Accuracy in Media

PolitiFact, a service launched in the summer of 2007 to either confirm or refute the claims of presidential candidates, has broadened its mission to include fact checks of pundits.

The idea has potential. Pundits across the political spectrum have a knack for spinning facts in their favor, so a niche definitely exists for a truly neutral observer to fill. PolitiFact also can make a legitimate claim to being just such an observer because of its ties to Congressional Quarterly. I worked at CQ nearly seven years after moving to Washington, so I know firsthand that there isn’t a more fair, balanced and nonpartisan news organization in America.

But PolitiFact’s record as a watchdog pundit is suspect so far. The ratio of fact checks is running almost 4-1 against right-leaning commentators, and a third of the nine critiques have been aimed at Rush Limbaugh, the king of conservative talk radio.

PolitiFact has accused Limbaugh of one falsehood and one “barely true” argument but gave him a “mostly true” grade for his analysis of how Senate Republicans could use parliamentary procedures to block votes on judicial nominees. PolitiFact also has refuted claims made by Bill O’Reilly of Fox News and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough.

The Web site adopted particularly harsh language for Scarborough, mocking him with the rhetorical question, “Do they pay Joe to make claims like this?”

Keith Olbermann, whose name has become synonymous with media stupidity, and Rachel Maddow, both far-left talkers on MSNBC, are the only liberals critiqued by PolitiFact to date — and Olbermann earned a “mostly true” rating. That’s too bad because there is plenty of punditry on the left ripe for the fact-checking.

Think of how much fun PolitiFact could have had when commentators like Olbermann and Maddow, as well as news hosts like CNN’s Anderson Cooper, embraced distortions of the “tea party” movement earlier this year. And now that healthcare policy is at the top of the agenda, all kinds of bogus statistics are making their way into the media.

PolitiFact will be doing the public a great service if it casts a bright light on the erroneous facts parroted by journalists and commentators as they report on health care and other policies.

The good news is that PolitiFact is taking suggestions. So here’s an admonition to the army of conservative citizen watchdogs already fact-checking the liberal media: Send your tips to (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or tweet them to @politifact.

Let the watchdogs know when you hear liberal pundits spouting factually questionable data or telling outright lies. And if PolitiFact acts on your tip, link back to the story and spread the word to other bloggers and activists.

Conservatives will benefit if a neutral watchdog like PolitiFact does its job well in fact-checking commentators with large national audiences.

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