An “echo chamber nation” is what Politifact, the fact checking organization of journalists, said about the state of politics in the US.
They’re right, of course. On both left and right, there is a tendency by many - not all - to stay in one’s comfort zone and be exposed to only one, narrow point of view. Criticism from the other side is dismissed - not based on the validity of the critique but rather its source.
Needless to say, liberals went absolutely gaga when they thought that one of their own media outlets - Politifact - “turned” on them and named the Democratic charge that the GOP wanted to get rid of Medicare as the “Lie of the Year.”
PolitiFact had its latest brush with the Echo Chamber Nation this week. We gave our Lie of the Year to the Democrats’ claim that the Republicans “voted to end Medicare.” That set off a firestorm in the liberal blogosphere, with many saying that claim was not actually wrong. We’ve received about 1,500 e-mails about our choice and only a few agreed with us.
Some of the response has been substantive and thoughtful. The critics said we ignored the long-term effects of Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan and that we were wrong to consider his privatized approach to be Medicare. In their view, that is an end to Medicare.
We’ve read the critiques and see nothing that changes our findings. We stand by our story and our conclusion that the claim was the most significant falsehood of 2011. We made no judgments on the merits of the Ryan plan; we just said that the characterization by the Democrats was false.
Our competitors FactCheck.org and the Washington Post’s FactChecker had also said the Medicare claim was false - and this week both picked it for their biggest-falsehoods-of-the-year lists.
Some of our critics wrongly attributed our choice to our readers’ poll and said we were swayed by a lobbying campaign by Ryan. But our editors made the choice and the poll was not a factor.
Others portrayed it as a case of false balance where we put our thumb on the scale for a Democratic falsehood. This, too, is a sad byproduct of our polarized discourse, from people who are sure their side is always right.
“Fact checking” as an exercise in journalistic integrity and public accountability is in its infancy. Most fact checkers who work for major publications and networks are a lot more flexible in taking the word of politicians at face value than the independent outfits like Politifact.
We are witnessing this with the debate over the payroll tax holiday. Nancy Pelosi gave a figure of 160 million American workers who would have their taxes raised without the House vote. Nearly 3,000 media outlets went with that number despite the fact there are only 140 million Americans working at the moment.
Despite numerous blog posts (and we assume letters to editors) pointing out the fallacy, CNN and others continue to use the figure of 160 million workers. That there is a need for an independent organization that fact checks statements by politicians and others is not in dispute. But we can’t say for sure whether the Politifact model is the best solution.
As long as we live in an echo chamber America, one side or the other is going to cry “foul” when a fact checking organization cites them for lying or misstating the facts. It’s time to grow up and start holding all politicians regardless of party to a standard of truth telling that would elevate our politics, rather than besmirch them.