ABOUT THE QUICK TAKE
In the second presidential debate, moderator Candy Crowley was accused of being partisan, helping President Barack Obama and not Gov. Mitt Romney, while fact checking during the debate. This week, the Quick Take takes a look at the issue of whether or not it is the media’s job to fact check political candidates.
By Scott Weathers
It’s a sign of the tepid importance of facts in our political discourse that moderator Candy Crowley, after sheepishly and apologetically correcting Gov. Mitt Romney during the last debate, earned scorn and derision from Republicans everywhere. During a Fox News show after the debate, Republican National Committee Chairman, Reince Priebus, accused President Barack Obama of lying to the American people over the embassy attack in Libya and claiming that Candy Crowley, “may have helped that along.”
Admittedly, Priebus may have been aware of Romney’s factual error, but decided that decrying the involvement of Crowley may be a plausible retort for those who see facts through a partisan-colored lens. Regardless, democracy can only function when the public is well-informed and intentioned, which cannot happen when our press routinely passes on correcting the lies of our politicians. This doesn’t require million-dollar “situation rooms” or “hot seats,” but a laptop and Google.
In some part, organizations like PolitiFact have done this. The resurgence of the fact checking press is promising, but serves little immediate purpose because the voters that need it most are least likely to pay attention. It isn’t effective to evaluate their claims on websites only frequented by the most passionate, already decided voters.
Instead, Congress (scoff, I know) must create an agency whose sole responsibility would be to financially and legally punish candidates who repeat falsehoods. Right now, there’s virtually no incentive for Obama or Romney to stop telling lies. This is why Obama has just finished his “apology tour around the world” and Romney has praised the Arizona immigration law as a model worth replicating. But for us to halt these misrepresentations, we have to allow our candidates to suffer when they propagate lies. If the politicians we support can’t win on their own facts, do they really deserve to win?
I recognize that it will be difficult, if not impossible for Congress to agree on a bill that will allow politicians to be punished when they bend the truth. Objective truth exists, yet media noise and political punditry usually obfuscate it. But for the candidates to develop a respect for facts, we can only hope to create an agency composed of journalists, scholars and non-partisan thinkers to evaluate candidate claims and judge whether they are worthy of punishment.
As we’ve learned in every political sex scandal, the truth always comes out. With Election Day just two weeks away, isn’t that a little too long to wait?
Scott Weathers is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences.
By Taylor Kenkel
An agreement released by both the presidential campaigns ahead of the debates could be called the memo that launched a million face-palms.
The “Memorandum of Understanding” between the campaigns included parameters that prevented the candidates from asking each other questions, kept them from moving outside of designated areas and used language that attempted to bar the moderator from asking follow-up questions.
Both parties largely brushed it off as common debate practice. Let the candidates talk without fear of interruption or being thrown for a loop by an unplanned question or stray fact-check. Thankfully, Martha Raddaz and Candy Crowly didn’t relegate themselves to props on the stage and actually — gasp! — held the vice presidential and presidential candidates accountable to their words and to the time limits.
Both, of course, received pushback afterwards by partisans on both sides for keeping the debates from turning into more of a PR fest than they are already.
To suggest moderators simply shut up and let the candidates rattle on with half-truths and exaggerations is absurd, and represents a serious shift in the role we think media plays in the election. The interpretation reflects the news consumption culture of today, where consumers equate opinionated rants of their political persuasion with the truth and ignore quantitative facts altogether. When the media fails to step up to its fact-checking role, it effectively enables consumers to construct and inhabit alternate realities based on nothing more than soapbox PR delivered by political parties intent on staying in power.
Politicians are politicians, and they all have the same goal in mind: get elected. Whether it’s for altruistic reasons or an entirely egotistical pursuit is beside the point. They will, at the very least, gloss over their imperfections in order to eke out a victory over the other candidate. It is absolutely the responsibility of the media to hold everyone, regardless of their party affiliation, accountable for what they say and do.
The most common kickback either side fires back when faced with having their favorite candidate fact checked goes something like, “Let the people decide!” I’m all for people deciding for themselves, but they cannot make an informed decision unless they are presented with hard facts.
For example, let’s say a candidate claims their economic plan will reduce the deficit by $2 trillion while keeping the Bush tax cuts intact. It’s not appropriate for a moderator to declare the candidate’s plan nonsensical. That is opinion. It is entirely appropriate and part of his or her role as the moderator to ask the candidate to provide specific numbers and point out any findings by independent economic institutions that question the candidate’s claims. That is fact checking. Fact checking does not mean telling the audience what to think. It simply involves holding the candidate accountable to their words and making sure they don’t try to discount reality and peddle their opinion as fact.
To be clear, holding candidates accountable does not equal verbally berating a candidate. Any straw man or ad hominem attacks show that the reporter is uninterested in hearing what the other side has to say. The key rests in making sure the moderator or reporter is motivated by the intent to keep the audience informed instead of the urge to promote their personal political agenda.
But what if the audience just wants their biases of the other guy or the other party confirmed? Well, they would be more than happy hopping over to a network of their preferred bias, where they’ll get nothing more than the debate they deserve.
Taylor Kenkel is a senior in the School of Communication.
By Robert Brockmeijer
It is often difficult to determine what the real “truth” is. Before we had the technology and capability of fact checking things, we were much more restricted. There were less ways of finding our own truths. Nowadays, research is easy to do, and therefore the amount of resources increases. With the access to information, we do not need to take someone’s word for something, so fact checking makes sense.
Going back several years, when there were far less news outlets, people were in a way confined to believing what they read in the paper or saw on the news. Now, if you read an article that seems to have odd facts, or does not sound believable, all you have to do is go online and cross check the facts with various other news outlets. With the introduction of so many more sources of news outlets, it’s not a surprise that people have become a tad more wary of how easily they should be persuaded by something they read.
For example, take the news article published a few days ago about Robert Pattinson and his girlfriend. On one of the websites, onenewspage.us, the article was titled, “Robert Pattinson & Kristen Stewart Have ‘Pretty Ridiculous’ Sex”, which seems to be about their personal life, if anything. However, as soon as a Google search is performed, all of the other article titles found indicate that it is about a scene in their new movie, not their personal life.
If someone were to simply take the first news article they found and take it as the truth, who knows how many wrong things we would believe? We are easily able to not only fact check articles by crosschecking them with others, but check the reliability of the source as well. So if we have the ability to be sure, why not? I think it is only natural to want to take as much of this into your own hands, as opposed to having people telling you what to believe.
Self-reliability is needed in the current political climate, because facts and reliability can greatly change ones vote.
Robert Brockmeijer is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences.