Friday, February 24, 2012

Fact-Checking the Parenting Media: Sorry But Too Busy with Political Rhetoric



Con man Professor Harold Hil playing loose with the truth
 Does anyone care about getting the facts right these days?

The media does. In so far as it doesn't interfere too much with other priorities such as putting out stories that might contain half-truths.

Check out this recent column about fact-checking by the public editor at the New York Times, Arthur S. Brisbane (what a fab 1950's musical name!), who is mostly concerned here about tracking political claims but for us at Momma Data it's an interesting glimpse into how a major media machine thinks about and treats questionable claims and evidence in our new media world.

Mr. Brisbane (cue chorus, Ya Got Trouble!) admits Time's fact-checking is "low-key" as in handed off to "regular staff members who have other duties." Other duties. Like publicizing claims that might not be accurate.  As for the possibility of devoting more resources and content space to refuting suspicious facts and figures, Brisbane isn't so keen:
Ubiquitous argument in straight news articles is not the way to go. Checking facts in politics — and in other subjects — takes time, resources and great care. Editors and reporters need to identify priorities and exercise judgment: they cannot do everything. Keeping Them Honest, New York Times, Jan. 21
Translation:  Yeah, yeah all well and good but not our top priority.  That starts with a "P" and ryhmes with...

Everyone knows politicians make claim after distorted claim.  We expect them to muddy the facts, cherry-pick the stats and figures.  It's my impression from the occasional political study in the news that people don't vote based on little factlets out of the mouths of candidates (political scientists in the crowd, am I right?).  It's rhetoric, we get it. 

Unlike the political sphere, people sometimes actually act on what they hear or read in the parenting media.  Look at the reduced vaccination rates.  Conversely, the increased breastfeeding, putting babies on their backs to sleep.    

Yet I'm looking hard to find fact-checking organizations who bother with children's health and parenting. Apparently it's just too difficult to fact-check parenting news and advice.  As Harold Hill might say, there's trouble in River City. 

4 comments:

Awesome Mom said...

I thought fact checking was part of the job not a hobby that is done when convenient. This sort of thing makes me glad I am not subscribed to a newspaper and don't watch the network news any more.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Awesome, good to know I'm not the only one troubled by the news news-producers aren't overly concerned with accuracy!

So where do you get most of your news?

Awesome Mom said...

NPR, they seem to be the most accurate and balanced news source out there and I know they are not swayed by advertizing dollars. I supplement with random internet sources that I don't give a whole lot of weight to considering the source of the information.

Julie Adams said...

Looks like a business (or nonprofit) opportunity.