Link: Is the media doing fact checking wrong?

Fact checking by news organizations typically focuses on specific statements made by elected officials or stories posted by other media organizations. What if, instead, the media focused on educating the public on what is true about a particular issue and de-emphasized the truthiness of various leaders and candidates?

This was the issue discussed in an interview posted by the Poynter Institute today with Tom Rosenstiel, executive director at the American Press Institute. “The key unit of fact-checking not a claim or a fact, but an issue,” said Rosensteil.

The full interview, which you should read, is here.

In a nutshell, Rosenstiel believes that the approach could have some significant advantages in terms of improving people's knowledge about important issues and increasing trust in the media.

It would take some of the partisanship away, both by reducing a reporter or outlets bias in the words they choose to fact check and by reducing a reader's resistance to the fact check.
“...checking can be too literal, too narrowly focused. You can fact-check a claim and have audiences say “OK he got those numbers wrong, but I am still not going to be shaken from my larger belief that we have too many immigrants or that the system is rigged or that people of a certain religion were actually happy about 9/11.””

There is also research that suggests that people are more resistant to accepting a fact check when it's their preferred candidate being called out.

Rosenstiel suggests that this approach could increase the importance of local newsrooms. A reporter for the Washington Post or the New York Times probably has little understanding of how a particular issue might impact Houston, Milwaukee or Kansas City. Only local reporters can fill in those blanks.

Finally, a news reader with a better understanding of the facts around a given issue can fact check candidates statements for themselves and make a more informed decision about how they feel about a given issue.
Ultimately, the ethos of fact-checking should be to help the news consumer to decide for themselves how to think about an issue — rather than to wave a finger and say this is right and this is wrong. And I think this holistic issue approach really helps in that regard. It's this very rich version of fact-checking that gets at what fact-checking is for in the first place, which is to create understanding, not to say “Hey that guy is a 67 percent liar-type.”

The suggestion here isn't that fact checking candidates be eliminated altogether, merely that it be de-emphasized in favour of issue education.
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