Thursday, October 27, 2016

Does Fact-Checking Give News Organizations an Outlet for Political Favoritism?

Sydney Dawes

"Image via Bill B from Flickr: "
This election has brought on a new wave of social media politicism. News feeds are overwhelmed with people's opinions on Donald Trump's behavior and Hillary Clinton's policies. Although everyone is willing to throw in their two cents on our current political state, there has also been a push for checks for accuracy, especially when the two candidates are formally debating.

This new age of fact-checking is an indicator that there is a general wave of mistrust among Americans toward politicians (this isn't news, though). However, some criticize different media forms for seeming drastically unbalanced in their coverage of the election. Is fact-checking just another way to show favor to one side of the political spectrum?

A Little Background on Fact-Checking

Fact-checking candidates isn't without structure. The International Fact-Checking Network constructed a code with commitments to the following principles:

  • "Non-partisanship and fairness"
  • "Transparency of sources"
  • "Transparency of Funding and Organization"
  • Transparency of Methodology"
  • "Open and Honest Corrections"
However, as with all guidelines, ethics codes, and even laws, not everyone will follow them. People (yes, including journalists) aren't perfect sometimes, a "fact-check" turns out to be another piece of false or misinterpreted information that works its way through social media.

Not all fact-checks are erroneous, though. NPR transcribed each debate between Clinton and Trump and checked each statement made by either candidate for accuracy and truth, and they're incredibly thorough with their findings. Of course, they also are sure to make note that their fact-checks have the potential of being updated for new information or corrections.

Citizen journalism also picks up on Twitter and Facebook during debates while viewers frantically google claims made by the candidates to see who is fibbing or who is misinformed. Of course, after this, memes are born and circulated for the rest of the week or longer.

Fact-checking rolls into other forms. For instance, as described in the article, "The Death of He Said, She Said Journalism," The Atlantic reporter Peter Beinart describes a new boldness major newspapers are taking: calling out politicians for what they are as opposed to taking on a politically-correct passivity. For instance, instead of calling someone "polarizing," Beinart explained, news organizations are now more comfortable with calling someone "racist."

Is Fact-Checking Unbalanced?

Many argue that a majority of present fact-checks are in favor of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as opposed to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

I'd like to reply with this: in a debate, one person will always be less correct than another. Someone's argument will be less sound, less valid, less eloquent, less persuasive than another. Someone will be less prepared, less organized, less put together.

I think it's important to remember that "the media" (however you may define that overused, blanket-term) consists of people. People, as stated earlier, are imperfect. We all have our prejudices; we all have are struggles; we all have our demons. It's illogical to believe that any institution can be free of bias because every institution is made up of (you guessed it) people.

Maybe instead of blaming a "biased media" for political conflict and a divided nation, we should address the ideas that make us different. After all, if we're going to claim to be the land of diversity, we better start caring for the diversity of thought.

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