Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It's Time to Give Fact Checking a Front Row Seat in Politics

On the heels of the second Presidential debate, I was fairly pleased by how I -- a fairly informed voter -- watched the entire debate and only a precious few times felt that something being said wasn't completely true.

And then I saw the report:

  • Obama challenged Romney to “get the transcript” when Romney questioned the president’s claim to have spoken of an “act of terror” the day after the slaying of four Americans in Libya. The president indeed referred to “acts of terror” that day, but then refrained from using such terms for weeks.
  • Obama claimed Romney once called Arizona’s “papers, please” immigration law a “model” for the nation. He didn’t. Romney said that of an earlier Arizona law requiring employers to check the immigration status of employees.
  • Obama falsely claimed Romney once referred to wind-power jobs as “imaginary.” Not true. Romney actually spoke of “an imaginary world” where “windmills and solar panels could power the economy.”
  • Romney said repeatedly he won’t cut taxes for the wealthy, a switch from his position during the GOP primaries, when he said the top 1 percent would be among those to benefit.
  • Romney said “a recent study has shown” that taxes “will” rise on the middle class by $4,000 as a result of federal debt increases since Obama took office. Not true. That’s just one possible way debt service could be financed.
  • Romney claimed 580,000 women have lost jobs under Obama. The true figure is closer to 93,000.
  • Romney claimed the automakers’ bankruptcy that Obama implemented was “precisely what I recommend.” Romney did favor a bankruptcy followed by federal loan guarantees, but not the direct federal aid that Obama insists was essential.
  • Romney said he would keep Pell Grants for low-income college students “growing.” That’s a change. Both Romney and his running mate, Ryan, have previously said they’d limit eligibility.
Now, as far as the raw number of "mistakes" (a generous term for these transgressions, also known as lies, misstatements, exaggerations, or mischaracterizations if you like), there aren't all that many.  But the nature and substance around these mistakes are fairly significant if you're looking to make decisions for the country's direction based on what each man actually says in a highly public setting.

It's OK for a human being to make a mistake. And it's even OK for a politician to try to frame facts in a way that helps them serve their narrative. But I don't think it's OK that 95% of voters get to watch a free-form oratory that simply won't match the policies that the candidate will actually implement when in office. That does the voter a severe disservice, and undercuts the very nature of a democracy.

In the age of Wikipedia, and the Twitterverse, it would seem to me that we now have the technology and ability to bring fact checking to the forefront of the political experience. To exemplify this point, the media is all abuzz around Candy Crowley's "instant fact-check" on President Obama's inclusion of the word "terror" in his initial statement around the 9/11/12 attack in Libya.  This shows us two things:
  1. There is a hunger out there for clearing up misstatements made by political professionals.
  2. Facts don't live in a bubble -- facts live in context. Candy's initial indictment of Romney was technically true, but the context that brings up gives Governor Romney's point a bit of breathing room as well.
We very well may need additional technology to bring instant fact-checking with required context to the political theater in a way that 95% of the electorate is exposed to both the political assertion and its veracity.  We have a lot of great resources now "the day after" where only a minority of voters will be able to see the corrected views of what they witnessed the evening prior.  That's not good enough.  We need to try harder.  Maybe it's; maybe it's; or maybe it's Google Elections or Twitter. But some organization should make a play for fact-checking our dear pols in real-time, and ensuring it's seen with equal parity by the electorate.

We should vote for what we'll be actually getting from our government -- not for whatever they'll say to win.