Pundits Soon to Face the Wrath of PolitiFact

A regular reader warns me to watch my back:

PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking website of the Tampa Bay Times, will soon launch PunditFact, a site dedicated to checking claims by pundits, columnists, bloggers and the hosts and guests of talk shows.

Luckily, I’m not important enough to catch the attention of these guys, so I can probably continue to lie with impunity. For example, did you know that a recent study concluded that PolitiFact made a substantial contribution to increased political polarization? It was very clever. The researchers used Mechanical Turk to recruit a dozen college students who read an article about Obamacare. Half the students then read a PolitiFact column that fact-checked an Obama speech and the other half read a column that —

Just kidding! There was no such study. Seriously, how could PolitiFact contribute to polarization when we all know that conservatives don’t care about facts in the first place? As the chart on the right shows —

Kidding again! There’s no chart. But I wish there were. It would be interesting to know whether fact-checking operations actually have any impact whatsoever on public opinion. Based on my own zero percent track record of ever changing anyone’s mind, I’d guess not. But a study would be great. Especially if it had a colorful chart to go along with it.

Anyway. Here’s what I’m really curious about: How will PunditFact go about deciding which pundits to check? Given that they’re including radio and TV talkers and guests in their net, I’d guess that they’ll have something like a thousand outright lies to check every day. I’m talking about things that aren’t even close calls and that are heard or read by audiences numbering in the millions. So which ones actually get their attention? That’s easily the most important decision they’ll make, since the actual process of demonstrating the lies is sort of like shooting fish in a barrel. You might as well just hire a few dozen interns for that part of the job.

But I’ll bet they won’t tell us. Nobody ever does.


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Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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