Where are the news fact checkers?

Opinion: Rights & Privileges

— Until the ideological turmoil of the 1960s, America’s news media, both the traditional print newspapers and the then fairly new electronic news programs, found it critical to their professional credibility to correct substantial factual errors or omissions spoken, written, or carefully omitted, by newsworthy public figures.

Thus, the ancient slogan of the Grey Lady, the venerable New York Times, still declares, daily, its objective of offering readers “All the News that’s Fit to Print”—a formula which implies serious fact checking and inclusion, not to mention quality control.

Back in the ‘60s, brief corrections of incorrect or incomplete assertions could be found after the offending quote in the news column (or after the offending comment in the letters to the editor column), either by means of a fact-checker reporter seeking out a corrective contrast-source quote or an editor’s note at the end of the piece.

The Times’ slogan still gets top corner, front-page placement, but apparently the fact-check desk in box is as empty as the editor’s chair. The once-standard practice seems to have nearly vanished; not only from such major regionals as the Boston Globe or Washington Post, but also smaller, local papers.

The choice of adverb above comes from the sources and methods whereby old-fashioned all-the-news fact checking is still practiced, mostly in parts of the new (electronic) media with their talking heads discussion groups, and in the old (print) media where one publication still enlarges its news with charts and graphs showing both the up- and-down lines for a given economic issue—that’s The Wall Street Journal.

Local papers in Vermont don’t do this any more: as a local editor replied to your Humble Scribe’s question regarding a news piece on school-over-crowding (with no mention of enrollment or capacity numbers)

“We don’t have the staff to do investigative reporting,” the editor responded.

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