A journalism professor charts the advent and ubiquity of fact-checking in our polarized political present and the profoundly altered world of journalism.
Co-author of The Story So Far: What We Know About the Business of Digital Journalism (2011), Graves (Journalism and Mass Communication/Univ. of Wisconsin) returns with a reasoned and reasonable text that will appeal—due to its scholarly tone, diction, and format—mostly to an academic audience. Followed by more than 70 pages of notes and bibliography, the text employs the familiar format of introduction, conclusion, section introductions, and summaries—much repetition, much of it superfluous. Still, the author uses a personal voice at times, especially when recounting his volunteering at PolitiFact, one of the three fact-checking organizations on which he focuses (the others are FactCheck.org and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker). Graves chronicles his experience fact-checking a Glenn Beck claim, using his experience to clarify how fact-checkers operate, how they reach conclusions, how their organizational superiors must sanction the findings, and how vitriol invariably ensues. (To his credit, the author reproduces some unkind responses to his Beck research.) Readers on both sides of the political spectrum dislike findings that contradict what they believe—a very human reaction, as Graves demonstrates. The author spent a lot of time interviewing fact-checkers, helped organize a conference where fact-checkers discussed the issues facing their fairly recent profession, and raised issues of all sorts, some quite uncomfortable. Do, for example, fact-checkers focus more on one party or the other? No. Do they tend to label as false or misleading the claims made by one party? Yes—the GOP appears to suffer more. Graves also examines the 2016 primary season and the many challenges presented by Donald Trump.
A keenly observed visit to a new world whose geography we can now better comprehend.