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Fact-checking Web sites are good news in a muddy presidential race

Saturday, September 20, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT

It's hard to tell which has been more depressing - the level of this year's presidential campaign or the quality of coverage. With six weeks to go, there's finally a hopeful smattering of evidence that the latter, at least, is beginning to improve.

Remember when both Barack Obama and John McCain vowed that this year we'd have a civil dialogue about the important issues? Seems like a quaint artifact of history, but it was only earlier in 2008. Oh, an issue gets mentioned now and again, but usually, it seems, only so the opponent's position can be caricatured.

That's just politics, you say? Sadly, you may be right. But we were promised something different and better in what just may be the most consequential contest of our time. Instead, we've gotten a steady barrage of TV commercials that insult both the candidates and the intelligence of us, voters.

I'm a confessed Obama supporter, so you should apply the appropriate degree of skepticism, but it seems to me that the McCain campaign and Honest John himself have been, by far, the most egregious offenders. We've heard misleading claims about Mr. McCain's record and outright lies about Mr. Obama's record. Sarah Palin appears to have no notion of what's true and no expectation that anybody will check up on what she says.

And the national press corps, it pains me to say, has been complicit. Even in the best of our lot, the New York Times and the Washington Post, campaign coverage has focused mainly on personality and tactics rather than substance. If we have to expect politics as usual, surely we can expect and demand more from our best journalists.

I did say there's a glimmer of hope, and it's coming mainly from the independent fact-checking operations run by two news organizations and a university.

The Fact Checker at WashingtonPost.com is the most entertaining of the three. The staff there awards "Pinocchios" to ads and assertions that depart from the truth. Take a look and you'll find, for example, that Gov. Palin's claims about how much of the nation's energy supply Alaska provides rates the most damning four Pinocchios. She "peddles bogus statistics," the fact checkers conclude.

Politifact.com does the same work, sponsored and staffed by the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly. There you'll find a "Truth-o-Meter." Mr. Obama's criticism of Mr. McCain's economic position is rated "Mainly True," while the McCain campaign's ad about Mr. Obama's legislative record on sex education draws a "Pants on Fire" condemnation as wholly false.

Factcheck.org is the product of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. It finds the Palin claim on energy to be "Not true. Not even close." It also reviews James Corsi's book, "The Obama Nation," and rules it to be "a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods."

Along with explicating the candidates' positions on important issues, this is what the press should be doing, don't you think? What we citizens need between now and Nov. 4, is more, much more, serious reporting on serious substance.

 

 


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Comments

John Schultz September 20, 2008 | 11:29 a.m.

Quite amusing how this article doesn't mention any of the Obama/Biden inaccuracies mentioned on the front page of Factcheck.org - three by my count, plus one story on inaccuracies in both campaign's Spanish ads, and a separate story about false Internet rumors about Governor Palin.

"Confessed Obama supporter" indeed...

And this is coming from someone voting for Bob Barr, so no claims of McCain bias, please.

(Report Comment)
jeff lz September 20, 2008 | 6:19 p.m.

It is widely stated that Obama has no experience. why is this not refuted?

-3 highly successful years as a community organizer

-first black President of the Harvard Law Review,

-12 years as a Constitutional Law professor,

-8 addtional years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, chairman of the state Senate''s Health and Human Services committee

-nearly 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of nearly 13 million people, sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran''s Affairs committees

-leads a presidential campaign in 50 states that employs 2500 people raising hundreds of millions of dollars from private individuals defeating powerful and highly respected primary opponents

(Report Comment)

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