SpecSpeak and Hillel recently presented Glenn Kessler, a Fact Checker columnist with The Washington Post who spoke about the power of words.
Before he was approached by Washington Post editors to establish Fact Checker, Kessler worked as the chief diplomatic correspondent of the Post for nine years. For the past seven, Kessler has managed the Fact Checker column.
While working as a diplomatic correspondent, Kessler quickly realized that this type of journalism required a close scrutiny of words and phrases in order to determine their true meaning. “Diplomatic statements often obscure the reality of the situation. You have to learn how to crack the code,” he said.
This ability to “decode the tactfully shrouded statements of politicians” has served him well in the fact-checking field. In addition to being able to “crack the code,” working as a journalist on several different beats enabled Kessler to cover just about every building in Washington. Therefore, he developed an inside understanding of where data and experts are located, a knowledge that is helpful in verifying facts.
The Internet has empowered nongovernmental groups and journalistic organizations to challenge politicians — and even bring accountability and journalistic rigor to countries without much of a tradition of press freedom.
Kessler explained the rationale behind the Fact Checker with a metaphor. He asked the audience to liken politicians to used car salesmen. In the same way that you would not buy a used car without checking under the hood, neither should you accept the statements made by a politician without further verification.
Writing at least five articles per week, Kessler and his two other colleagues take a detailed look at substantive issues within the news and examine the facts behind claims made by politicians. They make a ruling, ranging from one to four Pinocchios, on how truthful statements on a particular issue are. One Pinocchio is a selective telling of the truth, while four Pinocchios is an outright lie.
In 2010, there were only four fact-checking organizations in the world, three of which were located in the United States. Now, public interest in political fact checking has exploded, and there are "135 fact-checking organizations and counting," according to Kessler. “The Internet has empowered nongovernmental groups and journalistic organizations to challenge politicians — and even bring accountability and journalistic rigor to countries without much of a tradition of press freedom,” he continued. Voters in increasingly more countries and in larger numbers want to hold politicians accountable for their statements and promises.
Neither side has a monopoly on the debate. You need to challenge your preexisting assumptions in order to learn something new.
Though the Internet has allowed for great strides in fact-checking, Kessler highlighted a major casualty that has come as a direct result of the World Wide Web: the loss of a common point of reference. Because of this, news sources are able to offer their own creative reinterpretations of the facts skewed to fit the exact political leanings of their viewerships, and in doing so the objective facts-of-the-matter are lost. To remedy this, Kessler suggests diversifying one’s social media feeds, making sure to read content one may not necessarily agree with. “Neither side has a monopoly on the debate. You need to challenge your preexisting assumptions in order to learn something new,” Kessler concluded.