The Truth-O-Meter at the St. Petersburg Times has a very long nose.
Journalistic bias is one thing, but journalistic arrogance is quite another.
When reporters claiming to be neutral political fact-checkers go beyond mere reporting to state with absolute certainty things they cannot possibly know, they run the risk of churning out political opinion masquerading as high-minded investigative journalism.
This is exactly what the reporters at the fact-checking operation PolitiFact.com sometimes do. A project of the St. Petersburg Times, the website’s “Truth-O-Meter” purports to check and rate “the accuracy of statements by candidates, elected officials, political parties, interest groups, pundits, talk show hosts.”
After PolitiFact writers research a statement, it then receives one of six ratings on a continuum of truthfulness: True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True, False and Pants on Fire.
It sounds very Woodward and Bernstein with some hip Internet-savvy irreverence thrown in, doesn’t it?
That’s what I thought before I looked into the matter.
It turns out that those who serve the Truth-O-Meter often have strange ideas about what constitutes truth.
Let’s look at how PolitiFact handled Rep. Michele Bachmann’s recent claim that the much investigated activist group ACORN was eligible for up to $8.5 billion in federal funding this year.
Like everything having to do with ACORN, it’s very complicated.
Reporter Robert Farley sets the tone for the piece in his first paragraph, writing that “Bachmann’s latest outrage focuses on an old nemesis: ACORN.” As blogger Bryan White points out at Sublime Bloviations:
The first sentence is an attack on Bachmann. The statement implies that she is guilty of serial outrage, though PolitiFact has only previously rated two of her statements. And regardless of how many were rated, the opening statement is an editorial judgment with no place in an objective news story.
Farley conveniently offers a sinister motive to explain Bachmann’s anti-ACORN activities. ACORN has a “complex corporate structure,” but “[t]he ACORN that Republicans love to hate gets involved in political activity like voter registration.”
Farley quotes from Bachmann’s website which reposted an article by Kevin Mooney of the Washington Examiner:
At least $53 million in federal funds have gone to ACORN activists since 1994, and the controversial group could get up to $8.5 billion more tax dollars despite being under investigation for voter registration fraud in a dozen states.
Farley incorrectly identifies the statement as coming from a Bachmann press release and then systematically dissects the Minnesota Republican’s claim, repeated on television, that ACORN is eligible for as much as $8.5 billion in federal funding.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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