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Check, Please

(AP)
It's a common complaint from frustrated media consumers: Why don't journalists just point out the truth? When a politician says something fishy, why don't they call them on it? The facts are easy enough to track down, after all. So why won't Mr. Talking Head just use 'em?

Perhaps because the "facts" aren't always as straightforward as we'd like to think. Consider John Neffinger's criticism of MSNBC's David Shuster and his fact checking of last night's debate. One of Neffinger's examples: After Hillary Clinton said she would "put somebody in charge who actually cared about the people of New Orleans" – making a clear implication about the present administration – Shuster said that "To say that the Bush administration doesn't care about New Orleans - that's a leap."

Neffinger also notes that Shuster went after Joe Biden for taking about "how much [Bush] has ruined" the country. Shuster cited the dictionary definition of "ruin" as causing "irreparable damage" and said Biden's comments were "a bit of a stretch."

Which raises the question: Is this really fact checking? Or is it treating an obvious bit of political rhetoric as if it were something more? Writes Neffinger:

Would it be so terrible to acknowledge when candidates do a decent job of sticking to the facts? Or should we just tear them all down equally - in the name of journalistic objectivity, presumably - regardless of who's actually fibbing and who's not?
I'm not trying to excuse the press for failing to point out when folks are lying, which happens far more often that it should. But I do think it's important to note that fact-checking can be difficult in the real world, especially as different folks can see the "facts" differently. (Just check out our comments section for proof.) An explicit statement from a politician might rely on statistics that differ from the ones the journalists might cite; statements like those above might be dismissed as rhetoric that became overblown in the heat of the moment. (Biden probably doesn't really think America is "ruined," after all.) Add in an environment in which media bias warriors are watching every word and waiting to pounce, and its easy to see why journalists seem so wary of trying to fact check those they cover.
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