Outside the world of journalism, fact checkers were pretty much unknown until recently. Like proofreaders, they work behind the scenes. Their job is quality control. The most rigorous fact-checking operations–The New Yorker’s and Reader’s Digest’s are the best known among us who know about such things–would scrutinize every factual assertion in an article, reporting back so that any error could be corrected.
Over the past few years, many organizations have promoted “fact checkers” by making them writers, or perhaps demoted writers by making them fact checkers. No, it’s more the former, because other writers have been bowing to the “fact checkers” as submissively as Barack Obama upon meeting some anti-American dictator.
“Fact-checker findings, including those by The Washington Post’s project, figure prominently in campaign ads,” enthuses a Post news story. “The unique rating systems used by these organizations–including the trademarked Truth-O-Meter and Pinocchios–have become part of the political vernacular.” A New York Times news story laments that fact checkers “verdicts . . . are often drowned out by dissent.”
Perhaps the reason other journalists are so deferential toward the “fact checkers” is that these fact checkers, unlike the traditional ones, don’t check the facts of journalists but of politicians. By and large, they aren’t actually checking facts but making and asserting judgments about the veracity of politicians’ arguments.