Time to Mainstream the Factchecking

2012 was the year that websites devoted to factchecking politicians truly came into their own, though they actually started a few years ago. Some people are calling for more of that sort of thing, but Brendan Nyhan correctly points out that if journalists did their jobs, they wouldn’t be necessary:

While factchecking did not eliminate falsehoods from our politics, this was always an unrealistic expectation. The relevant question is whether politicians were more careful, and voters better informed, than they would have been without factchecking. By that standard, the expansion of factchecking seems likely to have had a positive effect…

The criteria for success, though, should not be the addition of more specialized factcheckers or the production of more factchecking articles and TV segments. Dedicated factcheckers like PolitiFact and Factcheck.org play a critical role, but we will know that factchecking has succeeded in changing American political journalism when it disappears as a specialized function. The process of factchecking needs to be integrated into political coverage, not ghettoized in sidebars and online features. If more reporters adopt best practices for covering misinformation (including exercising discretion in not fact-checking some statements), politicians and other public figures could face even more effective scrutiny in 2013 and beyond.

There’s a word for this kind of factchecking: Journalism. It’s what any journalist worthy of the title should do in every single story they write. The problem is that the American media long ago fell into the “two sides to every story” rut, which they continue to justify by pretending that presenting both sides of a story even when one side (or both) is flagrantly wrong is necessary in order to be “objective” and “unbiased.” It’s time to stop such nonsense and get back to doing their jobs.

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