PolitiFact? I Thought It Was Called Journalism

I must admit I was perplexed yesterday when I saw the front page of the Commercial Appeal touting Politifact Tennessee. Then I saw the editorial page with editor Chris Peck crowing even more about it in his column.

He described it as an offshoot of PolitiFact.com, which started in 2008. Hmm. Did you find out a lot of facts about Barack Obama then? I thought not. I’m still waiting for those college grades.

Anyhow, Peck quotes originator Bill Adair as saying “I had the idea for PolitiFact because I felt as a political journalist I had been simply passing along falsehoods without taking time to check them out.” To most of us in the public this statement should have a siren on it. Adair knew he was passing along unverified information – lies even – yet continued to do so?

Peck smooths this over by writing, “Well, to be honest, much of daily news is driven by what someone said, and how someone else responded, and that’s what time permits.” Except it’s easy today to look up quotes and past information in seconds. Ever hear of Google, Mr. Editor?

Adair continues. “People have more information sources than ever before, but I think it’s hard to make sense of all the information and know what’s true and what’s not.” Let me translate. The idiot general public can now find out things that we could hide before. I’d better stop it!

“PolitiFact is a trusted source that can tell people what’s accurate and what’s not,” Adair claims. Maybe. A lot of people trusted Walter Cronkite in the 60s, only to find out later what a political shill he was. No citizen should trust one source of information explicitly. Who checks PolitiFact?

Peck explains that “PolitiFact Tennessee will analyze specific statements of politicians and then put the Truth-O-Meter to them. The Truth-O-Meter will run in print and on the PolitiFact Tennessee website and will rate statements across the spectrum of true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false or pants on fire lie.” Has democracy come down to game show level? To think they mocked the Homeland Security color code!

Peck says there will be a special Haslam-O-Meter “to track the governor’s progress in meeting his campaign promises… The Haslam-O-Meter should be a fun way to spotlight the promises made by the state’s top executive and the progress he is making toward delivering on them.” Fun like a Chevy Chase skit skewing Gerald Ford?

“PolitiFact Tennessee will do its best to bring a dose of accuracy, sanity and truthfulness back into our political and public life,” Peck concludes.

Isn’t this a confession of the newspaper’s failure to do so in the past? Isn’t checking the facts what journalism is supposed to do? Isn’t that what the newspaper is tasked with? The Scripps Howard logo of a lighthouse is supposed to represent their motto: Give light and the people will find their way.

Perhaps what we really need is a Newspaper-O-Meter. People could fact check the paper and rate it as lies, sleaze, statistics lies, half truth lies, propaganda, bias and blindness.

You and I both know that lighthouse beacon has been dim for a long time. So dim, I guess, that they forgot why they turned it on in the first place. Somehow I doubt PolitiFact Tennessee will do much more than flicker.

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