Fact Checking Media ‘Fact Checking’

jack-webb-joe-friday-dragnetAP is having great success with its “fact-checking” stories, Plum Line‘s Greg Sargent reports.

I asked AP Washington Bureau Chief Ron Fournier about this, and he told me something fascinating, if not all together unexpected: Their fact-checking efforts are almost uniformly the most clicked and most linked pieces they produce.

Journalistic fact-checking with authority, it turns out, is popular. Who woulda thunk it?

The AP, and Fournier in particular, have taken no shortage of lumps from the left, with some still accusing him of being in the tank for Republicans. That said, it’s a fact that the AP has lately done some very aggressive work in knocking down some of the most pernicious misinformation out there, much of it coming from the right.

The AP, for instance, definitively knocked down claims that Elena Kagan is an “ivory tower peacenik.” It called out GOP Senators for their bogus “judicial experience” assault.

The AP also did an extensive investigation into Obama’s handling of the Gulf spill, and concluded it “shows little resemblance to Katrina.” As Steve Benen noted in lauding this effort, the AP definitively debunked a key media narrative as “baseless.”

Now, as it happens, I had already independently come to the conclusion that charges that Kagan was anti-military was baseless (whether she’s an “ivory tower peacenik” is both harder to debunk and irrelevant to her qualifications); that plenty of recent judges, including William Rehnquist, did just fine without judicial experience; and that the Gulf oil spill and Katrina were markedly different events (even though I think the outrage over Bush’s handling of the latter is overblown).

That said, the AP “fact-checking” on these stories is mixed.

The “ivory-tower peacenik” story, dated May 18, is fine.  But it came a full eight days after Ilya Somin had already blazed the trail.  Indeed, it appears that AP merely rewrote his blog post.   OTB dutifully passed on Somin’s analysis, with a follow-up two days before AP’s story.  I’m afraid AP doesn’t deserve much credit here.

The Katrina piece does a solid job of documenting that President Obama had been very engaged.  But it has no comparison whatsoever with Bush’s handling of Katrina, which I suspect would show that he was equally engaged.  Nor, of course, do we have enough information today — much less as of May 8 — to know whether Obama and the government in general should have done more.

The “judicial experience” story isn’t so much fact-checking — whether Kagan’s lack of it is problematic is a matter of opinion, not fact — as pointing out that some of the senators criticizing Kagan defended Harriet Miers and, indeed, argued that a wide variety of backgrounds was a virtue.  This is indeed a useful contribution, in that few people encountering these senators making these arguments on Fox News will remember what they said five years ago.   My guess is that liberal bloggers were ahead of AP here, too, but it’s nonetheless a valuable service to get the information out to people who don’t spend a lot of time reading blogs.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.