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“What’s Partisan About Fact?”: When You Throw Away A Regard For Fact, You Throw Away The Ability To Have Effective Discourse

“Obama is a Muslim,” it said. “That is a FACT.”

As best I can recall — my computer ate the email — that was how the key line went in a reader missive that had me doing a double take last week. It was not the outlandish assertion that struck me but, rather, the emphatic claim of its veracity. We’re talking Shift-Lock and all-caps so there would be no mistaking: “Obama is a Muslim. That is a FACT.”

Actually, it is not a fact, but let that slide. We’re not here to renew the tired debate over Barack Obama’s religion. No, we’re only here to lament that so many of us seem to know “facts” that aren’t and that one party — guess which — has cynically nurtured, used and manipulated this ignorance for political gain.

Consider a recent trio of studies testing the effectiveness of fact-checking journalism. They were conducted for the nonpartisan American Press Institute, and their findings actually offer good news for those of us who fret over the deterioration of critical thinking and the resultant incoherence of political debate.

Researchers found, for instance that, although still relatively rare, fact-checking journalism has been growing fast and saw a 300 percent rise between 2008 and 2012. Also: Most Americans (better than 8 in 10) have a favorable view of political fact checking. Best of all, exposure to fact checking tends to increase respondents’ knowledge, according to the research.

But like stinkweed in a bouquet of roses, the studies also produced one jarringly discordant finding: Republicans are significantly less likely to view fact checkers favorably. Among those with lower levels of political knowledge, the difference between Republican and Democratic voters is fairly small — 29 percent of Republicans have a favorable view, versus 36 percent of Democrats. Surprisingly, among those with higher levels of knowledge, the gap is vast: 34 percent of Republicans against 59 percent of Democrats.

The traditional rejoinder of the GOP faithful whenever you bring up such disparities in perception is that they mistrust “mainstream media” because it is biased against them. Putting aside the dubious validity of the claim, it’s irrelevant here. Fact-checking journalism is nonpartisan. One would be hard pressed, for example, to paint PolitiFact as a shill for the donkey party, given that it regularly dings Democrats and gave President Obama (“If you like your health plan, you can keep it”) its uncoveted Lie Of the Year award for 2013.

That being the case, one can’t help but be disheartened by this gap. What’s not to like about journalism that sorts truth from falsehood? What’s partisan about fact?

Nothing — you’d think. Except that for Republicans, something obviously is.

Perhaps we ought not be surprised., given the pattern of party politics in recent years. On topics as varied as climate change, health care, terrorism, and the president’s birthplace, GOP leaders and media figures have obfuscated and prevaricated with masterly panache, sowing confusion in the midst of absolute clarity, pretending controversy where there is none, and finding, always, a ready audience of the fearful and easily gulled.

As political strategy, it has been undeniably effective, mobilizing voters, and energizing campaigns. As a vehicle for leadership and change, it has been something else altogether. When you throw away a regard for fact, you throw away the ability to have effective discourse. Which is why American political debates tend to be high in volume and low in content. And why consensus becomes impossible.

The API statistics documenting the lack of GOP enthusiasm for fact checkers, ought to tell you something. Who could have a problem with a fact checker? He or she is your best friend if what you’re saying is true.

You would only feel differently if what you’re saying is not.


By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist, The Miami Herald; The National Memo, April 27, 2015

April 28, 2015 - Posted by | Fact Checking, Journalism, Republicans | , , , , ,


  1. This is an excellent editorial by a very good source. Several points can be made here.

    (1) There is a cognitive dissonance when people who put faith in sources of information, then see the veracity of those sources questioned for accuracy. You may recall the VT high school journalism students who took Bill Reilly to task for biased journalism toward their city and state. Yet, that just is shrugged aside by Mr. Reilly whose reputation by knowledgeable folks is to not let the facts get in the way of a good story. His viewers care not about his accuracy, as Mr. Pitts notes. (2) There is not a normal distribution for embellishing the truth – both parties and their pseudo news sources do it, but it is more tilted toward the right. This is one of the reasons I left the GOP in 2006 to become an Independent, the tendency to make things up, coupled with their position on climate change and unhealthy alliance with the NRA and Evangelicals. (3) If you really want to be made ill, watch “Merchants of Doubt.” One of the featured PR hit men is so secure in what he does for a living, he openly tells the audience on “Merchants of Doubt,” that he is telling a story, but telling it very well. So, when Glenn Beck asks him is he is an unbiased consultant, Beck believes him when he says no. (4) the bigger concern is now that campaigns run endlessly, the campaign rhetoric is now used to govern with. It used to be once elected, the campaign BS was set aside. Now people are making policy recommendations off their own campaign BS. In other words, they believe their own BS and govern off it – either they are too biased to know they are using untruths, or they know and don’t care.

    We must all be truth seekers. We must ask the “why” questions and keep at it to get answers to questions. Why are Boehner, McConnell and Gingrich on video saying climate change is real and man-influence in 2008 and then say the opposite in 2015, e.g.?


    Comment by btg5885 | April 28, 2015 | Reply

  2. Reblogged this on Views from the Hill and commented:
    Yet more reason to always look behind the curtain.


    Comment by Barneysday | April 28, 2015 | Reply

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