The 180

Election surprise: political fact checking doesn't work!

For many journalists, the U.S. election became a protracted exercise in granular fact-checking. But as The 180's Manusha Janakiram recently discovered, fact-checking can backfire, retrenching people in their beliefs. She revisits the conversation in the context of Trump's victory.
Zheng Gao of Shanghi, China, photographs the front pages of newspapers on display outside the Newseum in Washington, Wednesday, Nov., 9, 2016, the day after Donald Trump won the presidency. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (The Associated Press)

Donald Trump won the election. 

That is a fact. 

And since the election, there have been countless opinion pieces, long reads, and explainers on how that fact came to be.

The result must have been a surprise to the many journalists for whom the campaign became a long exercise in the fact checking of Trump's speeches.

But as The 180's Manusha Janakiram recently discovered, fact-checking is problematic. Here's a recap: 

On one side of the equation are the fact-checkers themselves. For University of Miami political science professor, Joe Uscinski, fact-checking is often presented as truth that is free of ideology or bias — when in his view, it's not. 

Joe Uscinski is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Miami. (provided by Joe Uscinski)

Uscinski argues the work of fact-checking is being done by human beings who whether they want to admit it or not, have a set of beliefs and values they hold dear.

The second problem, for Uscinski, is that fact-checking is often presented in an overly simplistic way.

It boils down deep political ideas into truth and lie. And politics, a lot of it, is about interpretation, values, and predictions and hopes about what a policy will do.- Joe Uscinski
On the other side of the equation are regular people, the audience, or in this election cycle, the voters. 
Peter Ditto is a Professor of Psychology at University of California, Irvine. (provided by Peter Ditto)

Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology at University of California Irvine, says while we would all like to believe that we think like scientists, we actually all think like lawyers.

We're more likely to believe what we want to believe, ultimately, than to believe what we don't want to believe- Peter Ditto

In other words, instead of weighing all the information, or facts, we really have a conclusion — often based on values and beliefs — and arrange and ignore facts if we deem them convenient.

This week, Toronto Star' Washington Bureau Chief, Daniel Dale wrote about the lessons he learned in covering this election.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the first presidential debate (left). Daniel Dale (right) covered the 2016 U.S. election in Washington for the Toronto Star newspaper. (CBC)

Dale, who won much accolade for his ongoing effort to track the verifiable lies Donald Trump spoke over the course of the campaign, writes "the appearance of authenticity matters more than factual accuracy."

And this year's election results has prompted what Kyle Pope, Columbia Journalism Review editor-in-chief and publisher, calls a moment of reckoning for his profession.

"Too often, the views of Trump's followers—which is to say, the people who just elected our next president—were dismissed entirely by an establishment media whose worldview is so different, and so counter, to theirs that it became chic to belittle them and wave them off," Pope writes. 

Now a new era needs to begin, a period in which reporting takes precedent over opinion, when journalists are willing to seek out and understand people with whom they may have profound personal and philosophical differences. For decades, centuries even, that has been the definition of journalism.- Kyle Pope