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Fabricators and the fact checking fad

By Alan Austin - posted Tuesday, 20 November 2012


Watching the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) appalled at the threat of fact checking coming to Australia has been one of the year's more entertaining media experiences.

At The Drum last week, IPA research fellow and editor of the IPA Review Chris Berg claimed fact checking – that is, ensuring what is written is actually true – is "appealing in principle. It is disappointing – even futile – in practice."

Well, of course it is – to the IPA. Its Review almost rivals The Australian for distortions and falsehoods. Almost. Its writers almost match Murdoch reporters for fabrications. Well, no, not really.

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Berg is indignantly opposed to truth-telling becoming the accepted norm in Australian journalism and public life.

"Fact checking is more common as a political attack than journalistic technique," he insisted. "It's just another weapon in the partisan's armoury. Smugly purporting to be on the side of 'reality' is a fashionable way to hit your opponent."

Of course. Reality? Truth? Pah!

So does this mean fact checking is a 'weapon' which has been used effectively by 'opponents' of the IPA and their anonymous bankrollers? Perhaps so.

But 'fashionable'? Well, several observers believe fact checkers undermined the multi-billion dollar tilt at the US Presidency by the Republicans earlier this month. Many US television commentators, print journalists and bloggers expressed dismay at the constant blatant distortions and fabrications by Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Rachel Maddow highlighted the pure lies back in March, then in July, again in September and finally in October. So did several others. Even pro-Republican Fox News called Romney and Ryan out on their multiple fabrications.

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Steve Benen's influential website meticulously documented Romney's porkies throughout the 2012 presidential campaign. He ended up with a total of 917 by election day.

Most commentators assess this to have been a factor in the huge win for President Obama. How significant is, of course, impossible to measure.

More urgently for Australia's IPA, recent focus on the lies of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has coincided with a dramatic fall in his approval rate to a record low. Just coincidence? Again, hard to be certain. But the IPA is nervous.

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About the Author

Alan Austin is an Australian freelance journalist currently based in NÓmes in the South of France. His special interests are overseas development, Indigenous affairs and the interface between the religious communities and secular government. As a freelance writer, Alan has worked for many media outlets over the years and been published in most Australian newspapers. He worked for eight years with ABC Radio and Televisionís religious broadcasts unit and seven years with World Vision. His most recent part-time appointment was with the Uniting Church magazine Crosslight.

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