Checking In On “This Week’s” Fact Checking

It’s been about three weeks since ABC’s “This Week” host, Jake Tapper, took up NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen on his challenge to fact check statements made by Sunday morning news show guests.

NBC’s “Meet the Press” host David Gregory passed on the idea, later saying, “”People can fact-check Meet the Press every week on their own terms.”

Tapper has teamed up with the folks at Pulitzer-prize winning site, Politifact, which regularly fact-checks statements made by political figures using a handy scale that rates statements ranging from “Pants on Fire” to “True.”

Cross-posted (in a somewhat anemic format) on ABC’s web site, Politifact now dedicates a special section of its site to statements made on “This Week,” published online every Wednesday. It’s up to you to look them up and though Tapper gives the Politifact effort a plug at the end of the show, he doesn’t highlight the previous week’s fact checking results on the air. Despite that downside, it is a systematized effort to call BS on the various lies and misinformation bandied about by partisans on the Sunday shows—an attempt to check the sort of assertions that can’t always be countered on the spot during the show itself, which as Tapper says, is “obviously” what he aspires to do.

Politifact has had a go at it for two weeks now, with its third round of fact checked statements set to go live on Wednesday. Some are lukewarm, and you could argue that so far, it’s just half the loaf—it comes three days later, online and only scrutinizes a handful of statements made on the show. And frankly, none of the statements that have been checked have been earth-shattering whoppers.

Does that only prove it’s working – public figures are checking themselves before they wreck themselves? Or is this a gimmick? Does ABC’s commitment to fact checking its guests go far enough? How would you fact check the politicians and pundits on the Sunday morning news shows? Does the record need to be corrected on the air, where it was sullied in the first place—or is it enough for them be called to accountability online? Is it worth the effort at all, or is being a public figure watched by millions with the power to take to the Internet themselves, enough incentive to tell the truth?

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Alexandra Fenwick is an assistant editor at CJR.