Paul Ryan and the Rise of the Fact-Checker

Fact-checking is on the rise this election. Thanks, Paul Ryan.

Fact-checking and Paul Ryan, BFFs by accident?

News media taking fact checking seriously?

The Paddy Chayefsky classic, Network. Which includes both the immortal “mad as hell” line, but also… “I’m a man without a corporation.”

Okay, there’s been a slow build to a possible rebirth of fact-checking in the news. That had been kept alive quietly by a few news outlets, mostly notably The Daily Show and the Colbert Report and media commentators including Jeff Jarvis, Arianna Huffington, and Jay Rosen in #presspushback.

(Seriously, Stewart’s work, in particular, has been highly professional; note CNN leaves it there and an unedited interview with Chris Wallace.)

Recently, we saw Soledad O’Brien possibly risking her job, check out CNN Actually Fact-Checks A Politician; Hilarity Ensues.

The Paul Ryan speech has now triggered a spasm of fact-checking; perhaps the best summary was recently done by Ari Melber.

What happened?

I’ve been speaking to news publishers, editors, and reporters for years.

They’re concerned that people don’t generally trust news outlets anymore, and want help restoring trustworthiness. (I guess it’s a source of desperation that they ask me.)

They’re doing it quietly, since they’re fighting factions that regard fact-checking and journalistic ethics as quaint relics.

However, they feel that Paul Ryan just went too far at the RNC convention. Check out: Why Paul Ryan thought he could get away with lying: 6 theories.

And Media Shift does a real good job explaining Why Fact-Checking Has Taken Root in This Year’s Election:

Take Paul Ryan’s convention address last week. Ryan offered several misleading statements and a few obvious lies — falsehoods that he had to know were false — although there’s nothing new about politicians lying.

Just look at Ryan’s fellow running mates: Sarah Palin lied about the Bridge to Nowhere in her convention address, for example, while during a nationally televised debate, Dick Cheney falsely said he had never met John Edwards, and Edwards falsely charged that the Bush administration lobbied to cut combat pay. They faced mild corrections and very little collateral damage for those high-profile statements.

This time, however, reporters did not let Ryan off the hook by noncommittally airing criticism (“opponents disagreed with his claims”), or reducing corrections to one of those stand-alone sidebars evaluating distortions (“three Pinocchios for the deficit commission history”).

Instead, several authoritative accounts of Ryan’s address decided that his falsehoods were a key part of the news Ryan made…

So, maybe what’s changed is that surviving serious professional news people are “as mad as hell and not taking it anymore.”

Beside Paul Ryan’s speech, we’ve seen this building among the most professional people in news media, including Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, and Will McAvoy. (Yes, the latter’s a fictional character, but he’s been a seriously inspirational force.)

It also helps that Poynter Institute, which is all about professional journalism, will be holding a conference about the restoration of journalistic ethics this fall. (Disclaimer: I’m sponsoring it.)

So the deal is that a minority of news people are risking a lot to get serious about their job.

This could be doomed, or a rebirth of news media. They need our help.

If you think it matters, tell me, and do stuff like Sharing and Retweeting the best of fact-checking. Maybe start with the links above?

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Craig Alexander Newmark blogs at http://cnewmark.com. He is an Internet entrepreneur best known for being the founder of the San Francisco-based website Craigslist. ...read more

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