"Professional journalists, whose self-image starts with: 'We're a check on...' had to decide what to do about the truck that just ran their checkpoint, carrying the brain trust of the Romney campaign, laughing at how easy it all was."

31 Aug 2012 4:05 pm 50 Comments

This week, one of the presidential campaigns said: “We defy the fact checkers. Your move, journalists.” The political press reacted with some signs of a push back. These are my notes and key links from that event, Aug. 26 to 31, the week of the Republican convention.

1. “You’re entitled to your own opinion. You’re not entitled to your own facts.” On Sunday I posted at PressThink about the coming conflict between the fact-checking press and the forces in politics who seem ready to override it:

Suppose there arose on the political scene a practical caucus for the opposite view. We are entitled to our own facts, and we will show you what we think of your attempt to “check” us. If that happened, would the press know what to do?

This week, it kind of happened.

2. “You have a news alert.” On Aug. 28 Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith reported from a breakfast briefing at the Republican convention in Tampa the clarifying remarks of Mitt Romney’s pollster, Neil Newhouse: “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers.”

Exactly! They’re not. Which is like saying to political journalists: your move, fellas. Smith’s fuller report:

The welfare ad has been the center of intense dispute, with Democrats accusing Romney of unearthing old racial ghosts and Romney pointing out that the Obama Administration has offered states waivers that could, in fact, lighten work requirements in welfare, a central issue in Bill Clinton’s 1996 revamping of public assistance.

The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” awarded Romney’s ad “four Pinocchios,” a measure Romney pollster Neil Newhouse dismissed.

“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs, and we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers,” he said. The fact-checkers — whose institutional rise has been a feature of the cycle — have “jumped the shark,” he added after the panel.

There it is. The conflict I wrote about on Sunday.

“You are not entitled to your own facts” is what the mainstream press had already said about the Romney ad, which claimed that Obama wanted to eliminate work requirements from welfare. (Sample.) The claim had consistently been called false or very misleading; and it wasn’t just the fact-checkers but also the regular narrators of news saying it. That’s unusual.

That’s Your Opinion! is what the Romney campaign said back. (“Fact checkers come to this with their own sets of thoughts and beliefs..”)

Notice that if the campaign had wanted to push back hard on the welfare ad ruling, but leave in a modicum of respect for the fact checking enterprise, it could have said:

We think fact checking is an important but fallible part of the campaign dialogue; we also reserve our right to contest in absolute terms some of the rulings. They are, after all, acts of judgment. And this is one of those judgments we completely reject and disagree with. Here’s why…

But that is not where the Republican party is right now. It has set up camp in a more fearsome place, closer to the heart of the culture war. By investing more in the welfare ad after the nearly unanimous fact checking verdict of the mainstream press, and by sounding a deliberate note of defiance about it at the convention (we’re not going to be dictated to by fact checkers…) the Romney campaign had reached its Gary Hart “follow me around” moment with the 2012 campaign press. Go ahead: check our facts!

Professional journalists, whose self-image starts with: “We’re a check on…” then had to decide what to do about the truck that just ran their checkpoint, carrying the brain trust of the Romney campaign, laughing at how easy it all was.

3. Revolt of the savvy: first signs. It’s impossible to miss the anger in Ron Fournier’s Aug. 29th explainer for National Journal: Why (and How) Romney is Playing the Race Card. His piece is a high point amid the literature, journalism and noise of campaign 2012. It was reported from Macomb County, “a racially charged suburb long identified with so-called Reagan Democrats.”

Ron Fournier is a consensus figure in the press, a former Washington Bureau chief for the AP who had once been approached for a job with John McCain’s presidential campaign. He describes the strategy of “we have our own facts.”

Why ignore fact-checkers? First, internal GOP polling and focus groups offer convincing evidence that the welfare ad is hurting Obama. Second, the welfare issue, generally speaking, triggers anger in white blue-collar voters that is easily directed toward Democrats. This information comes from senior GOP strategists who have worked both for President Bush and Romney. They spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution.

He makes a swift call on how false the no-more-work-for-welfare ad is:

Before explaining why these tactics work (and why Romney’s team knows, or should know, they are playing the race card), let’s quickly deal with this fact: The ad is wrong. As countless impartial fact-checkers have noted, the Obama administration memo cited by the Romney team actually gives states flexibility to find better ways of getting welfare recipients into jobs.

In Fournier’s column I saw some signs: a possible revolt of the savvy, triggered by an ideological event: The post-fact checked use of the “Obama says no more work for welfare” claim, a critically important piece of false information. Other signs:

* On the convention floor, Andrea Mitchell asks Rick Santorum about the “no more work requirement” fact check right after his speech. (Watch the Video.) “Whatup with that?” she says. (Direct quote.)

* James Fallows has sightings: news people, including NPR’s Morning Edition, openly struggling with the “we have our own facts” people. Media Evolution for the ‘Post-Truth’ Age.

* From Greg Sargent, a Washington Post blogger who is also on the story. A summary of where things stood in the revolt of the savvy on Aug. 29, after the Romney forces try to overawe fact checking. His view: Might be a spasm. Might be a trend. Might get old fast and expire.

* I track these things. This headline is not usually seen in a news story reporting on a speech: Rick Santorum repeats inaccurate welfare attack on Obama. (Los Angeles Times.) That’s taking a side on whether it’s kosher to keep making the attack. “If you’re confident about putting it in print, you should be confident enough to put it in the lede, and if you’re confident enough to put it in the lede, you should be confident enough to put it in the headline,” says bureau chief David Lauter, who wrote the story.

* James Bennet in the Atlantic commented on this “new assertiveness” in calling out lies: “Instead of being able to stand above the fray as some sort of neutral arbiter of the truth, the press may be finding that it is winding up on one side of a new kind of he-said-she-said argument.”

Which is precisely what happened this week. Can our press handle it?

4. “Pay no attention to those ratings!” On Aug. 28, the editors of the National Review, premier conservative journal in the country, sent some advice to their readers: “The website PolitiFact is going to be truth-squadding the Republican convention speakers this week, delivering verdicts on which claims are ‘mostly true’ and which deserve a ‘pants on fire’ rating. Our advice: Pay no attention to those ratings. PolitiFact can’t be trusted to get the story right.”

Timely reminder. For on the same day Politifact said: “Rick Santorum repeats Romney claim that Obama is ending work requirement in welfare,” which it called Pants on Fire false, the worst rating it has.

Two days later, Human Events, a another conservative magazine, described Politfact as “left wing.” Initial evidence: it’s calling out Republicans way more: 9 to 1.

Think: If asymmetry counts as evidence for media bias, an asymmetrical situation can never be portrayed by the media in an unbiased way… by definition! Of course, Human Events also says that when you look at Politifact’s “proof” it is laughably missing. They got nothing! And this is from a Pulitzer Prize winning shop! Nothing. So don’t listen to them… At all. Ever.

5. Let’s recap.

Press forces: Sorry, you’re not entitled to your own facts.

Romney forces: Look, we’re not going to be moved off winning arguments by your flimsy attempt to “check” us.

Conservative opinion magazines: Politifact? That’s been discredited.

Conservative bloggers: Liberal, biased journalists don’t improve their arguments by re-titling themselves “fact checker.”

Press forces (well, some of them): Seriously, folks, these people are not entitled to their own facts.

6. Day five of the little push back that did. At the close of the Republican convention (Aug. 31) the New York Times reports: Facts Take a Beating in Acceptance Speeches. Notice: This beating the facts took was reported as regular news.

The two speeches — peppered with statements that were incorrect or incomplete — seemed to signal the arrival of a new kind of presidential campaign, one in which concerns about fact-checking have been largely set aside.

Correct! And that is a campaign moment. The press should be on the lookout for it, within any wing or side of the American political house. Censure is allowed in the news columns and headlines and television reports, the whole stream, not just the official fact check item itself. Push back is public service.

Beware “the misguided conclusion that factchecking is a failure if it does not eliminate deception” and keep the pressure on! So says political scientist Brendan Nyhan in Columbia Journalism Review. His point: Push back has invisible victories, along with very public defeats. But Ben Smith of Buzzfeed thinks the fact-checking surge is a little silly. He’s worried about “the conflation of the new pseudo-science of fact-checks and policy differences.”

7. The revelation. I have never seen any Washington journalist come forward with a conclusion like this. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post on Thursday of convention:

Quite simply, the Romney campaign isn’t adhering to the minimum standards required for a real policy conversation. Even if you bend over backward to be generous to them… you often find yourself forced into the same conclusion: This doesn’t add up, this doesn’t have enough details to be evaluated, or this isn’t true.

I don’t like that conclusion. It doesn’t look “fair” when you say that. We’ve been conditioned to want to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame, and the fact of the matter is, I would like to give both sides relatively equal praise and blame. I’d personally feel better if our coverage didn’t look so lopsided. But first the campaigns have to be relatively equal. So far in this campaign, you can look fair, or you can be fair, but you can’t be both.

It’s difficult for me to explain to you how much energy in political journalism is devoted to avoiding Ezra Klein’s verdict.

8. Hungry for your “both sides do it” moment? It has arrived. I bet you’re itching to know: Don’t I also recognize that the Obama forces have used deceptive, depraved and untrue claims in their attempt to stain Romney before his message gets through? Yes. I do.

These stand out for me: Romney didn’t say he likes firing people in the way some Democrats and TV personalities have suggested, so that counts as a kind of extended lie. The Priorities USA ad that suggested (without quite saying it) that Bain Capital was somehow responsible for the death of a steelworker’s wife: that goes in the depraved category, I think.

When the White House claimed it knew nothing about the case that was clearly untrue– pathetic, really. The refusal to condemn the ad was a black mark, as well. Obama ads calling Romney “outsourcer in chief” were over the top and relied on false or overblown claims. An Obama ad about Romney’s position on abortion made false statements in order to position him as more extreme. That was stupid, unnecessary and wrong.

These are serious. In my view they do not compare to the use of falsehood and deceptive claims in the Romney 2012 campaign on a “falsehood x broadcast distribution x centrality to the campaign” index. Nor is there anything coming from the Obama machine that is like the open defiance of fact-checking that Romney and his team showed in their handling this week.

A crude name for the larger play is the post-truth strategy in electioneering, born of tensions like these within the Republican Party. I see the situation as highly asymmetrical, with just enough on both sides to make “both sides do it” sound plausible.

I also recognize, because I read my incoming, that this conclusion is bitterly contested by other critics looking at the same facts and by opponents of Obama. Or (more likely) it just sounds ridiculous to them, a substitution of political preferences for fair-minded analysis. That response, which flows constantly to me over social media, is part of the reality of culture war politics in the media bias division.

I stick by my report. The press showed some push back when the Romney for president project said it would defy the fact-checking press. That was a valid thing to do. The continuing status of #presspushback is now a story in the 2012 campaign.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links

This is one in a series of posts about the post-truth style in presidential campaigning and the fact checking efforts of the American press. In order they are:

July 12: If Mitt Romney were running a “post-truth” campaign, would the political press report it? No, they would not. This falls under: too big to tell.

August 5: Everything That’s Wrong with Political Journalism in One Washington Post Item. So what is the job of a political journalist today? Is it to describe the reality of American politics, as a “straight” reporter would? Or is it to defend reality and its “base” in American politics… more like a fact checker would?

August 24: “You’re not entitled to your own facts” vs. That’s your opinion. Kiss my ad. So what do we do about that divide? And what if the problem isn’t evenly distributed across the landscape or within a party, but pools and concentrates in certain spots? Do journalists go to those (malignant) spots and fight?

August 31: #presspushback. “Professional journalists, whose self-image starts with: ‘We’re a check on…’ had to decide what to do about the truck that just ran their checkpoint, carrying the brain trust of the Romney campaign, laughing at how easy it all was.”

September 18: The clash of absolutes and the on-air fact check. “Soledad O’Brien makes political television slightly realer-er when she comes ready to fight on air for a documented fact.”

The savvy hit back. I expect to see more of this in the coming days. First it was Ben Smith, writing about “the new pseudo-science of fact-checks.” Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo called that an act of positioning more than analysis. I would agree. The “position” desired is savvy analyst of what works. Getting all jacked up about what’s true or false just gets in the way.

Now comes Reuters press critic Jack Shafer, who insists he supports fact-checking while underlining how futile (his word) that activity is because politicians always lie. That’s how the game is played, says Jack. And if there’s one thing the savvy know (better) it’s the game:

As much as I applaud the fact-checker profession — it’s vital for politicians to know that we know that they know they’re lying — the enterprise is a mug’s game. Of course politicians and their campaigns lie. Of course they continue to lie even when called out. If you think otherwise, you’re looking for truth in all the wrong places.

Shafer objected on Twitter when I said he sees the recent fact-checking surge as “silly.” (Full exchange.) I’m not sure, but I think his position is this: He thinks fact-checking is great and there should be more of it, but it’s an exercise in futility because politics ain’t beanbag. It’s always been about deception and always will be. Because deception works. If voters wanted truth there would be truth but they don’t so there isn’t. Plus, politicians can just incorporate the fact checks they like into their next manipulative appeal. So knock yourself out, fact checkers! Just don’t expect any return on your investment.

Read it yourself and see if I have it right. Then see Brendan Nyhan on fact-checking and the problem of effectiveness.

The savvy always try to out-realism you.

However: it is true, as Mickey Kaus writes, that a key problem for fact-checkers is “the ease–rather, the constant temptation–of presenting debatable policy issues as right/wrong fact issues.” If there’s a discipline here, it’s to remain aware of that danger and avoid it. The more lightweight or dubious fact-checks often fail on that score.

Advice to fact checkers from Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum: Call out deception, not lies.

Bottom line: if you focus only on actual lies, you miss too much. But if you try to turn everything into a lie, you sound like a hack.

A better approach is to focus instead on attempts to mislead.

He has some smart things to say about how you do that. See his three-part test.

Pull the camera back. And the fact-checking thing is part of a much larger story: Making the Election About Race. Tom Edsall has written some outstanding books on that subject so I pay attention to what he says.

Off message. Former John McCain adviser and political consultant John Weaver has no doubt that Romney’s welfare ad states things that are not true. “GOP attacks on this issue are a lie,” he said on Twitter. He thinks Republicans will regret that they “decided to lie about welfare.”

Taking sides. Ezra Klein writes:

The fact checkers are changing political reporting in a way that, until now, I hadn’t really thought much about: They’re stiffening the media’s spine when presented with lies and deceptions. Previously, it was difficult for reporters to say that a politician said X, and that was a lie. That’s taking sides, even if it’s simply taking the side of the truth. But now they can say that a politician said X, and the fact checkers said it was a lie. This is a slightly weird arrangement, as they’re just another arm of the media (Politifact is run by the Tampa Bay Times, Glenn Kessler is employed the Washington Post, etc), but it seems to be what’s happening.

Which is why the Ben Smith/Jack Shafer position is noteworthy.

Diffusion graph. Wow. Not sure what it means, but it looks techy.

This is an international story. Australia. Because the reluctance to call out untruths for fear of looking one-sided or getting attacked, as well as the mounting pressure to do something as politicians exploit this fear, are both found in other democracies with “clubs” of professional journalists.

Dan Conover used to run political coverage for the Charleston Post and Courirer in South Carolina:

…if the Republican Party produces 10 fact-mangling whoppers to every arcane Democratic stat-fudger, you’ve got a serious problem as a journalist. You simply can’t present that ratio as-is without looking like a liberal hack.

So here’s what we did — what I did — and what others have certainly done as well: I downplayed Republican dishonesty while judging Democratic failings with an unfairly harsh bias. I applied this to assignments, to the tone and presentation of stories, and to the various gimmicks we invented to try to evaluate claims. The results didn’t reflect the true scale of the dishonesty gap, but they at least demonstrated that a gap existed.

He is pessimistic that fact checking as currently conceived can work. “You just can’t look fair if you’re disproportionately coming down on one side, and people won’t listen to you if they think you’re not fair. So to have public credibiltiy, you can’t judge fact the way a scientist would. You have to judge it as a political actor. Which kinda defeats the purpose of political fact-checking.” For a perfect example of his point, see this.

The unease that fact-checking generates has never been explored with more finesse than Conor Friedersdorf shows here.

Some disputes are matters of fact; other are matters of opinion. Surveying attempts at fact-checking, I’ve sometimes thought that individual fact-checkers are less adept than they ought to be at discerning the difference. It’s as if they have the urge to weigh in on matters of opinion, sometimes with very persuasive analysis, but are uncomfortable straightforwardly operating in the realm of opinion journalism. So they declare what they’re doing to be “fact-checking” as if to retain the fig-leaf of ostensible neutrality.

NPR on Sep. 5: “Independent fact checkers spent the first day of the Democratic National Convention listening for claims that don’t add up — and found them.”


I hope that they get the message… push back or be irrelevant.

Thank you for this summary. I’m afraid we are living in interesting times.

Interesting? I don’t think so. These are post-interesting times. These times are worth forgetting and I’m looking forward to the end of them. Although I’m afraid what the “end” of post-truth looks like. Sadly, I imagine it looks a lot like a civil war of some kind.

Thomas Smith says:

Did you really quote from your own post on Twitter? Douche warning sign.
If you want to be a reporter, start reporting, Jay. Factcheck political speeches on your blog, on deadline. Put your money where your mouth has been.

Acting like blogs have deadlines or that Jay “wants to be a reporter”? Also a douche warning sign. Go a little meta.

Part of the point here is that reporters have done a bit more fact checking this week rather than business as usual “he said she said”.

This week reminded me of a few moments during Katrina: when Tim Russert went after Michael Chertoff -HARD – on Meet the Press. Or when Shep Smith said: “THIS IS ALL THE PERSPECTIVE YOU NEED” Or when Anderson Cooper hammered Senator Mary Landrieu. Its an aggressive, assertive, honest journalism. I take it to the next step and discuss: What if someone like Jon Stewart Moderated the Debates? DrapersDen.com

The Romney campaign is basically adressing to the larger picture: blacks formed the majority of those on social welfare, they are lazy, Obama is black, and he’s letting those lazy bums off the hook. It doesn’t matter if none of these is correct. This is the perception of Romney’s constituency that will vote for him. In other words, its whistle dog strategy: say something that looks innocuous on the surface but the people on your side recognizes the nuanced message that you are thinking like they are thinking.

Hence, the justification of “we are entitled to our facts.” And sadly, it works.

PKorman says:

Let me ask you some questions, Jay. Are waivers specifically forbidden in the Welfare Reform Act? FACT: Yes. Why do none of the fact checkers mention the FACT that Obama’s executive order is against the law?

Have the people you quoted in this essay all expressed partisan positions? Andrea Mitchell? FACT, YES. Greg Sargent? FACT YES. Politifact? http://www.humanevents.com/2012/08/30/politifact-bias-does-the-gop-tell-nine-times-more-lies-than-left-really/

When the “fact checkers” have taken sides, cherry pick their positions, and are perceived as lacking balance, this is the response they deserve. Please let me know why they should deserve any respect.

Francis Volpe says:

You don’t get to assign “bias” to Greg Sargent and Andrea Mitchell and then “refute” them by quoting Human Events, a wildly conservative site whose complaint was already addressed in the post.

Erich m says:

Id throw a fit too if I was a liberal and used to monopolizing information that peoplw get. Those hacks calling themselves fact checjers are anything but.

Cartman says:

Sadists enjoy hurting people, Romney likes firing people.

Romney didn’t say he ‘needed’ to be able to fire people to make his millions, he used the emotionally tinged word “like”.

And, hey, invent a time machine and retroactively change the facts while literally outsourcing the outsourcing to other outsourcers, and FactCheck will accept the alternate fictional universe created by Republicans.

But if a Dem is even aware of something they have no control over, like an independent ad, somehow that is going to stick?

That rule won’t be maintained when the flood of right-wing negative ads come out. Romney won’t to be held to the same standard of culpability.

Because, you know … IOKIYAR:

Romney’s lying degenerated into deliberate use of racism, but the press has ignored Romney’s lies and racism with very rare exceptions, and Romney has gone up in the polls.

el problemo real says:

this is wildly correct and disturbing, but to my mind fails to confront the underlying issue:

what do we do about the fact that some people–perhaps a lot of people–*like* being lied to? enjoy the lies when they conform to larger belief-systems? believe lies even when they know they are lies?

because I think what you and the fact-checkers are missing is something that politicians–especially, IMHO, right-wing politicians, have known for centuries: a good lie has more traction than a fact that doesn’t fit into a world-view.

What can and should the news do about that? What does democracy do about it?

“a good lie has more traction than a fact that doesn’t fit into a world-view.”

Almost better than Mark Twain.

David Borden says:

It would be nice to see the left “Fact Checked” one time by the press. “Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years.” On the senate floor no less, not a campaign ad. Let that one go, but get furious about an exaggerated welfare ad. The hypocrisy is unbelievable.

Will this do?


Or this, maybe.


A final note about Romney and tax returns: I love Harry Reid—think he’s been a force for good in the world and a major asset to Democrats as majority leader. But his assertion that Romney paid no taxes for ten years, sourced to an anonymous Bain Capital investor, is simply over the line. If a figure like Reid can throw around allegations like this with no proof to back it up, one wonders where it stops.

Or how about this?


Come on, folks. Reid didn’t say I’ll bet Romney didn’t pay any taxes. He didn’t say he talked to someone familiar with high earners who told him Maybe Romney won’t release his returns because he didn’t pay any taxes. He made a flat statement of fact. He said he has an “extremely credible source,” which in this context means someone with direct knowledge of Romney’s taxes who decided to pick up the phone and dish about it to Harry Reid. Does anyone really believe this? Really? Then, as if that weren’t enough, Reid made his little bluff even less plausible by deciding that Romney didn’t just avoid all taxes for one year, he avoided them for ten years. Yeah, baby, that’s the ticket! Put these two things together with the fact that Reid hasn’t even tried to make his fairy tale sound believable (it’s just some guy he talked to) and this is not a story that a five-year-old would credit. It’s just Reid making stuff up in order to put pressure on Romney, and I think we all know it.

Culture war makes people stupid. As “I don’t know how to use Google, can you do it for me?” stupid.

Well done, Jay!

Polyneixes says:

Yes, Harry Reid made an absurd statement that was rebuffed by politifact. However, your complaints about Romney campaign statements, ad statements, Romney statements that are incorrect, murky or otherwise, and how they are treated really doesn’t get the same treatment as a buried politifact “pants on fire” rating. NOBODY is seeing the Harry Reid pants on fire rating in any quantity on any major network. You copy a link. Big deal. Romeny quotes are dissected on national newscasts by big time networks. So, Reid’s false statements get airtime, but his pants on fire rating do not. Romney statements get air time and the dissection of his comments get DAYS of air time and print coverage. You may defend Reid’s treatment since he’s not running for president. I would suggest: who cares? A deciding, influential power broker of the senate gets by with terribly irresponsible statements just because he’s not running for president, but a presidential candidate who has had not a single vote on the senate floor for thousands of pages of legislation effecting the entire nation (like Harry Reid has) gets an anal exam on every word he speaks? That’s what we call the double standard and it is upheld by….wait for it…..the biased, left leaning main stream media.

Peter Mullen says:

Ok, I get it. Romney’s s lies you. mentioned are than Obama’s lies. Case closed. Not exactly. Obama has lying for years and getting a pass from the mainstream media. Did you just wake up to that reality? Either that or you have very selective memories.


You almost get there. The Outsourcing ads are nothing like the effort to use welfare as a racial wedge point. If you re-read the politifact check you realize it is seriously out of date. At the time they wrote it, the check was accurate. Romnney supposedly left his position at Bain before the Bain shift into massive outsource mode. But the reality is quite different now that we know he claimed a role in Bain as late as 2010 for tax purposes.

You can’t claim to be functioning at the company on your taxes and then concomitantly argue that you aren’t involved or responsible for any of the decisions the company is making. That is a logical disconnect.

The new Romney info is significant enough that I believe you have to remove it from your list. What you end up with at that point is the “i like firing people,” and the super pac ad.

If you notice, the dems aren’t complaining about the super pac ads at the same volume as the campaign ads that lie. Spacs are uncharcted territory and as such how far they go is outside of the normal discourse in some ways. Is the super pac ad bad, yes but the O campaign did not run it. To imply somehow that the President violated the law and knew in advance about the ad seems suspect. The ad isn’t still running, and that makes it completely different than that GOP strategy of race baiting.

Finally, the dems aren’t complaining, too loudly, about the you didn’t build that. President Obama made the same verbal gaffe that Mitt Romney made. His meaning was clearly different than what was said. The difference is that the GOP just ran an entire convention based on the gaffe, using it as a factual representation of the Presidents true feelings. An entire convention Jay. How in the world is that analogous in any meaningful way to an ad from months ago? It is not.

You asked me about newsroom last week, I do watch it, the bias towards fairness is so powerful that you, after resisting it for almost the entire piece, threw it in at the end. Fight the desire to make a false equivalence when the GOP is in the midst of unprecedented lying.


ps -Bain, as the first or one of the first, management consulting firm, pioneered the techniques of both the hostile takeover and outsourcing. Their consulting led to the idea that companies were worth money in two ways. First, as companies, but secondly as individual constituent parts. That was a new idea, and it is the entire cause of outsourcing and the sale and breakdown of viable companies.


I guess you didn’t read this part:

“These are serious. In my view they do not compare to the use of falsehood and deceptive claims in the Romney 2012 campaign on a “falsehood times broadcast distribution times centrality to the campaign” index. ”


We have to look at the broadcast reach of the ads, not just how false they are.

We have to look at how central to the campaign they are.

We have to look at how close to the central controllers of the Romney campaign responsibility for the ad lies.


I did read it. But then I wondered, if you were already equivocating, why mention the dem stuff at all? What you do is say, even though this isn’t equal to what Romney is doing, I’m going to mention to you anyway so you can see how fair and reasonable I am about this whole issue.

Your piece, in my opinion, would have been stronger and more honest, if you had simply stated everything up until you threw in the dems and stopped. The story isn’t the dems it is the unprecedented strategy of the GOP, Mitt Romney, and his surrogates to lie without any regard for consequence.

Let me say this, there is a wonderful lie in Goodfellas. “Everybody takes a beating sometimes.” Children, and I began my career as an middle school teacher, discover around the age of 14 that there really is nothing you can do to them. Once they discover that one of two things happens. The kids do exactly what they want knowing that they will take a “beating” sometimes, or they realize that they have to internally take responsibility for their actions. The GOP seems to have decided to take their “beating” mostly because during every discussion of the matter someone, at the end, throws in a line like yours.

“These are serious. In my view they do not compare to the use of falsehood and deceptive claims in the Romney 2012 campaign on a “falsehood times broadcast distribution times centrality to the campaign” index. ”

Buuuuuuuuut I included them anyway.

The argument, it seems to me, is simple. The GOP is lying. They believe that they can win an election while lying. Are they correct or are they wrong. This is a moment of truth for the fourth estate. Either journos are relevant to the process or they aren’t. Either they have the muscle to prevent this level of duplicity, or they don’t. The GOP is betting everything they are as a party that Journos do not have the discipline, muscle, or rigor to break them, to convince the American people that they are lying. In one week journalism awoke for the first time since Tim Russert died. Can it stay awake? Can it maintain? I don’t know. I hope it can. A free press is one of the most important aspects of democracy, or nationhood. But the rise of Fox, the tabloidization of the media, beginning with the William Kennedy Smith trail when the NYT quoted the National Enquirer, but continuing through today, has been a catastrophe.

“What you do is say, even though this isn’t equal to what Romney is doing, I’m going to mention to you anyway so you can see how fair and reasonable I am about this whole issue.”

Credibility is built by engaging all the facts. If lies include omitting important context, Jay would be a liar by omitting evidence of “post-truth” politics by Democrats.

Justin: I couldn’t possibly disagree with you more. To put it another way: I am not on the team. Neither am I advancing the View from Nowhere. Cheers.

I haven’t put any effort into the theory, but I suspect that if one did, they’d find the GOP strategy of making up convenient ‘facts’ is nothing new, but has a long history. Ten years or so ago, it was Cheney (mainly) & crew with the WMD line. That had no small impact, but had a lot to do with leading us into war.

There are lies that people tell to cover something up – like Weiner’s “somebody hacked my twitter account” but to fabricate something to support an agenda is a bit more serious, it seems to me. That is particularly true when THOUSANDS of lives are at stake.

There are lies to press an advantage from a gaffe, and there are lies that are absolutely destructive to our system. To intentionally and falsely accuse the media of bias (particularly over the last 10 to 20 years when the media, defensively have gone OVER THE TOP with false equivalencies trying to prove they are NOT biased) is to mentally and emotionally manipulate an entire population via propaganda messaging (you can’t trust anyone but Fox News – for example) that is nothing short of abusive, and in my mind, a covert treasonous behavior.

It’s really time to stop the political correctness the GOP disdains so much and call things as they are. Lies. Propaganda. Abuse. Manipulation. Treason.

These are not American nor ‘Christian’ values they tout. These are not the intentions of our Founders they tout. Now, if the GOP says the sky is blue, I will need to look outside.

One of the most grievous examples I left out (well, it could go for days, couldn’t it?) is the confusion created nation-wide by all the lies regarding ACA. I just read a blurb – haven’t read the article yet – that a woman died because she didn’t know she had choices under ACA for medical coverage.

This is a serious issue that has been SO distorted by GOP lies that something really should be illegal about it. In fact, I’ve been saying for a while that if it’s illegal to lie to Congress, what about making their lies to citizens illegal as well.

Some of them should really go to jail for what they’ve done via their lies to the public.

This #presspushback post is almost incomprehensible & poorly self-edited… aside from any specific point that Jay is trying to make.

It reads like a stream-of-consciousness rant, rather than some rational communication; it could easily be edited down to half its size for clarity. Unfortunately, this seems a trend on this blog.

Persuasive human communication — it is not.

el problemo real says:

when the truth is in danger of being mentioned, trolls come out to try to elicit emotional reactions.

like the general lying game played by conservative forces since the beginning of time, this strategy is more effective than any of us wishes it were.

i hope you will ignore and keep trying, jay: “post-truth” is starting to gain some traction and it’s at least a start toward developing some strategies to deal with what has been SOP for GOP for decades (but worse more recently).

The contrast between the commentaries by Ezra Klein and Ben Smith this week is instructive.

Klein argues that the decision by the Republican Party — in his example, Paul Ryan’s convention speech — to release itself from the shackles of having to make verifiable statements (call it untruth or post-truth, as you wish) makes rational political debate impossible.

Smith argues that it is clear where the Republican Party stands and what platform it would enact if elected, so the veracity of the literal propaganda claims it makes — or, more precisely, their lack of veracity — turns out not to offer any obstacle to the electorate in deciding how to vote.

PressThink, clearly, sides with Klein. It has always viewed politics in a democracy to consist of more than a mere struggle for political power; it is also a civic discourse that informs the populace and enables its self-government. Thus political actors whose speech categorically disregards truth are disqualified from participation.

So one of the roles of the political press is to enforce such ostracism. As such, the press has a role inside the body politic, enforcing its neoliberal, republican norms.

But what if we are not living in such a republic? What if politics is not a civic discourse? What if it turns out to be a naked power struggle, pure and simple? If so, the press, by following PressThink’s precepts, would run the risk of misinforming its readers. If it portrayed non-truth-tellers as disqualified (per Klein) rather than as viable participants (per Smith), it would run the risk of letting its republican idealism get in the way of accurately reporting how real power works.

Sometimes, yes, such so-called realism amounts to the cynical pose of the savvy. Sometimes, it may happen to be realistic.

i think getting caught up in the “story” aspect of: he said -> it’s a lie -> truth is, that kind of a dynamic is a welcome distraction. it’s about pointing out, that consensus reality is shaped by agenda setting, and then setting different agendas, AND sticking to them, over extendid periods of time.
that is very hard to do for journalists, because sticking to an agenda is not “news”.
important anyway.

[…] gives way to the Democrats this week, the political press is still aglow with its newfound #presspushback role. Which allows the rest of us a rare opportunity to judge the media by its own new, vigorous […]

[…] gives way to the Democrats this week, the political press is still aglow with its newfound #presspushback role. Which allows the rest of us a rare opportunity to judge the media by its own new, vigorous […]

[…] weeks now, journalist blogs have been buzzing about how to respond. Sure, you fact-check, but the Boston Phoenix’s David […]

[…] gives way to the Democrats this week, the political press is still aglow with its newfound #presspushback role. Which allows the rest of us a rare opportunity to judge the media by its own new, vigorous […]

[…] it must be so — even if the record doesn’t suggest it is?Read THIS by yours truly and THIS by Jay Rosen.var […]

[…] and on Twitter, a debate is raging among prominent media critics. New York University’s Jay Rosen is leading the charge for the importance of aggressive fact-checking, with Jack Shafer of Reuters playing his favorite […]

The Press will do to fact check what it has done to truth and objectivity. Make them meaningless terms when applied to the Press.

Smith and Kaus both point out the welfare fact check is as much opinion as fact. You may disagree, but what affect the changes to the work requirement will have is debatable. Facts are not debatable.

There is tape showing Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is lying about her remarks on Republicans and Israel. Not debatable, fact. She lied. See the difference?

This idea that the press is above or outside the political field is laughable. As political players their opinions should be open to as much or more distrust as either political party’s. The fact checkers can dispute the Romney campaign’s facts but not vice versa? It seems to me the Romney campaign’s answer to the fact checkers is exactly the answer the fact checkers give to the Romney campaign.

In a nutshell if the press were not lying partisan boobs they would not have to spend so much effort telling the public they are not. This includes the fact checkers.

[…] easily debunked attack on Obama has put the candidate on the defensive. It’s also sparked a debate within the media about fact-checking and how to cover candidates who campaign while aggressively […]

Abadman says:

Perfect example here’s what Ryan said in his speech
“President Barack Obama, came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those are very tough days. And any fair measure of his record has to take that into account. My own state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it. Especially in Janesville where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that G.M. plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said, “I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another 100 years.”
That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns where the recovery that was promised is no where in sight. Right now, 23 million men and women are struggling to find work. 23 million people unemployed or underemployed. Nearly one in six Americans is in poverty. Millions of young Americans have graduated from college during the Obama presidency, ready to use their gifts and get moving in life. ”

Ryan did not accuse the Obama of closing the plant. His question is what did Obama do support the plant once he was elected?

Thanks to the fact checkers the debate is now about when along the 6-12 month timeline the plant took to close it really closed.

A factual comparison of Obama’s words vs. reality is branded a lie and as such really should not be considered.

If the fact checkers cannot even get a canidates words and meanings right, but twist them to fit a Ryan lies narrative. Why should the campaign give them any respect?

abigail beecher says:

So true.

The problem with the press as fact checkers is that long ago they decided to cast off the referee shackles and become players. In fact Jay did a post about this titled “Pssst…The Press Is a Player”. But now that their influence is waning they decide they want return to the old days and be referees. It ain’t gonna happen.

For one thing, the press isn’t that smart—about finance, government, statistics, economics, etc. What they know is partisan politics. The press is all about being generalists not informed on specifics, which is why they are failing on fact check patrol.

Besides, the press is guilty of Dowdifying quotes, taking stuff out of context, cherry picking facts—all the stuff they accuse politicians of doing.

The establishment press has no moral authority to fact check anyone.

While I agree with most of the analysis here, one of my issues with fact checkers is that they reinforce not the quest for truth but the meme that all reporters want is controversy. When was the last time you read a fact checker like Glenn Kessler look at a major point a politician makes and declare it true?

We could probably redeploy some fact checkers to a new beat: looking at the major issues the whoppers mis-characterize and outlining the salient facts about said issue and the options for addressing it. What a concept!

[…] Jay Rosen blog: #presspushback […]

[…] The debate about fact-checking has reached new heights (lows?) this electoral season. Check out a piece alleging that Associated Press’ has problems defining what a “fact” is, a piece on why journalists avoid using the word “liar,” a piece on the difficulties of calling the bullshit when covering campaigns, a piece on bad/problematic fact-checking, Jay Rosen’s excellent take on the whole fact-checking phenomenon, […]

[…] Krugman’s prediction seemed likely, yet as Dr. Rosen wrote last Friday: This week, one of the presidential campaigns said: “We defy the fact checkers. Your move, […]

Only vaguely related to your post, but did you happen to be outside the gates of Columbia University in Fall 2007 when President Ahmadinejad of Iran visited the campus? Did you happen to have a brief conversation with a young student who believed Ahmadinejad had a right to speak, arguing yourself that sometimes evil cannot be tolerated but only resisted?

If not, ignore this. Thanks for your time,


[…] speech. But at a time in American politics when fact-checking and its role in reporting is more prominent and important than ever given the new levels of lying the Republicans have brought to the […]

[…] Okay, there’s been a slow build to a possible rebirth of fact-checking in the news. That had been kept alive quietly by a few news outlets, mostly notably The Daily Show and the Colbert Report and media commentators including Jeff Jarvis, Arianna Huffington, and Jay Rosen in #presspushback. […]

[…] public editor, Margaret Sullivan, addressed the issue of ‘false balance’, linking to a recent piece by media academic Jay Rosen. According to Sullivan, in response to one specific complaint about a […]

[…] Rosen knows how to work his hyperlinks. I could barely get through a graph without opening up a billion (slightly hyperbolic) new tabs. […]