« Time Gives Up on Factchecking: Corporate media can’t find a way to tell the truth » (FAIR: Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting)
Reporters appear to be wedded to a set of “rules” that say they are not allowed to convey reality to their readers and viewers.
In October, the inevitable was announced: Struggling Newsweek magazine would be finished as a print publication as of the end of the year. But the last mass newsweekly left, Time, also made an announcement of sorts: It was out of the factchecking business.
“Who Is Telling the Truth? The Fact Wars,” read Time’s October 15 cover. With a setup like that, one might have hoped for a bold break from the campaign pack, an acknowledgment that facts matter, and that politicians who run on a record of resisting reality should be exposed.Time’s October 15, 2012 cover story: “The Fact Wars”
Instead Time told a more familiar story, one in which both major parties commit comparable “factual recklessness,” because accuracy—and reality—are less important than the appearance of evenhandedness. In the article, and a subsequent response to critics, the magazine essentially waved the white flag in the journalistic war against political deception.
The cover story by Michael Scherer kicked off with some anecdotes meant to be representative. On the one hand, Obama complained about Romney’s repeated, highly publicized claims that the White House is doing away with work requirements under welfare. This was, at certain moments, a central part of the Republican campaign strategy. Scherer correctly noted Romney’s claims were false.
But then, hewing to the idea that one must find political lying in equal measure, he pivoted to a claim from the Obama camp—a campaign strategist’s offhand remark that, if Romney had misrepresented himself to securities regulators, that would be “a felony”—“a conditional accusation, but an accusation nonetheless,” Sherer explains, and justification enough for Romney’s team to “take its turn playing truth-teller.”
The two issues, though juxtaposed, are not remotely equivalent, illustrating one of the most common problems with media factchecking: the need to always be balanced, no matter how unbalanced reality might be. The losers in the Fact Wars, ironically, are the facts themselves.