Opinion » Ted Rall

Fact-checking the Fact-checkers

In a media without journalists, lies become true

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When fact-checking organizations like Politifact and Factcheck.org appeared, they seemed like perfect antidotes to a lazy, corrupt and broke corporate media unable and/or unwilling to hold politicians accountable for their lies. Cue Murphy's Law: Rather than set a higher standard, independent fact-checkers gave mainstream journalists more excuses not to work.

"Perhaps the most jarring aspect of media fact-checking is that many reporters see it as someone else's job," Peter Hart and Julie Hollar wrote in FAIR's Extra! magazine.

This year's presidential debates have been showcases of absentee journalism. With the exception of a single interjection by Candy Crowley, all three moderators sat silently and passively as President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney told one lie after another to an audience mostly comprised of citizens who were paying attention to the campaign for the first time.

"My moderator mission was to stay out of the way of the flow," said Jim Lehrer, moderator of debate No. 1.

To make things worse, the pundits and journalists voters count on to set things straight let the biggest lies and gaffes stand uncorrected. Even partisan screamers let us down: Fox News failed to call out Obama's biggest fibs while MSNBC dropped the ball on Romney's.

Whether people are deciding which of the two corporate major-party candidates to vote for or looking outside the system to a third party, voter boycott or revolution to overthrow the entire system, they can't make an intelligent decision without knowing the pertinent facts.

Lies are the glue that hold a sick and sickening system together.

As far as I can tell, neither cable news networks, nor news websites, nor newspapers have questioned somewhere the following bipartisan lies, which all reared their heads at the third presidential debate:

Obama said: "We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11."

Actually, 16,000 U.S. troops will remain after the pullout reclassified as staff of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Obama said: "We killed bin Laden. ... When we bring those who have harmed us to justice, that sends a message."

The president could have argued that bin Laden got what he deserved. Bringing someone to justice means placing them under arrest so their fate can be determined by a judge and jury in a court of law.

We live in an authoritarian police state. A police state full of lazy reporters.

Obama said: "Iran is a threat to our national security, and it's a threat to Israel's national security. ... And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map."

Though debunked, the oft-repeated canard that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to "wipe Israel off the map" is part of Democratic and Republican propaganda alike.

Jonathan Steele of the UK Guardian provides the best translation of what Ahmadinejad really did say: "The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran's first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that 'this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,' just as the Shah's regime in Iran had vanished. He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future. The 'page of time' phrase suggests he did not expect it to happen soon."

Romney again repeated his meaningless line that Iran is "four years closer to a nuclear weapon." By the same logic, Iran was eight years closer to a nuclear weapon during Ronald Reagan's two terms as president.

Bob Schieffer asked Romney, "What if the prime minister of Israel called you on the phone and said, 'Our bombers are on the way. We're going to bomb Iran.' What do you say?" Romney replied, "Our relationship with Israel, my relationship with the prime minister of Israel is such that we would not get a call saying our bombers are on the way or their fighters are on the way. This is the kind of thing that would have been discussed and thoroughly evaluated well before that kind of action."

Romney can't be that sure. Israeli officials have told their U.S. counterparts that they won't ask permission before attacking Iran--and will give us no more than 12 hours advance notice.

Romney lied less but his biggest lie was the biggest.

"America's going to ... continue to promote principles of peace," he said in his closing statement.

It must have been difficult for the audience, who'd promised to keep quiet, not to laugh out loud. America? Peaceful?

: Unless they believe that stuff about Obama ending the war in Iraq.

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