Fact-checking will play prominent role in tonight’s debate

The New York Times | The Washington Post | The Hill | CJR | Free Press

Along with many other news organizations, The New York Times is marshaling a small army of red pencilers for Wednesday night's debate. Public Editor Margaret Sullivan writes about the preparations:

Mary Suh, a deputy politics editor, has a team of 20 reporters who have worked on the effort and who will be present to respond to what comes up during the debate. ...

“We’re writing these fact-checks in advance so that we’re not scrambling,” Ms. Suh said. “It’s all on an Excel spreadsheet – from Romney’s Bain history to Obama’s record on the deficit.”

Fact-checking "may well stem from decades of news-consumer frustration with the conventions of political reporting," Erik Wemple writes. But it also does big box office on the Web. Associated Press spokesperson Paul Colford tells him that on "online popularity lists" the news co-op's fact-checking pieces "often outperform and outlast the mainbar stories to which they are sidebars."

As for FactCheck.org, boss Brooks Jackson told me that during the Republican National Convention, the pieces that his crew produced in partnership with USA Today “were among the most-read political pieces on their site.”

Digital strategist Andrew Rasiej tells The Hill's Alicia M. Cohn the campaigns will have "seasoned teams of people to monitor Twitter during the debates to respond with facts or reactions to the opponent’s points of view and also to monitor mainstream outlets’ coverage of the debate as it happens in real time and immediately provide either rebuttals or information.”

Romney digital director Zac Moffatt tells Cohn, “If you don’t provide a two-screen experience, I think you will get left behind.”

Writing for the Columbia Journalism Review, Walter Shapiro has different advice for anyone "journalistically multi-tasking" Wednesday night: "As much as humanly possible, look up from your computers and actually watch what is happening."

If the rapacious demands of deadlines, fact checks, and demonstrating your cleverness on social media make full attention impossible, then avoid sweeping conclusions about the political ramifications of the debate. Remember that your reactions will not be typical of anyone other than similarly hyperactive reporters and short-attention-span political junkies.

One area notably lacking in fact-checking, Timothy Karr reports on Free Press, is the ads that have flooded local airwaves in swing states. Karr examined how four Denver TV stations addressed inaccuracies in political ads placed by super PACs and advocacy groups. Stations aren't responsible for the content of ads from candidates, Karr writes, but FCC regulations about false advertising may apply to election ads placed by outside groups.

Since August, these groups have signed contracts with Denver’s affiliates to air 4,954 ads in the local market, paying more than $6.5 million to secure the spots. And yet Denver’s ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates devoted only 10 minutes and 45 seconds to fact-checking ads from these groups. The local Fox affiliate spent no time whatsoever examining these ads.

All told, that’s a ratio of one minute of news for every 162 minutes of political ads.

Karr's full report is here.

Related: Presidential Debate Commission co-chair blames TV networks for lack of diversity among moderators | The Guardian and Tumblr will ‘live-GIF’ first presidential debate

Somewhat related: The New York Times on how to read the candidates' body language.

Distantly related: Poynter's Jeff Sonderman made an animated GIF of the movie The Times is using to illustrate that story on its homepage:

Strongly related to the distantly related item: CNN
will debut technology that makes it easy for viewers to make
and share their own video clips of the debates

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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