The Impotence of the Fact Check?

Hearing Gov. Sarah Palin again saying “Thanks, but no thanks” (the applause line of the McCain-Palin campaign’s truth-challenged Bridge to Nowhere claim) on cable news this morning got us talking generally about how journalists fact check candidates and the impotence of the standard fact check (i.e., newspaper devotes a few sentences at the end of a story or a box on A19 on a single day to debunking a campaign claim made all the time, everywhere, even after it has been “officially debunked”.)

What can/should reporters do when a campaign continues to make a truth-challenged claim —undeterred by the cable news segment in which someone ranked that claim really really low on their truth-o-meter, understanding that that same cable news channel will likely still run (unchecked) campaign trail footage in which the claim is again made, understanding that after a paroxysm of fact checking of this or that claim reporters move on, at which point the candidate probably has little to lose by continuing to make that claim?

(Continue to debunk the claim, every time, prominently, you say? That’s what we said four years ago! ) My colleague Clint is talking to a couple of political editors/reporters about this (not new) conundrum. Hope to have more soon.

Meantime, here’s Kevin Drum on journalists and the Bridge to Nowhere claim, specifically:

[T]his really is a test of some kind for the press. This lie is unusually egregious given the plain facts of the situation (Palin was eagerly supportive of the bridge until after Congress pulled the earmark, at which point she reluctantly decided to take the money but use it for other projects), and if the media allows the McCain campaign to get away with it — if they relegate it to occasional closing paragraphs and page A9 fact checks — well, that means McCain knows he can pretty much get away with anything. The press will be writing its own declaration of irrelevance.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.