"Fact checks" are the journalistic equivalent of the cheating spouse who promises that this time they're really telling you the truth.
Mark Hemingway illustrates how the "Fact Check"-style column is generally just thinly veiled opinion that completely distorts the meaning of the word "fact".
But it seems the most outspoken fans of media fact-checking operations come from within the media themselves. "Has anyone else noticed that the Associated Press has been doing some strong fact-checking work lately, aggressively debunking all kinds of nonsense, in an authoritative way, without any of the usual he-said-she-said crap that often mars political reporting?" Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent wrote last year.
Sargent was conducting a fawning interview with the AP's Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier about the outlet's fact-checking operation. "The AP, for instance, definitively knocked down claims that [Supreme Court Justice] Elena Kagan is an 'ivory tower peacenik,' " Sargent wrote.
Not surprisingly, Fournier agreed with Sargent. "What we tend to forget in journalism is that we got in the business to check facts," Fournier says. "Not just to tell people what Obama said and what Gingrich said. It is groundless to say that Kagan is antimilitary. So why not call it groundless? This is badly needed when people are being flooded with information."
Sargent and Fournier's ouroboros of self-congratulation inadvertently revealed a problem: When it comes to fact checking, the media seem oblivious to the distinction between verifying facts and passing judgment on opinions they personally find disagreeable.
The blogosphere hasn't taken "fact check" columns serious for a long time... or ever. Personally, I find the whole practice to be absurdly desperate on the part of the mainstream media. People used to listen to them and just assume they were hearing facts all the time. Now the media has to create specially-labeled "fact check" zones to let us know where the facts are (supposedly) kept amidst all the leftist clap-trap.
The reason "he-said-she-said crap" is part of most news stories is that most people give their opinions, and the reporter isn't supposed to inject himself into matters of opinion. The readers are supposed to decide which opinion-giver they find most reliable. When the readers don't line up behind the "right" opinions, the journalists get upset.