Bill Clinton enters the fact-checking fray with DNC speech

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Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democratic National Convention Wednesday night was “a fact-checker’s nightmare,” write FactCheck.org’s Lori Robertson, Eugene Kiely, Brooks Jackson and Robert Farley, with “lots of effort required to run down his many statistics and factual claims, producing little for us to write about.”

Clinton offered a defense to the broad points of Republicans’ case against re-electing President Obama, even mentioning Mitt Romney pollster Neil Newhouse’s recent broadside against fact-checkers.

Their campaign pollster said, we are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers. Now, finally I can say, that is true. I — I couldn’t have said it better myself.


And Clinton’s facts pretty much check out. (His opening acts Wednesday were not as widely feted by the nation’s fact-checking professionals.)

Clinton’s speech getting judged accurate is going to drive some conservative media critics bananas. Erik Wemple wrote Wednesday about the debate over fact-checking, asking what exactly the problem was with demanding journalists check politicians’ facts; New York University Professor Jay Rosen tells him the “culture war wing of the conservative movement thinks ‘fact check’ is just another name for liberal bias.”

My inbox of the past week offers some empirical evidence of that. I’ve heard from people who feel news organizations’ recent vogue for fact-checking is a Trojan horse for liberal thought. Adherents of this view count PolitiFact rulings, for example, or email you Mickey Kaus blog posts. (I’m grateful for every email, by the way!)

Professor Douglas Hindman of Washington State University recently found that what used to be called “knowledge gaps,” attributable to socioeconomic differences, have become what he calls “belief gaps.”

“Voters’ positions on such contentious issues as health care reform are no longer best predicted by educational level, but rather by indicators of partisanship. As such, they reflect differences in subjective political beliefs, rather than objective differences in individual knowledge,” a press release announcing Hindman’s study said.

Although it was not tested directly in this study, Hindman said his findings are consistent with prior research indicating that media coverage of political controversies serves to transmit social identification cues to citizens and that group identification may override knowledge that is contrary to those beliefs.

Debates over fact-checking can erupt even in unexpected venues, such as a dispute Wednesday between “The Daily Show” and BuzzFeed over whether a recent Romney claim was “bull-f@cking-sh#t.” BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith offered Wemple a reasoned critique of one facet of fact-checking: “I don’t think reporters should write what they don’t know, and ‘lie’ implies you know the speaker’s intent, which if he or she hasn’t told you, you don’t.”

It’s enough to make you grateful for good old fashioned ratings numbers. DNC ratings Tuesday, James Poniewozik writes in Time, were “not tremendously more impressive than those for the first night of the RNC: about 22 million viewers in the 10 pm hour, compared with about 20.5 million.” He later updated:

The above figures are for the three broadcast and three cable networks (ABC, CBS, CNN, FNC, MSNBC and NBC). Nielsen has also posted full viewing figures including smaller networks and PBS, totaling 22.3 million for the RNC and 26.2 million for the DNC.

One other difference: Fox won the RNC ratings, MSNBC won the first night of the DNC. And Bill Clinton definitely won on Twitter (though he didn’t beat Michelle Obama).

Facts, again!

Related: Why media avoids the word “lie” (Ben Yagoda/Lingua Franca)

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  • Anonymous

    Ms. Moos
    Do you really think that was the point of my post?
    Don’t worry, though. I do plan to contact you.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    Nate, if you want to learn more about how Poynter teaches journalists and how that connects with our publishing, give me a call: 727-553-4336. I’d be happy to discuss it.
    –Julie Moos, Director of Poynter Online

  • Anonymous

    Another piece on fact checking.
    No input from Poynter itself on one of the basic tenets of journalism.
    Makes me wonder how Poynter teaches journalists.
    Or is the teaching considered completely a separate field from mediawire.

    Poynter had no trouble branding monologist Mike Daisey a liar.
    Here, the people who run the country and should know better and should be held to a higher standard are given a pass unless intent can be proven. I think quite the contrary: with the responsibility they are pursuing comes attached a duty to be sure they are speaking the factual truth.

  • Anonymous

    You are getting Kaus posts because he bases his fact checking of the welfare waiver on facts, not on the spin of Kathleen Seblius. All you had to do was really examine her statement and you would see it is so full of loopholes and slippery measures as to be meaningless.

  • Anonymous

    You are getting Kaus posts because he bases his fact checking of the welfare waiver on facts, not on the spin of Kathleen Seblius. All you had to do was really examine her statement and you would see it is so full of loopholes and slippery measures as to be meaningless.