It was not so long ago that Campaign Desk was encouraged (for the most part) by the late but welcome eruption of fact-checking efforts launched by networks and newspapers alike after Labor Day. With November 2 nigh upon us, surely the candidates will continue to spin — more and more furiously — and surely viewers and readers will need more than ever for the press to “truth-squad” this spin. At a minimum, campaign reporters need to keep pounding on the same few inaccuracies that have been previously debunked but that keep popping up in almost every stump speech.
Alas, as Pandagon’s Jesse Taylor noted yesterday, that isn’t happening.
Yesterday afternoon, as Taylor reports, CNN’s Judy Woodruff let a golden oldie, Bush’s claim that Kerry has voted to raise taxes “98 times,” fly by unchallenged on her show — twice, actually. First, Woodruff didn’t blink when Ed Gillespie, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, made the “98 times” claim in passing. (Although, to her credit, during the same exchange Woodruff did try to call Gillespie on another statement — that President Bush is the “first president in the history of the United States to federally fund embryonic stem cell research.” Woodruff replied: “Just to clarify, it’s my understanding the stem cell technology was not available until the late 1990s …”). The “98 times” claim went unchallenged later in the show, when Woodruff ran without comment some footage from a Bush stump speech in Iowa, including Bush repeating the “98 times” line. Worse still, just one day earlier, Woodruff had correspondent Janet Meserve on her show unraveling the “whoppers” each candidate told during the final debate — the “98 times” bit included. As Pandagon’s Taylor wrote: “[W]hy broadcast a statement you’ve already declared is patently false without commentary?” And, why should the fact-checking stop once the debates have come and gone? To our mind, the press should not stop fact-checking candidates until the candidates stop spinning (as in, never).
The Associated Press, too, seems to feel that its fact-checking duties ended after the final debate and/or somehow finds it far harder to fact-check claims made on the campaign trail than claims made during debates. On Thursday, the day after the final presidential debate, the AP’s Calvin Woodward filed a story aptly headlined “Debate Inaccuracies Turning Into Classics,” in which he debunked statements by both candidates, including Bush’s “98 times” claim. And yet, later that same day, fellow AP reporter Joe Mandak reported on Vice President Cheney’s Pennsylvania stump speech, transcribing without comment the “98 times” assertion. Again, why unquestioningly reprint a statement that you’ve already declared is inaccurate?
Here’s hoping that fact-checking does not die as fast as it was born, a gimmick dragged out for post-debate analysis and then forgotten for another four years.