In 2007, the American Enterprise Institute was caught offering scientists $10,000 to undermine a U.N. report on climate change. The staunchly pro-business organization, heavily funded by ExxonMobil, sought researchers who would suggest that the U.N.’s process was “prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work.” The AEI wasn’t interested in objective climate science, it was interested in easing the way for oil companies. AEI was not happy to be caught encouraging deception.
Five years later, AEI wears its rejection of factual accuracy on its sleeve. From an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee by Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at AEI:
Fact-checkers from Politifact, FactCheck.org, and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog were out in force after the first two debates as they have been for much of the 2012 campaign season. Do Americans want journalists to assess the accuracy of debate claims, candidate speeches and TV ads? …
The media’s job used to be to report the news — who, what, when and where. Their new role as adjudicators extends their warrant at a time that skepticism of the media is already sky high.
OK, we’re just going to have to jump in here. It’s pretty safe to argue that “adjudication” — verification, research — is not really a “new role” for journalists. Maybe you were thinking of stenographers?
It’s far from clear that Americans want the media to go into the uncharted waters of assessing candidate claims and counterclaims. A new poll from Annenberg suggests that around 9 percent of respondents have reported visiting a fact-checking site.
Oh, I see! You’re intentionally conflating “media” with “fact checkers” in order to disparage the latter by means of mistrust of the former. And stenographers are a third thing altogether! How confusing this all is.
But a second and more fundamental reason for skepticism about the rationale for fact-checking operations is that they misunderstand how most Americans make decisions. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t read yet alone fully digested the 2,000 plus page Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or listened to Fed chair Ben Bernanke’s four-part lecture series about the Fed and the financial crisis.
Nor have I spent hours on the candidates’ websites reading the fine details of their approaches to corporate taxation. Like most people, I suspect, I have general impressions of the candidates and their claims based on what they say themselves and on news reports.
The argument here, in short: Why fact check when people don’t care anyway? This certainly explains all of the media/fact-checker/stenographer confusion. Obviously I was reading way, way too closely.
Fact checkers seem to believe that factual information is the be all and end all in terms of public judgment. It’s not.
Fact-checking fervor from news organizations is unlikely to have much impact on the credibility of journalism or on the public. The American people, without the assistance of fact-checkers, have a pretty good track record of arriving at sound judgments about who their presidents should be.
Employees of the American Enterprise Institute have donated over $15,000 to presidential candidates this year; 100 percent of that went to Mitt Romney.
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