Speaking truth to power: Journalism in a post-fact era – The Listening Post (Feature)


Al Jazeera English

Published on Oct 16, 2016

Against a never-ebbing tide of false claims stands a small but growing army of specialised fact-checking journalists and news outlets. But do they really make a difference? Are people not happier to live in worlds built out of their own facts?

Journalists are supposed to be the people standing and saying, actually, no, what you’re being told is untrue; what you’re being told is not the whole story.

Mihir Sharma , columnist, Business Standard

There are signs that the mainstream news media have belatedly begun to push back against Donald Trump repeatedly trampling on the facts, the debate this past week being the latest example of that. There are dozens of fact-checking outfits whose specific task is to dissect the claims made by politicians and public figures, drill deep into their past statements, statistics and raw data, and test them against reality

“Our goals are twofold. One, to hold politicians accountable for what they’re saying and also to be there for voters. We really see that as our role – to help voters see through the spin, separate fact from fiction,” says Lori Robertson, managing editor at FactCheck.org.

But where the journalism community may appreciate a good fact check, what about audiences at large? In the UK, the Brexit campaign was filled with misleading claims – many of which ‘leave’ voters are still trying to contend with today – lots of them coming from former journalist and leading voice of the ‘Leave’ campaign, Boris Johnson. Many of Johnson’s more outlandish euro-claims were easy enough to dispel but the cost of EU membership which he stated was a staggering 350 million pounds a week, was somehow an accepted constant throughout the campaign.

“The 350 million pounds figure kept coming up throughout the campaign… whichever way it was expressed, we would find a way to take it to pieces and get to the actual figure. As the campaign went on, I suppose we were slightly surprised that the campaign kept using it,” says Alexis Condon of BBC Reality Check.

So what does it take for a statement as blatantly incorrect as some of the latest political claims by Johnson, Trump and others in the spotlight to continue to garner strength, shares and support?

“The ability with the internet and social media to really live in a bubble and to seek out information that only conforms with your viewpoint,” says Lori Robertson.

“What campaigns like [these] do is that they go out and they tell people ‘don’t believe anything that you’re told’ – so there is no place in this for fact,” says Mihir Sharma, columnist at the Business Standard.

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