Factcheck.org -- Keeping Politicians Accountable

And the zingers keep on comin'...

The Annenberg Political Fact Check (aka Factcheck.org) is an independent political organization with the following mission statement:

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.
Factcheck.org is funded by a grant from Walter Annenberg, who established the organization to provide an independent check on politicians at various levels of government. The organization accepts no funding from political parties, individuals, or interest groups.

According to the organization's website, they currently employ four people:

  • Brooks Jackson. Former Washington D.C. reporter for AP, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN. Jackson directs the project and its activities.
  • Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Ph.D. Professor of communications specializing in politics and campaigns. Dr. Jamieson functions as the organization's research advisor and is a member of the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in the Annenberg School for Communication.
  • Jennifer Ernst. A political science major (American University, Washington D.C.) who does data research and article writing for the Fact Check.
  • Matthew Barge. A government major (Georgetown University) working also as a researcher and writer for the Fact Check.
It is also clear that the Fact Check relies on the research skills of other persons, but it is not published who these are (although credit typically appears at the end of articles.) This author assumes that Prof. Jamieson's graduate students assist her with the Fact Check's background research.

Fact Check, despite the name, does not read like a dry collection of facts. The site's writers are relentless in calling all sides of the political game (especially at the national or federal campaign level) to task for statements that are untrue, misstate the situation, or mislead the public. Some of the articles are quite pointed:

An abortion-rights group is running an attack ad accusing Supreme Court nominee John Roberts of filing legal papers “supporting . . . a convicted clinic bomber” and of having an ideology that “leads him to excuse violence against other Americans” It shows images of a bombed clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. The ad is false. And the ad misleads when it says Roberts supported a clinic bomber. It is true that Roberts sided with the bomber and many other defendants in a civil case, but the case didn't deal with bombing at all. ... The images used in the ad are especially misleading. ... The ad uses the classic tactic of guilt by association, linking Roberts with "violent fringe groups" and a "convicted . . . bomber" because he made the same legal arguments as they did in the case. But, contrary to the ad's message, Roberts didn't argue in favor of them or their actions.
Bush's Iraq Speech: Long On Assertion, Short On Facts. Bush says "progress is uneven" in Iraq, but accentuates positive evidence and mostly ignores the negative. Standing before a crowd of uniformed soldiers, President Bush addressed the nation on June 27 to reaffirm America's commitment to the global war on terrorism. But throughout the speech Bush continually stated his opinions and conclusions as though they were facts, and he offered little specific evidence to support his assertions. ... The same goes for Bush's statement there's no "civil war" going on. In fact, some believe that what's commonly called the "insurgency" already is a "civil war" or something very close to it. For example, in an April 30 piece, the Times of London quotes Colonel Salem Zajay, a police commander in Southern Baghdad, as saying, "The war is not between the Iraqis and the Americans. It is between the Shia and the Sunni." Again, Bush is entitled to state his opinion to the contrary, but stating a thing doesn't make it so.
This kind of analysis is run-of-the-mill for the Fact Check staff. Not only do the writers discover, document, and point out factual errors or distortions, but they also are quick to single out errors of thought or logical fallacies by politicians. This is done without mercy (as far as this author can tell) to all sides of the political spectrum, and the sharp words Fact Check has for dishonest or misleading statements (and persons) are used for both of the major parties and for independent (or semi-independent) groups.

This author has been unable to find another independent source that could verify the biases (or hopeful lack thereof) that the FactCheck.org staff holds. However, each article on the website seems to incite significant response from the political playing field, and on major issues the Fact Check often receives a letter from the "factchecked" party demanding a withdrawal or retraction of the original article. It is clear from these responses and the prominence that FactCheck.org has gained in the political scene at large that the staff is doing something right, and poses a real obstacle and threat to those politicians who depend on altered facts and data to support their cause.

On a personal note, reading this site is refreshing but also depressing. It is rejuvenating to see lying politicians have their trash kicked all over the Internet by sharp-tongued writers with data, but also depressing to realize that the first group, and not the second, is running the modern world.

*** Diogenes walks around with a lantern in broad daylight...
<GreekCitizen> What in Olympus are you doing?
<Diogenes> Searching for an honest man.

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