AFTERWORD A Matter of Fact Journalists who report on public life are similarly sloppy in checking out statements alleged to be based on factual ev idence in the physical world. The gen OS V ightS iv\( BY SAMUEL HUDSON PART 1: THE PROBLEM. So I looked around and noticed that: People in public life nowadays seem less and less anchored to thumpable factuality. They stand up and recite narratives of events that scarcely occur, and cite statistics derived from the fizz in bottled water. eral public is so worn down by unchecked blast and counter-blast that they sigh, “Most politicians lie most of the time. Why try to sort it out?” Then the general public tunes out again. Add to this such shout-fight television shows as “Crossfire” and “The McLaughlin Group,” add picador radio a la Rush Limbaugh, and all facts sink into a swamp of opinionbut “everybody’s entitled to his opinion,” isn’t he?and so every opinion is as good as any other, isn’t it?and so none of it matters, does it? except for whose opinion is loudest and anyway it’s all interchangeable pre-fab or just another lie, so I’ll smash your face, what do you say to that? Most news-gathering organizations are content to quote blast and counter-blast carefully, objectively, in the manner of Associated Press Ping-Pong: “Senator X said this. Senator Y said that. Senator X said Senator Y’s statement of thatness is not so. Senator Y said, well, Senator X’s statement of thisness is untrue, and then asserted his own deeply held commitment to thatness, to thatism and to the thathood of the American way.” Ping, pong, ping, pong, ping, pongforever, with no attempt to find out whether either senator has a hand on even a shred of actuality. During political seasons, some newsgathering organizations do check candidates’ television commercials for basic facts, but rare indeed is the news report, print or broadcast, that really checks out all the twists and turns in candidates’ assertions. Yes, the Writer and journalist Samuel Hudson lives in Houston and invites readers to contribute ideas for Fact Checkin particular the names, addresses and phone numbers of foundations that are likely to be interested in starting and sustaining Fact Check. New York Times runs boxes \(with nice, clean cal intent of a candidate’s television commercials, but the portions of the boxes that analyze the commercials’ assertions of fact are small \(usually smaller than the photos of vote ses of assertions of fact are done only in passing. Yes, the Associated Press does offer a standing “Campaign Watch” analysis feature that checks out some assertions of facts made by candidates and made by candidates’ commercials, but few of the AP’s member newspapers run “Campaign Watch” regularly or prominently. I think that the current lack of factchecking in political reporting and in much other reporting is largely due to the complete and disastrous triumph of the doctrine of journalistic objectivity. Before objectiv ity was inventedand it was first con cocted after the Civil War, so that wire ser vices could sell the same stories North and South without revisionthe fiercely parti san nature of the daily press caused fabrica tions and stretchers to be exposed quickly: If Senator X, a Democrat, tri p PART 2: A REMEDY. I propose the creation of a day-in, day-out fact-checking service, to be called “Fact Check.” Fact Check will check out statements of fact made by public persons and reported in media with a threshold circulation of, say, a million. Fact Check will pay attention to what wire services and national newspapers publish, to the transcripts the Federal News Service runs, to television and radio network news, to CNN and CSPANand to shout-fight television and picador radio. No, Fact Check won’t attempt to analyze everything, every day. It’s voices will get immediate and exacting atof public assertion consists of greetings, refrains, credos and golden oldies that have little or no checkable factual content. In the beginning, Fact Check would publish its analyses daily on the Internet, revising and updating entries in the course of the day. I think that eventually Fact Check could provide a daily digest in the form of a column for newspaper Op-Ed ho atleS . tiC An attack on pf0PellY stood up and said something TAT S % OS’ pi Wate fantastical, then the good Republican papers promptly ex osed and denounced the CYO’ Ciao fact-free statements. “Objectiv ity” makes this kind of partisan catching-out impossible. AP Ping Pong is ever so objective and fast and convenientand cheap. \(To see 19th century partisan-press fact-examining full swing, dip down almost anywhere in the middle of David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln, the new biography of Mr. Lincoln, political animal. No, I don’t think we want that kind of partisan press back. But it seems, in the long run, to have pro duced better results than the doctrine So what’s to be done? 22 MAY 17, 1996
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