BOSTON (CBS) – President Trump ignited a new debate over DACA with a series of tweets Sunday morning, warning of “caravans” of illegal immigrants coming toward the border in an attempt to exploit the “Dreamer” program. Soon after that tweet, newspapers and fact-checking websites challenged that claim.
But is fact-checking winning the battle against political misinformation?
Remember January of 2017, when then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted the crowd at the Trump inaugural was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period”? That prompted an interviewer to accuse him of lying, which brought the following from Trump aide Kellyanne Conway: “You’re saying it’s a falsehood, but Sean Spicer gave alternative facts.”
Yes, alternative facts are everywhere these days, thanks in part to the unedited web and the shamelessness of politicians of both parties. Remember when President Obama said: “If you have insurance that you like then you will be able to keep that insurance. If you’ve got a doctor that you like, you will be able to keep your doctor.”
Amid this deluge of disinformation, April 2 has become marked as International Fact-Checking day, a celebration of the fact-checking movement that’s been growing over the past decade, including widely-viewed websites like snopes.Com, factcheck.Org, and the Pulitzer-Prizewinning Politifact.com, analyzing the daily flow of rumor and spin. Fairness is pursued; a typical day on these sites included challenges to statements by both the president and his partisan critic
But while their presence is well-established, there’s plenty of pushback. A 2013 academic trashing of fact checkers was itself trashed two years later – by a thorough fact-checking.
Still, the fact-checkers can celebrate one thing on their day – they clearly have the politicians’ attention. Washington pols frequently quote them or deride them, depending on whose bunk is being punctured. Even the president caught himself once before dropping an unresearched “fact” on-camera, saying “I’d better say ‘think’ or they’ll give me a Pinocchio. I don’t like Pinocchios.”
This is not the golden age of trust in media. A new poll shows 77 percent of Americans believe the mainstream media reports “fake news” at times. But that same poll shows the public trusts cable TV news more than the president, a sign the fact-checkers are taking a toll.