Banned word: ‘Fact Check’

Hey journalists, enough with the fact checking; just stop it already; stop saying you’ve ‘fact checked’ everything. Isn’t reporting the facts your day job, or is it secondary to campaigning for your agenda?

There was a time when it was the job of news outlets to track down the story and report the facts. They didn’t need a special section for reporting the facts. Reporting the facts wasn’t reserved for websites with fact check in their name or for special fact checking departments within an organization or segments within a broadcast.

But, of late it often seems as if reporting the facts has become a specialty in the world of journalism; it’s now called ‘fact checking.’

Worse yet, many journalists don’t even do it well. Particularly during campaign season, checking the facts isn’t about getting the story straight, it’s about overanalyzing the words of politicos to make sure you can put the best possible light on your favored political pugilist.

I caught an SNL recap of the presidential town hall debate. They basically got it right; which is awesome, and good on them. Apparently, that Obama said the word terror in some speech somewhere following the 9/11 Benghazi attack, means that he absolutely knew the attack was one of terror and never tried to conflate the attack with some protesters in another country. Candy Crowley took it upon herself to fact check Romney mid-debate using some sort of debased version of the word fact. (See it here at about 8 minutes)

As she demonstrated well, it’s no longer about the context, meaning, or intent of words, but about finding a particular, vague reading that fits your agenda, and then pushing that out.

Take as another (CNN) example the video below of Anderson Cooper fact checking a Romney ad about Obama’s so called ‘apology tour.’ According to AC, because the words sorry and apology did not appear in a speech, it is therefore not an apology tour. That is fine for that to be AC’s opinion. But it is not a fact one way or the other. To say otherwise – as he does – is ridiculous.

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Yet, AC felt very nearly obliged to call out Mitt Romney for such a “blatant falsehood” (also known as an ‘obvious lie’). Opinions are not lies sir, they are opinions.

I don’t know if it was an apology tour or not. That’s a matter of opinion. But that is the whole point. You can’t ‘fact check’ politics as if it is some objective reality. It doesn’t work that way. You can fact check facts, but you can’t fact check feelings.

So stop with it already. Please. Stop fact checking. Report, ombuds, editorialize. Just don’t tell me you’re fact checking. Because usually you aren’t.


[As an aside, even if we play by AC’s rules, he’s still wrong.

Here are Google’s definitions of apology:


  1. regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure: “my apologies for the delay”.
  2. A formal, public statement of regret, such as one issued by a newspaper, government, or other organization.

So Obama didn’t say the word apology. I don’t see in the definition that someone must say the word apology. He did say there was some ‘danger’ and ‘arrogance’ in America’s actions, and America made ‘failures’ and ‘mistakes’ (under prior, Republican, administrations, of course).

Now, presumably, he was saying these things because he wanted to acknowledge regrettable offenses. (The opposite of course would be that our ‘mistakes and failures,’ were somehow ‘fortunate benefits’ to our foreign allies. I don’t think that is what he meant.)

We often hear about no apology apologies from politicians and celebrities that have made unsavory comments. It usually goes something like this: “I’m sorry if I offended someone,” or better yet “Sorry if you were offended.”

But now, we have a different sort of no apology, apology. If the particular word apology doesn’t come forth from your lips then you obviously had not intention to apologize. But, by that logic, we have to accept as legitimate all those half-hearted apologies. We don’t get to have it both ways. If you say you’re sorry but don’t mean it, that’s not a real apology. But now, if you make a gesture of apology, but don’t specifically say I’m sorry, then your sincerity is meaningless? Wrong.]