James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘PolitiFact.org’

Key presidential election question: ‘Which liar do you trust most?’

Posted by James McPherson on November 2, 2008

The presidential campaign seems to be “spinning” to an appropriately odd ending, with John McCain discussing strategy (“Reverse Maverick,” “Double Maverick” or “Sad Grandpa”) on “Saturday Night Live,” McCain robocalls using Hillary Clinton’s voice and words as an authoritative voice to try to boost Republicans, and Barack Obama’s latest ad promoting the endorsement of his opponent by a sitting vice president.

At least they don’t have anyone pretending to be the opposing candidate in those ads (a move that may cost Elizabeth Dole her Senate seat in the same election in which the GOP presidential candidate reminds voters of her husband’s 1996 “Sad Grandpa” bid). Dole’s Senate campaign provides a reminder that perhaps every political campaign has its share of distortions and outright lies. As campaigns grow increasingly desperate, the lying tends to increase. Fortunately for those of use who care, there are more ways than ever to check the accuracy of campaign ads and stump speeches.

The oft-criticized mainstream media do a better job than they once did at fact checking. Even more valuable are FactCheck.org and PolitiFact.org (a product of the mainstream St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly). On Friday, Factcheck.org released an updated version of “the whoppers of 2008,” including McCain camp lies about welfare, taxes, health care, terrorism and ACORN, and Obama lies about Medicare, stem cell research and job losses. The site also calls attention to distortions from other groups both liberal (MoveOn.org and VoteVets.org) and conservative (National Rifle Association and National Republican Trust PAC).

PolitiFact also released a Friday update, recalling some especially egregious “pants on fire” moments from the campaign. Those cited include Mike Huckabee, who falsely claimed that most signers of the Declaration of Independence were clergymen, and John Edwards who suggested that the president has power over Congressional health care. Of course other Edwards lies were to cause him more problems, but by then his campaign had ended.

PolitiFact gave most of its “pants on fire” ratings to e-mail messages: “They include the bogus list of books that Sarah Palin supposedly wanted to ban, the fake receipt that supposedly showed Michelle Obama ordered $400 in lobster and caviar from a New York hotel,  and the distorted Bible verses to suggest that Barack Obama was the Antichrist.”

It is sad and disturbing to see how often candidates and their supporters lie. But the increased oversight is a bright spot. As PolitiFact notes: “The 2008 election has been the most fact-checked campaign in American history. Between our 750-plus items, and dozens of articles published by our friends at FactCheck.org and other news organizations, the presidential candidates have been challenged about their accuracy more than ever before.”

In short, in this election–as with perhaps every election–Americans will choose between liars as they cast their ballots. The key question thus becomes, “Which liar do you trust most?”

Posted in History, Journalism, Media literacy, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

How many cell phone users won’t vote for a black guy?

Posted by James McPherson on October 15, 2008

I raise the above question–not a serious one–to highlight a couple of issues that concern pollsters who worry that today’s political polls may be flawed. The first is the so-called “Bradley effect,” which supposes that many people who tell pollsters they favor an African American candidate will then cast ballots for a white candidate instead.

With Barack Obama we’ve also heard discussion of a supposed “reverse Bradley effect,” which theorizes that some white people might not openly admit they’ll cross racial lines to vote, but under certain conditions (such as a compelling individual candidate or a collapsing economy while the white candidate’s party is in the White House)  will do so in the privacy of the polling booth.

Another issue, raised by the National Journal today, is related to cell phone usage. As I noted back in August when I predicted a substantial Barack Obama victory: “Many surveys rely heavily on phone interviews, which tend to underrepresent college students and techno-savvy people who rely on cell phones and/or computer phone services instead of traditional landlines. Yet those people are the ones who seem to be among Obama’s most enthusiastic supporters. I would not be surprised in this election to see Obama’s numbers underrepresented by 5 percent or more in many polls.”

I actually hope the polls are screwed up (assuming my favored candidate wins, of course); maybe then journalists will stop relying so much on polling for political coverage. Unfortunately if the polls are significantly wrong, many people will suspect another culprit: voter fraud.

Conservatives are now beating a drum about ACORN–despite the facts that the voter registration problems involving signature gatherers were discovered and reported by the organization itself, that no real problem exists (after all, “Mickey Mouse isn’t showing up on election day, and states have safeguards built in), and that the ploy is an obvious Republican smear designed to harm the credibility of the organization.

As Editor & Publisher points out, it is too bad (though perhaps not surprising) that so many in the media have helped hype the story, while turning a blind eye to the type of voter problems that may have cost Democrats the presidency in both 2000 (in Florida) and 2004 (in Ohio), and which Republicans are pursuing for this election, as well. “The allegations can also help cover up actual election fraud undertaken on behalf of McCain,” author Glenn W. Smith writes, adding that the media seem to find the more common situations that limit voter turnout to be somehow less egregious than the remote possibility that someone might accidentally be allowed to cast a vote: “Exclusion is a tradition with deep roots in our cultural narratives and founding documents. Historically accustomed as we are to exclusion, maybe we don’t judge it to be news.”

As for the supposed “threat” of ACORN, John McCain characterized the organization more fairly a couple of years ago as a keynote speaker FOR the group. You can see his remarks, along with more voter fraud discussion, in the first video (from “Countdown”) below. If you have the stomach for it, the second video–with claims similar to those made in an ad that drew a “pants on fire” rating from PolitiFact.org, shows the new, dishonest, attacking McCain perspective. In about an hour from this writing, we’ll see which version shows up for the debate.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Written elsewhere | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »