Fact-checking is a journalistic enterprise that involves what should involve an unbiased attempt to discern the truthfulness of statements made by someone, whether that person be a representative of a corporation making a claim about a product, or a politician speaking about him- or herself or an opponent. In the latter arena, fact-checking is essential given the partisan hyperbole that now so regularly marks our political discourse, particularly during policy debates and the run-ups to elections.
Very recently, the nonpartisan American Press Institute (API) presented the results of three studies (1) that it had commissioned for the purpose of examining: (a) the growth of fact-checking; (b) its influence; and (c) who seems to benefit from it the most. The findings from this research are fascinating and will be set forth in summary form below.
GROWTH: Prior to 2008, fact-checking was a relatively rare phenomenon. However, between 2008 and 2012, there was a three-hundred percent increase in fact-checking articles with most of them devoted to examining the veracity of statements made by politicians and/or their supporters in the media as part of the larger body of political discourse.
INFLUENCE: As fact-check articles have proliferated, there has been an attendant growth in the value that Americans place on this form of journalism. One of the aforementioned Institute’s studies found that 8 in 10 respondents placed fact-checking in a positive light, seeing it as a way to increase their knowledge, either by means of confirming what they already believed they knew, or correcting one or more bits of misinformation.
WHO BENEFITS?: This question was posed with specific respect to respondents’ political party affiliation and level of political knowledge. Results here revealed both a striking similarity, but also a just as eye-popping difference. Specifically, among respondents with “low” political knowledge, a statistically insignificant disparity surfaced between Republican and Democrats. Twenty-nine percent of the former had a positive view of fact-checking vs. 36 percent among the latter.
In contrast, among “high” political information respondents, a sizable and statistically significant difference emerged; 34% of Republicans had a positive view of fact-checking vs. 59% among Democrats.
Overall, Democrats had a better attitude towards fact-checking vis a vis Republicans. In turn, this would suggest that it is Democrats who are more willing to challenge their existing knowledge and even make changes in it, based on what they find in fact-checking articles. Put in simple terms, Democrats are more objective, and more open to changing their minds when presented with compelling evidence that such is needed. Obviously then, Republicans are just the opposite; i.e. less objective, and less open to change, even when dictated by facts.
Writing in the Houston Chronicle, Leonard Pitts, Jr. had this to say about the foregoing: “Perhaps we ought not be surprised given the pattern of party politics in recent years. On topics as varied as climate change, health care, terrorism, and the president’s birthplace, GOP leaders and media figures have obfuscated and prevaricated with masterly panache, sowing confusion in the midst of absolute clarity, pretending controversy where there is none and finding, always, a ready audience of the fearful and easily gulled….The API statistics documenting the lack of GOP enthusiasm for fact-checkers ought to tell you something. Who would have a problem with a fact-checker? He or she is your best friend if what you’re saying is true. You would only feel differently if what you’re saying is not”. (2)
1. “New studies on political fact-checking: Growing, influential; but less popular among GOP readers”. American Press Institute; April 22, 2015. Herein, readers will find links to the three studies referenced in today’s blog.
2. Leonard Pitts, J.; “Who would have a problem with a fact-checker?”
http://www.chron.com > opinion > outlook