What you are about to read is a self-criticism – something I don’t particularly like writing because of the likelihood that people who don’t like my political opinions will have a field day with it. There is a reason that Communist governments love “criticism and self-criticism”. Mao made it the first order of business at “re-education camps”.
Nevertheless, I really screwed up this morning when I wrote my article on Debbie Wasserman Schultz. I did exactly what CNN is being criticised for doing in this Washington Post article. I made up my mind on the basis of a couple points (ironically, some of which were presented as facts by CNN’s Anderson Cooper) without checking out some key counter-arguments, the existence of several of which I did not even know. I have since made it clear where I felt I had erred and edited my blog to make it clear that I had erred. That’s great, but I still feel kind of dirty for getting so much wrong in the first place, especially since the point I was trying to make was that facts matter, and that the conservative Right has been playing far faster and looser with facts than the liberal Left. Now I worry people will doubt that because I’ve offered them so much to doubt about me.
The point of what I’m writing now is that I still insist – facts matter. Getting it right is our responsibility. I didn’t get the story right at first, but I am trying to do so.
What disturbs me is that so many of you have moved to a point where you _stopped_ trying. “Facts? What’s a fact? Everybody has conceptually muddy talking points, and it’s just a question of which set you adopt and defend.”
I can’t and won’t accept that.
This article makes the point that a fact check requires sourcing from as many different sources as possible. I agree, but of course the question of “how many is enough” does confront one, especially a Facebooker/blogger like myself. I thought I had the gist of the main arguments in the dispute and made up my mind, only to discover that several relevant point had not been addressed later on and changed my perception entirely of the event I was describing.
The fault for that lies squarely with me, but I’m not just playing the “personal responsibility” card to impress you here. I want for us to consider for a moment what all of us should do – not just me – to verify facts.
Fact checkers do not always agree about facts – that’s something which should be considered very disconcerting, as facts are real, they are not mere artifices of consensus. If we are to give credence to the idea that facts can be checked, we should expect all fact checks to arrive at the same end point. When they do not, do we just toss the idea of verification out the door?
My response is this: a fact check is always subject to new information. New information makes a previously hazy fact check more clear.
The situation described in this article, to me, is not really that CNN muffed their fact check and Politifact got it right. It’s really more that Politifact was more impressive because their fact check provided a broader base of information to use to judge things.
Because I screwed up the way CNN did in the example provided in this article, I don’t feel like I’m in a place where I can sit in judgment of them. It’s not that their fact check was “wrong”, it’s more that it was “incomplete”.
So was mine, as I had it written this morning. I think it’s a bit stronger now that I’ve heard from others with a different take and different confirmatory sources. Perhaps it could be still stronger. It is a work in progress.
So should all fact checks be.
I screwed up, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it. I got some things wrong, but when I found out I was wrong, I admitted it and changed my view.
_That_ is what I wish some of our politicians could do.