Is Fact Checking of Sunday Morning Shows Working?

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PolitiFact rates certain statements on ABC's "This Week" for their truth value. Media ethics blogs, FAIR and Media Matters, say the ratings are limited and in some cases trivial.

iMediaEthics recently reported that as a result of New York University professor Jay Rosen’s suggestion, ABC would have PolitiFact fact check statements made by guests of the Sunday network program This Week.

Feedback, so far, regarding the success of this effort has been lukewarm at best.  Media ethics site FAIR is disappointed with PolitiFact’s fact checking of This Week. Media Matters has added concerns about Howard Kurtz’s fact checking efforts of Sunday morning shows.

Media Matters is a nonprofit, progressive Web site that analyzes conservative information. FAIR is a media watchdog with progressive views .

“This Week”

FAIR wrote May 4 that the announcement of the fact checking on This Week was promising but has been a let-down so far.

First, FAIR noted the fact checks are limited in effectiveness since they are posted online after the show.  But, “even this limited attempt to test the accuracy of claims made on the show has focused largely on trivial points and ignored more substantive and controversial arguments,” FAIR wrote.

FAIR wrote that some of the fact checks are worthwhile or interesting, but that some are unimportant:

1.  Bill Clinton said “I never had a filibuster-proof Senate.”
2.  Sen. Jon Kyl noted that Barack Obama tried to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.
3.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said  “I don’t answer hypotheticals.”

Instead of spending time and resources checking out those statements, which FAIR called trivial, FAIR suggested that PolitiFact should have or could have devoted fact checking to figuring out:

1. Whether the Democratic Wall Street reform bill would create more bailouts of financial giants, which Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel brought up.
2. Whether the Glass-Steagall Act was a move toward greater or less deregulation, which Bill Clinton brought up.
3. How much a wall construction on the U.S.-Mexico border would cost, which George Will brought up.

FAIR noted that the dismissal of fact checking by similar programs like Meet the Press and Face the Nation is “at the very least, alarming.”

Eric Boehlert wrote April 26 on Media Matters that “the trend is a good one” but there are problems.  Boehlert wrote that news organizations need to know that “sometimes one side lies much more often than the other” and that they shouldn’t be “afraid to report that fact.”

Howard Kurtz on CNN

CIting an April 25 CNN segment where Howard Kurtz fact-checked five Sunday morning news shows including This Week, Boehlert noted Kurtz was “anxious to appear even-handed” and “went out of (his) way to slap the hand of two Democrats (Tim Geithner, Bill Clinton) who made borderline trivial statements last week that hardly seemed worthy of critique.”

However, Republican guests Mitch McConnell, Scott Brown and John McCain were easily “called out” for “blatant falsehoods.”

Jamison Foser wrote on Media Matters April 26 that “Kurtz went out of his way to portray something Bill Clinton said as false, even though it was true.  He portrayed as false an utterly insignificant comment by Tim Geirthner, without actually establishing that it was false.  And he bent over backwards to find something Mitch McConnell said that he could portray as true, while ignoring the fact that McConnell’s comments over all were, according to Politifact’s research, false.”

The most recent PolitiFact fact check is available here.

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Is Fact Checking of Sunday Morning Shows Working?

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