4.30.2010

Students Launch "Meet the Facts" In Response to David Gregory's Aversion to Basic Fact-Checking (UPDATED)

UPDATE I:

Bloggasm's Simon Owens interviewed one of the founder behind Meet the Facts in his piece, "If David Gregory won’t fact check Meet the Press, these college students will"

Chas Danner was one of the many annoyed by Gregory’s comment. As a 31-year-old undergraduate journalism student in NYC, Danner is a regular reader of Rosen’s and not long ago set off to find out whether there was a Facebook group trying to pressure Gregory to change his mind. “This would be a pretty easy thing to get a group going to help pressure Meet the Press,” he told me during a phone interview. “And so I went on and it turns out there was already a group started by this guy named Paul Breer. All I knew about him is that he’s a guy from Kansas. So I joined the group, made a couple quick graphics and then gave him some advice.”

Read the Simon's full piece...
ORIGINAL POST:

In his "My Simple Fix for the Messed Up Sunday Shows," Jay Rosen offered a suggestion to the Sunday talk shows -- namely to fact check their guests and themselves.
Look, the Sunday morning talk shows are broken. As works of journalism they don't work. And I don't know why this is so hard for the producers to figure out.

[...] the whole Sunday format has to be re-thought, or junked so the news divisions can start over with a new premise. Of course the problem is that the people who would have to make that decision are the same people whose entire knowledge base and skill set lies in producing the "old" style of political television. That is what they know, so that is what they continue to do. I guess it's not hard to understand complacency of this kind. But do they really think we don't notice the growing absurdity of bringing to a common table people who agree on nothing?

I think the situation calls for cynicism. But I have to admit that is not much of a call. So instead I propose this modest little fix, first floated on Twitter in a post I sent out to Betsy Fischer, Executive Producer of Meet the Press, who never replies to anything I say. "Sadly, you're a one-way medium," I said to Fischer, "but here's an idea for ya: Fact check what your guests say on Sunday and run it online Wednesday."

[snip]

The beauty of this idea is that it turns the biggest weakness of political television–the fact that time is expensive, and so complicated distortions, or simple distortions about complicated matters, are rational tactics for advantage-seeking pols—into a kind of strength. The format beckons them to evade, deny, elide, demagogue and confuse…. but then they pay for it later if they give into temptation and make that choice. So imagine the midweek fact check from last week as a short segment wrapping up the show the following week. Now you have an incentive system that’s at least pointed in the right direction.

read his full piece...
The only host willing to take the ball and run with it was ABC's Jake Tapper, temporary host of This Week.

This week we’ve invited Pulitzer Prize winning website PolitiFact to fact-check the newsmaker interviews featured on the program.

The idea was first proposed by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen and I thought it worth a try. PolitiFact editor Bill Adair, the St Petersburg Times’ Washington bureau chief, and I know each other from fact-checking forums and such (I was at the Fact Check desk during the 2004 elections) so I asked him if he’d be willing to give it a try. He was.

Obviously I aspire to fact-check newsmakers during the show itself, but in addition to that, starting this Sunday April 11, after the show, you can read Politifact’s fact checks on ABCNews.com/This Week and at Politifact.com.

read more...

Jake even took to sitting down with Stephen Colbert to discuss his decision to do what really should be a given with any news show (and NBC's David Gregory's flat out rejection of the idea):


Colbert: "David Gregory has rejected this hare-brained scheme, saying "people can fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms." Thank you, David! It is not a Sunday host's job to make sure his guests aren't lying, any more than it's a party host's job to make sure the food isn't poisoned. The host is there to tell his guests when it is their turn to talk. That is why NBC is currently grooming Gregory's replacement: a chess timer."
NBC's David Gregory, who hosts the unwatchable Meet the Press, in one of his all too familiar smarmy & condescending responses, would have none of it:
David Gregory: "No, I won't fact check my guests and you guys can't make me..."

April 11, 2010: The fact checking on This Week debuts at Politifact.com. David Gregory tells Howard Kurtz that it's an "interesting idea" that Meet the Press will not be adopting . "People can fact-check 'Meet the Press' every week on their own terms," Gregory says.

[snip]

April 12, 2010: Brian Stelter of the New York Times reports on the news from Tapper and This Week. David Gregory again says there's no need to fact check his guests because viewers can do it themselves.

Critics say that kind of truth telling rarely happens on television. But David Gregory, the moderator of “Meet the Press” on NBC, said that accountability is “in the DNA” of his program. He said he had considered Mr. Rosen’s idea but concluded that people can fact check the program on their own online.

[snip]

Interpretation: So... what is going on here? As with his defiant claims that the press did well in questioning the Bush Administration's case for war, David Gregory believes he always and already asks the questions necessary to get at the truth. (So what's your problem?) If the truth does not emerge from his interviews, it's not his fault because he--always and already--asks the tough questions. That's who he is. It's in his DNA. The criticism he gets is therefore partisan chatter. Or it comes from people who want him to go beyond asking the tough questions to the point of conclusion: that man is lying.

David Gregory thinks that is not his role.

I see two other possibilities for his refusal to adopt the fact check: one banal, the other more troubling. The banal: He's too proud to adopt something that a competitor picked up on first; it would look like a "me too" response and he is the market leader, first in the ratings and heir to the chair that Tim Russert held. The more disturbing possibility is that he thinks Tapper's policy may give Meet the Press a competitive edge in booking guests who won't want to be checked so vigorously. (As opposed to competing with an even better fact check, which would probably cause Bob Schieffer at Face the Nation to adopt the same policy, forcing the guests to accept the new rules or flee to cable, which has a fraction of the viewers.)

Look at it this way: the Washington politician who's been on Meet the Press more than any other is John McCain. On April 6, Politifact's truth-o-meter rated McCain a pants-on-fire liar for claiming that he never called himself a maverick. See what I mean?

read more....

That where "Meet the Facts" comes in:


Meet The Facts is a non-partisan grassroots effort to encourage the NBC television program Meet The Press to incorporate a formal fact checking procedure for all statements made on air by its guests. That analysis would then be released to the public, preferably within several days of the broadcast.

This campaign is not about attacking Meet the Press or its staff, but rather about holding the program/brand to a higher standard – one that at present it is not itself meeting. Furthermore, we think “Meet The Facts” is a pretty catchy name. If NBC News and the staff of Meet The Press agree to permanently institute a public fact checking system for everything guests say on the air, we think they should absolutely name that feature “Meet the Facts” and we will gladly transfer over the domain name, Twitter username, and Facebook page username for their use, and at no cost.

We look forward to a time when If It’s Sunday It’s Meet The Press – but politicians beware, come Monday It’s Meet The Facts.

[snip]

Meet The Press Does Not Fact Check its Guests

Who holds politicians accountable for the statements they make on television? According to host David Gregory: not Meet The Press. Fact checking is one of the primary functions of journalism, but Mr. Gregory has said that it's up to the viewers to determine fact from fiction.

If you disagree, let Meet The Press know using one of the options below. Join this non-partisan effort to return some integrity and relevance to Sunday morning television.

Read more about this subject here | Join us on Facebook and Twitter | Please help spread the word!

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