One just can't ignore the evidence repeatedly. Things are amiss at PolitiFact. How can a fact checker make errors like the one we're about to examine? It just doesn't make any sense.
Yesterday's item on a Rick Santorum claim contained a reference to Lou Dobbs. Here's what it looked like at first:
A reader noticed that the reference to Lou Dobbs was dated and posted a message to PolitiFact's Facebook page. Dobbs works for Fox Business Network these days. Before long "PolitiFact" (often Angie Drobnic Holan) responded:
For those of us who follow PolitiFact closely enough to know its policy statements, the above message served as an indication that a correction notice might now accompany the story. After all, the Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter clearly states:
When we find we've made a mistake, we correct the mistake.As of this writing no editor's note appears with the original story. There is no admission of error and no notice that a correction was made after the item was published.
- In the case of a factual error, an editor's note will be added and labeled "CORRECTION" explaining how the article has been changed.
- In the case of clarifications or updates, an editor's note will be added and labeled "UPDATE" explaining how the article has been changed.
- If the mistake is significant, we will reconvene the three-editor panel. If there is a new ruling, we will rewrite the item and put the correction at the top indicating how it's been changed.
Is it a small thing? I suppose so, in a way. I often fix typographical errors without giving readers a correction notice. However, I am committed to always providing a notice of any change that significantly affects the information in the post. A misspelled name qualifies. And certainly if I misidentified Lou Dobbs' employer I'd attach a correction notice.
But here's the thing: I don't even have an expressed corrections policy. I do corrections of fact because it's the right thing to do even though the transparency hurts sometimes. It does serve as a fine motivation for reporting accurately on the first try.
The solution to PolitiFact's problem is very simple. If the corrections policy calls for a correction notice via an editor's note upon finding a mistake then post one.
Otherwise change the policy so that it describes the actual practice.
Perhaps those who run PolitiFact have made the determination that adding a correction notice every time serves to undermine its credibility.
But the failure to follow a statement of principles isn't acceptable for a fact checking operation. Is it? By rights, the failure to follow principles deals the harder blow to PolitiFact's credibility.
Mar. 1, 2012: Fox Business Network, not Fox Business Channel, as I initially put it. No, I didn't make the mistake to make a point.