Fact-checking, as a genre, probably shouldn't exist. It does largely because of one of the weirder conventions of mainstream journalism, which is to give equal weight to competing claims regardless of whether or not they actually deserve it. Determining the truth or falsity of a given claim is of a lower priority than actually meeting a deadline.The so-called weird convention arose because journalists recognized that they weren't likely to possess sufficient expertise to accurately decide between two competing views, especially when those competing views came from experts in a given field of study.
As the story continues with its predictable panning of PolitiFact's 2011 Lie of the Year selection, writer Adam Serwer bears out the difficulty journalists have with accurately determining the facts (bold emphasis added):
Previously, PolitiFact's system for deciding the "Lie of the Year" was through popular vote, which in all honestly [sic] seems like a strange way to decide something like this. Nevertheless, while in 2009 and 2010 the lies of the year reflected choices made by readers, as Steve Benen points out, this year PolitFact decided to go with the third-place choice.PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year" selections always came from a committee of editors, not from the results of the readers votes. Surwer is correct, at least, about the dubiousness of granting the award based on the votes of readers. But PolitiFact doesn't do it that way. The readers vote, no doubt, for entertainment purposes and to give PolitiFact more stuff to write about relating to its annual award. It's a natural, really. People tend to have opinions about annual awards ranging from the Emmys to the Miss Universe pageant. And the popular media exploit that interest to draw readers by letting the readers vote on who they think should have won.
Surwer ought to have stopped himself to double check after supposing that PolitiFact operates akin to "American Idol."
Mother Jones has had a day or two to generate a correction to Surwer's story. Nothing yet as I move to hit the "publish" button.
Dec. 22, 2011: Added "[sic]" in first Mother Jones quotation, added "ought to have" in next to last paragraph.