Brisbane: ‘I ended up as a pinata on this one’

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Public Editor Arthur Brisbane is following up the controversy over his previous statements about fact-checking with an appearance on “Reliable Sources.” “Of course the Times should check facts and claims about politics,” Brisbane told Howard Kurtz.

In the Sunday column, Brisbane agrees with readers who resoundingly said that they want the Times to do more fact-checking of assertions in its news stories. But, he writes, the Times has to be careful about how it does it:

Jill Abramson, the executive editor, said that if fact-checking were made a “reflexive element of too many news stories, our readers would find The Times was being tendentious.” Readers, she added, could come to see The Times “as a combatant, not as an arbiter of what the facts were.”

The challenge, according to NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos, is how such fact-checking is incorporated into daily reporting, when space and time don’t allow for in-depth rebuttal of one statement or another.

That’s why he supports a recent story that cited PolitiFact to rebut Mitt Romney’s assertion that President Barack Obama has apologized for America. A reader complained that NPR’s Steve Inskeep should have simply said Romney’s claim was false rather than stating that PoltiFact and others have concluded that it’s false, which seemed “wishy-washy.”

Schumacher-Matos said the issue was handled appropriately:

Quoting Politifact.com was authoritative and efficient. Had he simply stated of his own authority, “This quote by Romney, however, is not true,” Inskeep would have had to provide evidence to back up his claim. The short amount of time he had on-air would be taken up with a long analysis of why Romney’s common campaign statement is false. Politifact had already done the work and is widely recognized as independent and reliable.

Related: Why do voters let politicians lie to them? (The New York Times) | Source says PolitiFact reporter asked leading questions, and the Web reacts (Big Tent) | Earlier: Journalists incredulous as Times public editor asks: ‘Should the Times be a Truth Vigilante?’ (Poynter)

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