonprofit American Issues Project had bloggers like me writing fact-check pieces for its blog.

The emergence of organizations like FactCheck.org and PolitiFact, which won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting for its 2008 campaign coverage, is an encouraging development for the future of journalism. But fact checkers have biases, too. Jim Geraghty noted at The Campaign Spot last year that FactCheck flubbed a report on President Obama’s views about gun control.

PolitiFact, meanwhile, revealed its own bias this month in picking finalists for its “Lie Of The Year” award. (Voting ended at noon today.) The media outlet chose five “lies” from the right and three from the left; four of the five from the right also fell into the worst PolitiFact category of “Pants On Fire,” while only one on the left reached that level. The subtle message: Conservatives lie more often and with more gusto.

Perhaps more telling, though, was PolitiFact’s selection of Rep. Joe Wilson’s infamous “You Lie!” rant at President Obama as he addressed a joint session of Congress this fall.

PolitiFact botched the story in September by accusing Wilson, R-S.C., of a lie of his own about healthcare coverage for illegal immigrants. Then it compounded the error by nominating Wilson long after the Senate in effect vindicated him by adopting language to close the loophole that prompted his outburst.

The Wilson episode and the reaction of the professional fact checkers to it (FactCheck and AP also took Obama’s side) make a strong case for conservatives to be diligently recruiting their own army of fact checkers rather than exclusively trusting journalists with a liberal worldview to do the job fairly.




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