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No, not the newspapers, dummy. Minnesota newspapers don't fact-check Bachmann lies. (Explanation below.)

But Minnesota Public Radio and the fancy-schmancy Humphrey Institute have announced that they're going to start "fact-checking" politicians' statements for accuracy. That's bad news for you know who.

The model for the project is the Pulitzer Prize winning "Politifact," an on-going effort to verify the truth (or "BS-ness") of claims made by statesmen and other political figures. The Minnesota version will be called "Poligraph" and will function as follows:

(Poligraph staffers) will beat the bushes for primary sources that can verify, or immolate, the politicians' claims. They'll also interview experts and check back with campaign officials to see if anything has been missed.

Ultimately, the politicians' statement will judged true or false, or somewhere in-between ... with footnotes. Jacobs says each candidate's truthfulness will be graphed like — you guessed it — a polygraph...

Had Politifact adopted the PoliGraph visual, Michele Bachmann's needle would scrape the bottom...the Sixth District Congresswoman is nine-for-nine on untrue statements.

That's right, Bachmann's nine-for-nine for lying on Politifact's "Truth-O-Meter" (link below.) The only reason the number is that low is because they only examined nine of her statements. If the Politifact "truth-o-meter" shook every time Bachmann told a lie, you could use it as a vibrator.

But about this "checking out the truth of statements by politicians" thing. One question that may "leap to mind" is: don't traditional media already check political claims for accuracy and veracity?" The answer, according to the MinnPost blog, is "no, they don't." And reporter David Brauer is exceptionally candid in explaining why they don't:

...paying professional journalists to dig (into the truth or falsity of statements by politicians) can be a pricey proposition for any local newsroom.

A refreshingly forthright explanation of why you shouldn't bother to read most of the political journalism written by salaried journalists!

Note that Brauer's observation relegates "professional" political journalists to the status of "stenographers." That is a charge usually leveled against career journalists by intelligent readers who wonder why professional journalists regularly publish outrageous lies by politicians without ever pointing out that they are outrageous lies.

It is very refreshing to hear a member of the professional political press explain why professional journalists observe this low standard for acquainting the public with the facts. "It's too expensive!" turns out to be the answer.

But that's not the only answer. It's also "time-consuming," Brauer notes parenthetically. He might have also added that "pointing out to readers that a politician's lie is a lie (and explaining why)" also "offends many people that the journalist and his publisher would rather not offend." (This group of offendees may include "readers who would rather believe the politician's outright lie," "the corporations who pay to advertise in the publication," "the boss who might promote or lay off the reporter during the next round of cut-backs," etc.)

Anyway: if it's "too expensive and time-consuming" for paid political reporters to find out the truth: who will do it?

In the case of Poligraph, it will be--students! The Poligraph project will employ University of Minnesota graduate students to get in touch with experts who can verify or destroy the controversial claims of politicians like Bachmann.

Unlike Minnesota's professional political reporters, these grad students know how to use fancy new technologies like "email" and "the telephone" to get in touch with experts who really know something about the subjects that politicians like to lie about.

And unlike Minnesota's professional political reporters, these grad students are willing to do this sort of fact-checking and inform readers of the results. And: they'll do it for frikkin' peanuts! For CREDITS, which have the same market value as "intestinal gas"! They must have even lower self-esteem than professional political journalists!

But even though they are conceding "reporting of the actual facts" to undercompensated grad students, professional political journalists will continue to play an important role in news reporting.

Because these political-journalists-for-pay are granted access to the politicians themselves, if the politicians they are supposed to be covering feel they can manipulate them sufficiently. "Access" is something that these grad students won't have, because their "fact-checking" job description does not include "offering nicer coverage to a politician in return for 'face time/insider news tips' from that politician."

Another disadvantage these low-rent grad students have is: they aren't on a media payroll and don't have to fear the wrath of a publisher, editor, advertiser, or corporate owner if they identify a "lie" as a "lie."

And the "on-the-payroll" reporting class will continue to provide readers with "necessarily limited coverage of political lies and other politician boo-boos, because it's too expensive to point out blatant lies as they occur and it can really slow down the career of a journalist-on-payroll."

And if you still feel the need to pay money to read seven hundred words of pointless blather about what the reporter thinks is "likely to happen" in politics, or repetition of manipulative unattributed rumors shoveled into the orifices of someone who will print anything to fluff up what is otherwise a re-hashed AP report--the professional reporting class will still "be there" for you.

So everybody wins, here: you still get (for example) Bachmann's unchecked lies from the professional reporters on the payroll who refuse to identify them as lies (even if the reporters know they are.) And the corporate owners, publishers, and editors still get to publish the lies, and omit any mention of the fact that they're lies. But now we also get a bunch of graduate student serfs who will expose the lies as lies (providing it's alright with the supervising professor, because, you know, these kids will be graded.)

Plus: there are acres of economists, scientists, sociologists, climatologists, statisticians, and other experts--just wasting away by their cob-webbed telephones every night, pining for someone to call them up and ask them for the facts relevant to their respective areas of expertise.

Most of these lonely experts wear glasses and don't go out to singles bars; they're dying for someone to talk to. And "straightening out the public on real facts relevant to a Bachmann lie" would be about the sexiest thing they could ever hope to do.

They'd love to get a call from a hot young poli-sci/journalism grad student (whom they would probably picture mentally at the other end of the line as some kind of scholarly younger Brad Pitt/Scarlett Johanssen), asking them to comment at length about "whether the federal government really does 'own' about 51% of the economy." (That's one of Bachmann's lies.)

So this is not only a public service to voters and readers--it also is a volunteer social networking service for the very few people in the United States who actually did their homework and really do know what they are talking about.

So I think we should all support this--at least in principle--even if the journalists on payroll never have.

Link to Bachmann's Politifact record (nine controversial Bachmann statements evaluated=nine Bachmann lies):

Link to David Brauer's article on the new Minnesota "Politifact knock-off" project:    

ACTION LINK: Won't you please send some tiny, pathetic "make-a-stand" contribution to Bachmann's liberal Dem challenger, Tarryl Clark? She also fact-checks Bachmann.

UPDATE: Rec list. Thank you. It's late, it must have been the "vibrator" gag that put me over.

Originally posted to Bill Prendergast on Tue May 18, 2010 at 09:41 PM PDT.

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