Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The worldwide Jack Webb

There are so many mistakes, misunderstandings and outright lies on the internet that fact-checking has become a growth industry. It always makes me think of Joe Friday's phrase 'Just the facts ma'am' from television's Dragnet.

I love this development, even though it often spirals wildly out of control: Media Matters loves to hammer Fox News, for instance, leading to a website critical of them from the opposite end of the political spectrum, and so on. The back-and-forth buzzing wears thin quickly unless you're committed to the subject.

Most of the attention focuses, rightly, on the major media, but no one is safe. If you write it on the internet, even one little twitty tweet, don't be surprised if it comes back to bite you. The term 'crowdsourcing' was coined to describe the sharks that will school if there is a little blood in the webby waters.

I got hooked on The St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact during the last presidential election, but I don't go there much any more. Like FactCheck.org and, to a lesser extent, the rumor debunkers at Snopes.com, they miss the lowlights that satisfy my perverse sense of humor.

Nah, give me the kind of errors Craig Silverman collects in his Regret the Error Columbia Journalism Review blog and like-named website: (Warning, close your eyes when you go over the next sentences if you are easily offended -- they're from Gawker -- 'nuff said.) "Earlier this week, we called congressman Jason Chaffetz a self-hating weirdo, an asshole, a probable closet case, and the son of Kitty Dukakis. He is not the son of Kitty Dukakis. We regret the error."

An extreme example, but I liked it. More representative is the Washington Post's Correction (Crunk) of the Year after they mistakenly claimed Public Enemy's song was saying 9/11 was a joke instead of the 911 emergency system. Here's the Post ombudsman writing about the fiasco, just because I like the headline: A spotty record on counter-errorism.

The local media's errors are usually so prosaic by comparison: the Saipan Tribune dropping $10 million in its headline and story Senate supports $6M ship disposal program or a couple of stories in the Marianas Variety where charges were stated as facts instead of alleged. A problem there: I could cite them, but even a lowly blogger has to be careful about what he 'publishes', particularly if he has cause to think it's untrue.

I was happy to see Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's transparency in saying Jenner & Block still on NMI payroll for $50,000 a month. (In an interesting contrast of editorial emphasis, the Tribune headlined that Fitial won't block 'green card').

At this late date, particularly since it was one of the issues in the election, I'm not interested in arguing the merits of the contract. I would, however be interested in a little fact-checking on the total cost to-date. I really don't have a clue with all of the figures that have been tossed around, and some of them are so outrageous they should be debunked.

Not real fact-checking, but I've been bemused by some of the articles about the ongoing employment controversy at Northern Marianas College. President Carmen Fernandez seems to be staying in the background as much as possible: "Fernandez’s office stated"... and "The office added,".


Saipan Writer said...

Facts. Love them.

Could use a WHOLE LOT MORE debunking, critical assessment, analysis.

I sometimes read the local newspapers and just wish they would ask more questions--any questions, something.

I've started making sure to note the articles that PR after them (showing they are press releases, not journalism). Most of these are innocuous items, like the ones I submit (MLSC receives $20,000 from Saipan Laulau Development, Inc.); but some are just political spin (like the DOLI-Kaipat stuff).

Saipan Writer said...

BTW-what do you mean by these references: "... the Saipan Tribune dropping $10 million in its headline and story Senate supports $6M ship disposal program ..."

KAP said...

An assumption: the original proposal and the Marianas Variety story said $16 million. One of them got it wrong.