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Worldwide Ace » Statistics, Fact Checking, and the Failure of the Media

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Statistics, Fact Checking, and the Failure of the Media

4 October, 2012 (11:41) | Media, New Media, Politics

Cartoon drawn by Patrick Chappatte published by the New York Times.

The web is atwitter with the sound of politics this morning, and while I’m loathe to add my voice to flood of information, let me assure you that I will not be spending any time discussing the candidates or their campaigns. Instead, I want to draw attention to failure of the media in providing any real coverage during the debate.

The fact is that debates are not truly interesting to watch. Unless, of course, you’re one of the people who prefers to watch with the sound muted to get a sense of victory through optics without being mired by the words spewing forth from the candidates, cause, you know, visuals matter. It’s pretty apparent that the visual distracts from what’s being said and encourages candidates to care more about image than message. No one wants an uncharismatic leader, but it’s relatively absurd to weigh the visual equally or more heavily than the policies.

That being said, in this era of big screen TVs and multiple media I see no reason the debates shouldn’t feature real-time information side-by-side with the candidates. Say they follow ESPN’s Sportscenter format, the ticker along the bottom could summarize talking points and recap the numerous off-topic asides each candidate uses to obfuscate the question. The left-hand side-bar can be used to keep the question visible and at the forefront of the audience’s attention, as well as providing space for real-time fact checking. And while I would love that, I’m sure not everyone would be interested in more information.

Perhaps MTV could use the screen space to broadcast rules for the Presidential Debate Drinking Game, or real-time twitter updates from celebrities. News channels could post fact-checking that backs their candidate of choice (after all, the candidates cite misleading statistics in their favor). Nickelodeon could have cartoons right alongside so that families could watch together and the kids won’t be bored.

To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what’s there. Instead of having our attention divided between the screen and whatever mobile device we’re using to personalize our coverage, TV stations should already be providing us extra information, and information that is tailored to our needs rather than our desires. I may not want to hear about how my candidate of choice just straight up lied, or how he or she is now saying the opposite of what they said last week, but these are things we need to hear and see and know right then and then.

If we can’t, don’t or won’t do any fact-checking for ourselves, we need the media to be doing it for us.


If you’re interested in fact-checking, here’s a live fact-check of last night’s debate, and here are two good articles after the fact.



  • Mitchell Hulse

    People don’t want to watch a classroom. They would much rather let their preferred media outlet make their judgments for them – and they want those judgments to be as simple as possible.

  • Hope would dictate that if the aforementioned people were educated on what they’re watching, they would demand more. I’m a firm believer that more information would encourage better decisions.